Some Folk Are Special
What's special about Christians?
Sure - we're right; we're going to Heaven. In our
humble opinion. But we would say that, wouldn't we? And maybe 'the world'
can be excused for not being impressed.
What if, though...
What if there was some way of looking dispassionately at
Christians and comparing them with, f'rinstance, Moslems - and seeing if there's
Surprise, surprise! Jews in Israel have been doing an
in-depth study of their Arab citizens, and find the difference between Christian
Arabs and Moslem Arabs is stunningly large. Even Israel's Public Health
Service chief has stated: 'The Christian Arabs have the finest health
indicators in Israel - better than the Jews'.
Ponder these statistics. Infant mortality among Christian
Arabs is 4.9 per 1000 births; among Moslem Arabs 9.5, among Jews 4.8. University
attendance among Christian Arabs is 323 per 1000; among Moslem Arabs and Druze
108; the average for all Israeli citizens is 131.
Amnon Rubenstein, writing in Ha'aretz ponders: 'How can
one explain the differences between Moslem Arabs and Christian Arabs? There is
no difference in the [Israeli] government's treatment of or allocation of
resources to the two populations.'
Good question. And the answer has to be that when God does
something in a person's life, the effects aren't airy-fairy. After all the
tears and emotion, after all the hallelujahs and warm fuzzies, the results are
there, firmly rooted in reality. Real enough to affect cold statistics in an
Israeli public health survey.
(Maybe Christian Arabs are a trifle closer to the Lord in
their life-and-death situation than we are in Enzed. What are the chances that
Christian Kiwis would show up favourably in an NZ survey?)
But if we start looking at the difference God makes to
individuals - then some folk stand out from the crowd.
Remember we wrote about a diplomat called Raoul Wallenberg a
few months back? We stumbled across a similar believer on a website that
campaigns to have such deeds commemorated on a special US postage stamp.
His name - in typical American fashion - was Hiram Bingham
IV. You would suspect that being the fourth in the line of Hiram Binghams put
him under pressure to achieve something noteworthy.
But what? His antecedents had set a high standard. Hiram
Bingham I had the distinction of taking the first band of missionaries to Hawaii
in 1819 to proclaim the gospel. His son, Hiram Bingham II, was also inspired by
missionary fervour, and in the Sandwich Islands single-handedly completed the
daunting task of translating the Bible into Gilbertese. Grandson Hiram Bingham
III was a prototype for Indiana Jones: governor of Connecticut and US senator,
he commanded an aviation instruction centre in France during WW1 and taught
history at Harvard, Princeton and Yale - but distinguished himself as director
of the Yale Peruvian Expedition by discovering the ruins of the fabled Inca city
of Machu Picchu and locating Vitcas, the very last Inca capital.
A hard act to follow, you might imagine. Hiram Bingham IV
certainly thought so, and settled quietly into the US diplomatic service with a
posting, in 1939, to Marseilles, France as the American vice-consul.
God had plans for him.
If you remember your history lessons, America was neutral at
the start of WW2. And if you understand the language of diplomacy, 'neutral'
can have all manner of meanings. (Eire was neutral, a haven for German spies;
Switzerland was neutral, its banks methodically laundering vast amounts of Nazi
gold.) So, for America, 'neutral' meant Bingham was explicitly forbidden to
issue US entry visas to Jews.
Let's hit the pause button right there. We are of the firm
opinion that we should keep our noses clean and do a passable imitation of being
...unless the powers-that-be step over the line and
make an order that goes against God. Sure, that's subjective. Sure, half the
nastier nutters 'held in forensic detention' claim God told them to do
whatever evil provoked society to quarantine them. We're not justifying
violence of any sort, any time, any place; what we're saying is we're not
going to let anyone come to harm directly or indirectly by our action or
inaction, laws or no laws. When push comes to shove, we'll non-violently break
laws to save lives, especially Jewish lives. Because then those who make the
rules have forfeited their right to be obeyed.
And you, dear mild-mannered Christian believer, need to
decide now how you will respond then.
Yes, there are all the nice verses about kings and things
being ordained of God, and we should pay taxes to whom taxes are due. Some folk
love the texts that seem to say don't be different, don't rock the boat,
bland is beautiful. Yeah, right. Haven't you read the one that goes 'I wish
you were either hot or cold; lukewarm makes me puke'.
Jesus said that. To the end-time church. That's us;
Get the vintage tape by Brother Andrew, 'God's smuggler',
called 'The ethics of smuggling'. Read Acts; check out the number of
times those guys went against the authorities. Decide now where your loyalty
lies, where your citizenship really is.
It'll save a bit of confusion and panic later.
That was a digression. Where were we? Oh yes, with HBIV being
forbidden by Harry Truman (his boss, the pressy of the US of A) to give
life-saving visas to Jews.
Hiram Bingham IV feared God. That's wise. 'Beginning of
wisdom', as the book says. So he issued American entry visas, because Jews
couldn't get permission to leave France without one. And the Nazi
extermination machine was methodically reaching further and even further to
ingather new communities of Jews for destruction.
Bingham, the quiet father of eleven children, received Truman's
orders, shrugged, and ignored them. Not a good career move, perhaps. But maybe
Hiram's ambitions weren't confined to this life. So he wrote visas, often
delivering them personally in prison camps. He 'just happened' to be at
Spanish border posts when visa-less Jews were being turned back to certain
death, and argued them though to safety. He caused artist Marc Chagall to be
released from Nazi arrest and hid him in his own home (along with many others,
all at his own personal expense) until the Resistance movement to smuggle him to
safety overseas. (Chagall! We have vivid memories of being taken by Israeli army
soldiers to Hadassah hospital, Jerusalem, being given the guided tour and the
multi-media presentation, then sitting in the hospital's synagogue to gaze at
the vibrant glow of Chagall's stained glass panels of the Twelve Patriarchs.
Later, in the Knesset, we admired the vast Chagall tapestry that adorns the main
hall. Go there. Admire. And remember Bingham who rescued him.)
Thousands of lives were saved by Bingham. Many times that
number of their descendants are alive because of him. But the American president's
patience was wearing thin. Angered by the quiet disobedience of his vice-consul,
eventually a nod to the State Department saw Hiram Bingham IV kicked
ignominiously downstairs to a far from desirable posting in Buenos Aires.
Yet even there, Hiram, although unable to rescue Jews, kept
his government and others informed of the whereabouts of Nazi war criminals.
That was the last straw. Administrations have their methods of easing out those
who annoy them.
Bingham found himself out of the diplomatic service. He died
That - you'd better believe it - is a success story. Until
recently, his exploits were as good as forgotten. So what? Now US secretary of
state Colin Powell and UN secretary general Kofi Annan are queuing to honour
him. So what?
Being a believer made him special in the lives of others. In
the eyes of God. In - and this we fervently pray - in the inspiration to you and
to us, so that when the chips are down we will give a little shrug, knowing full
well where our loyalty lies.
Short-term, that's not a good career move like we say. But
long-term? Hey, even the Bible runs out of adjectives to describe the package
that comes with God's nod of approval. Let's just say that whatever that
package is, it's personally made, gift-wrapped and delivered by the King of
And in His own handwriting, the card says: 'with love'.