Do it for the story
CHAPTER 1 All The Clowns have Gone
- September, 2006 -
The woman was naked from the waist up. Seconds earlier Iʼd watched
as she was thrown to the ground. As she struggled to rise, her shirt
was ripped from her body. One man, I think it was her friend, jumped in
with ﬁsts ﬂailing. He was trying to drive the others away. He was
unsuccessful. I watched as he took a ﬁst to the face and immediately
went to the ground. The crowd was large, easily more than ﬁfty and it
was growing by the second. The woman was at the center of it all. She
was being pulled back and forth like a rag-doll. I couldn't tell who was
trying to help the woman and who was trying to hurt her. Suddenly, a
knife ﬂashed high in the air.
The priest was on his cell phone. He had answered it seconds earlier
and was only now seeing what was happening directly outside our
vehicle. I still feel shame when I remember that I was just sitting there,
doing nothing. I was inside the medical truck trying to imagine what I
could do that would be even slightly meaningful. The woman was being
attacked right beside me, directly outside my car door, while I just sat
there. It was total mayhem now; ﬁsts ﬂying in every direction. I saw
another knife, but I couldn't tell if anyone had been stabbed yet. The
woman wrestled one of her arms free and slugged one of her
assailants hard in the face. All around her, men and woman shoved
each other wildly. I didnʼt know what had caused the mob to gather
around this woman, but it didn't matter; someone was going to die.
It's not that I would usually sit and spectate at a time like this; I was
racking my brain, trying to ﬁgure out how I could help this woman. I
didn't even speak the language. This was only the second time I'd
come to Haiti and I deﬁnitely wasnʼt prepared for something like this.
I've had two separate occasions where Iʼve been in a ﬁght to protect
someone, but neither of those experiences were even close to what
was happening now.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE GIRL
- - - - - - - - - - - -
- December, 1996 -
Our conversation was cut short by a womanʼs desperate scream.
Before we could react, we heard a loud crashing sound. Stuart and I
ran to the window. We were three stories up, inside a church in the
center of Pittsburg. It was ten in the evening and the building was
locked for the night. I was there with a team of students who were
volunteering with the church for a week. We spent our days serving in
soup kitchens and helping out wherever we were needed. The church
had graciously offered to let us sleep on their ﬂoor.
Stuart and I had decided to investigate all the different ﬂoors of this
huge building that was so unlike any church I had ever seen. I didn't
know Stuart very well. He was one of the many students who were with
me on this trip.
The woman screamed again. This time she sounded like she was
struggling with someone. We were trying to pry the window open, but it
had been rusted shut for the past twenty years. Without another
thought both of us darted for the stairs. Stuart was in front of me as we
raced to the ground ﬂoor. There was an emergency exit that seemed
to be in the right place. Stewart shoved it open and stepped aside,
allowing me to run out at full speed.
My feet crunched on newly fallen snow as I slipped on the ice, barely
keeping my balance. I turned frantically, already feeling the intense
cold. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and it was well below zero. A
man was choking a woman, both hands around her neck, holding her
against the wall in the back alley of the church. They were standing
directly beside the door I'd just exited. He was wearing a suit and a
warm looking leather jacket. She was dressed in an evening gown that
shimmered when she moved. When he saw me he took his hands off
her throat and grabbed her by the wrist. I looked at Stewart who was
still standing in the open doorway; he'd gone completely white. Without
warning and with a look of fear clearly painting his face, he slammed
the door. The door didn't have a handle on the outside. Stewart had
locked me in the alley with the man.
All of this happened within a few seconds. I didn't have the time to
get angry – that would come later.
"Take your hands off the girl," I said in a voice that squeaked with
fear. It was the only phrase that came to mind. It probably came from
watching too many superhero movies.
"Get out of here," he said. "Leave us alone or you're going to get
hurt." The man said this with the calm surety of someone who knew he
didn't have anything to worry about.
He was right. This "man" was probably twenty-ﬁve and I was only
eighteen. I was a kid from the suburbs who had dreamed of moments
like this but had never been in a real ﬁght. This was a guy from the city
who deﬁnitely knew what to do with his ﬁsts.
"I can't do that," I said. I started to breathe a little slower and tried to
stop my mind from racing.
That's when something amazing happened, something that
completely surprised me. The fear left me. I knew that I was about to
get hurt, but somehow I had this surreal feeling like I was watching a
movie. It was like this whole experience was happening to someone
else and I was just a spectator. I now understand that this is how my
mind reacts when I am in danger, but this was the ﬁrst time I'd
encountered this feeling. I quickly prayed a silent prayer and then
spoke with a calm surety of my own.
"I'll let you walk out of here if you leave now. But if you don't let her
go, you and I are going to have a problem."
I tend to speak like this in these kinds of situations because I am a
man who spent his childhood dreaming about being in these kinds of
situations. I would practice these and many other ridiculous lines in my
mirror with the desperate hope that I could someday have a reason to
say them. I still practice these kinds of lines, but now itʼs usually while
I'm driving, which is much more grown up.
I found myself laying ﬂat on my back in the snow. My jaw was
throbbing and I had no idea where I was. I never saw him hit me. I was
looking at him, but the whole "ﬁst coming towards my face" thing,
somehow escaped my notice. After a moment of lying on the ground,
my eyes focused on the man. He crouched low and grabbed my shirt. I
didn't know what was happening, I'm not even sure if I knew where I
was, I just knew I was in trouble. I started thrashing around, my arms
ﬂailing wildly. Just then, the emergency door opened again and this
time there were ﬁve men standing in it. Stewart had come back with
help. When my friends saw me, it looked like I was "wrestling" with the
man. I was simply trying to ﬁgure out where I was. Until now, I haven't
felt the need to tell the truth of this story. If they wanted to think I was
wrestling, who was I to tell them different?
I only tell this story to say that I don't usually sit around and do nothing
when I see someone being attacked. But when I was in Haiti, I froze.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
DEATH ON THE WIND
- - - - - - - - - - - -
– September, 2006 –
Just hours before the woman was attacked outside my car door, I was
oblivious to what this day would hold. I met the priest at his hospital in
Petionville, a section of Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti. As soon as I
walked in the gate he asked if I would help his staff load the trucks. We
were heading into Citi Soliel and we needed medical supplies.
In 2006 the priest was the only white man who could come and go in
Citi Soliel with relative ease. He was seen as a man who stood up for
the poor and the oppressed and his love for the people resulted in
action. After being with the priest, I now believe that love without action
is simply pride that goes around calling itself love. But the priest loved
in deed and most of his love was given to the broken, the hurting, the
dying and even the gangsters. He healed men and women who
needed healing, no matter who they were. It was this love that allowed
him to ransom back hostages on a regular basis. The gangsters owed
him and they knew it.
I followed a few young men up a long stairway to grab some supplies
from a storage room. They all seemed to be in a hurry to load the truck
and get moving. Later I would learn that each of the young men who
accompanied the priest on these outings owed him their lives. Every
one of them had either came out of gangs or off the streets and he had
loved them enough to actually step into their worlds and be the love
that I usually only talk about.
I don't want all this talk of love to give the wrong impression. The
priest is a rough, hard man who doesn't back down. He is conﬁdent
and unyielding in his purpose and service to the poor. He knows what
he wants and he gets what he wants and people who don't want to
give him what he wants generally get out of his way. The way he
interacts with the gangsters is the same way he interacts with his staff.
People jump when he talks because his manner of engaging
commands an authority I've rarely seen.
At the top of the stairs was a storage room ﬁlled with portable X-ray
machines, boxes of medical supplies and cofﬁns. We carried
everything down to the trucks. I had never touched a cofﬁn before.
These weren't the fancy cofﬁns Iʼd seen in movies, these were thin,
long boxes made of cardboard. I helped carry them down, wondering if
we were going to a funeral.
As we drove away from the hospital the priest told me what the
cofﬁns were for.
"When we drive through Citi Soliel we often ﬁnd bodies rotting on top
of the trash heaps scattered throughout the city," he said in a casual
tone. "I started bringing cofﬁns with me because I can't imagine what it
would be like for kids who have to walk past these bodies every day on
their way to school - not to mention the diseases the bodies spread."
"You ﬁnd bodies just lying on piles of trash?" I said in an unbelieving
tone. "How did they get there?"
"On a bad week we will ﬁnd seven or eight, but sometimes its only a
couple," he said. "They are people who have either been killed by a
gang or have died from malnutrition or some disease. Most
households lack the money for a proper burial, so the bodies are
thrown on the piles of trash. Imagine what it does to a ﬁve-year-old
child to walk past a rotting body on a daily basis. That child doesn't
have a chance of growing up normal. People wonder how some of
these gangsters can be so cruel. Just think about that ﬁve-year-old and
then see if you still wonder. In just a few years, these boys and girls will
be young men and women, and unless someone does something, they
will be the next gang leaders of Haiti. So, I pick up the bodies when I
see them and I bury them. The people appreciate it and the kids can
walk to school without having to experience that kind of thing."
I couldn't fathom this. My mind couldnʼt comprehend this kind of
horror. I didn't say anything because I didn't know how to respond. And
then he said something that I will never forget.
"The current life expectancy in Citi Soliel is sixteen. Can you imagine
that?" he said this with a look of incredulity. "The gangsters I am going
to introduce you to are mostly in their early twenties. They are some of
the oldest people in Citi Soliel.”
We talked about many things that day. Every word that came out of
his mouth carried with it a weight and a wisdom that can only be found
in someone who has experienced the things that he has. I watched as
he treated the poorest of the poor. In his every interaction he gave
them a dignity and respect that many had never received before. The
priest doesn't see himself as doing anything special. He simply does
what the bible commands him to do: he loves with actions. He doesn't
love with pride.
It was a life changing few days that I was able to spend with him.
Every time I go back to Haiti I try and spend more time with him so I
can once again learn how to love. Each time I am able to spend a day
or two in his presence I feel like I am in the presence of Jesus. In fact,
when I think about Jesus I often see him with the face of the priest.
- A few hours later -
The woman was on her knees now, struggling to rise. Her shirt was
lying on the ground, trampled by the madness that was growing
around her. It had changed from a crowd to a mob quicker than I could
have imagined. I was rooted to my seat. I couldn't make myself grab
the door handle and get out of the truck.
As the woman rose unsteadily to her feet I saw another knife rise
high in the air. The sun reﬂected off the blade like a mirror. This knife
was different than the others I had seen. The others had been shaken
violently in a threatening manner; this one was raised with the clear
intention of striking the woman in the chest.
That's when the miracle happened. I watched it unfold right in front of
my eyes. Out of nowhere another hand shot into the air, grabbing the
hand with the knife and stopping it before it could plunge it into the
heart of the woman. The mob quieted in an instant as if a supernatural
force had descended into their midst. The man with the knife lowered
his eyes with an embarrassed, apologetic look. Thatʼs when I saw him.
The priest was standing in the center of it all. He is not the tallest man,
but he deﬁnitely stands out in a crowd of Haitians. I watched as he took
off his jacket and put it around the half naked woman, wrapping her in
more than simple clothes. He said a few things to her in a language I
didn't understand and then walked the woman over to the young men
who had followed him out of the truck. They were trying to look like his
bodyguards but merely ended up looking like boys who were standing
next to a real life hero. He must have instructed them to take the
woman home because they all surrounded her and walked her away
from the crowd. The priest said a few more words to the people,
putting his hands on some of their shoulders and calming them.
A minute later he was back inside the truck. He put his phone to his
ear and continued with the call he had been on before the whole
incident happened. He hadn't even hung up his cell phone when he
stopped the murder. After he hung up, he simply continued telling me
the story he been in the middle of before we'd been interrupted by the
call. He didn't mention what had just happened. He wasn't being
humble; he just didn't see it as anything special.
I think Jesus was like this. I used to picture him doing miracles or
saying incredible truths and then pausing, allowing the words to sink in.
The pause would also allow the crowd to "ooh and ahh" for him. After
spending time with the Priest I now know that Jesus just did what he
did. He performed miracles, loved in action instead of pride, and
changed the world without ever stopping to get kudos for it. Sometimes
the disciples would make a big deal out of the miracles. But Jesus
would always get irritated that they didn't get it. The disciples wanted a
show; they wanted a person they could point to as a real life hero.
They wanted to sell little Jesus action ﬁgures. But Jesus was never
impressed with what he did, he loved those who needed to be loved
and that was that.
Meeting the priest changed my life. I had never imagined a man like
him. He is like Jesus, only hard-core. I now understand that Jesus was
hard-core too, but I didn't always think so. Growing up I envisioned him
with sheep around his neck and kids sitting on his lap - usually his legs
were shaved as well. I never imagined him in the middle of a crowd in
Haiti, stopping a knife ﬁght. But he was there. I saw him there, and I
was able to walk with him on the streets of Haiti and my life will never
be the same.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
THE MONOTONY OF HISTORY
- - - - - - - - - - - -
I bet when The Old Testament was written, men and women who had
access to it couldn't believe their eyes. The Old Testament was the
worldʼs ﬁrst bestseller. In fact, it was a whole conglomeration of
bestsellers that were put into one great big book. The marketing was
sheer genius. Not only was The Old Testament a book of bestsellers, it
was a book, that rumor had it, was inspired by God himself. Talk about
a publishing companyʼs dream. This thing had gold written all over it.
And then, one day, hundreds of years after this book hit the shelves,
along came these guys who decided to write a sequel. In Hollywood,
great ﬁlms are often ruined by their sequels. But this group understood
the risks and bravely moved forward.
"Lets call it The Old Testament, Two" one of them said.
"No", said another, "letʼs call it Return of The Old Testament."
“No", said yet another man, "letʼs call it The New Testament".
And with that, all of their mouths dropped open at the sheer genius of
The New Testament, one of them mouthed silently. "That's brilliant!"
he said. "It's like, the same - only newer!"
I understand that this is not how the Bible was put together. I have
actually learned quite a bit about the process that put the word of God
into our hands in the format that it is today and it is quite an inspiring
story. But I am not a thinker and this is not a book about theology. I am
a storyteller, and I think my version has a lot more wit than the true
story, so I am sticking with it.
I grew up thinking that God's history was already written. It was done.
We had two accounts of the God breathed history of the world. These
two books climaxed with the epic "Jesus moment" and then the ink,
quill and parchment were put away. The story was complete. From that
moment onwards we were simply meant to learn how to live out what
had been “taught” in the scriptures.
No wonder we are all bored. The story has already been told. We are
all late to the party and the clowns have all gone home. We have no
role to play in this two-part epic adventure series. All we can do now is
read it as a textbook and try to learn from it the way a historian studies
the writings of ancient worlds.
It was while I was in Haiti, walking with the priest that I began to
wonder if God's epic adventure series was still being written. Maybe,
like all great series, this story is a trilogy. And if this is true then just
maybe weʼre all playing roles in the most exciting installment of the
entire story. The third act in any story is always the most intense,
magical and beautiful. And as a general rule, the third act is always
bigger than the ﬁrst two.
Just maybe, somewhere in Heaven an angel sits with a pen. That
angel is watching our stories and making notes in a book that will
eventually be released as The New-est, New Testament. I'm not sure
about the title, but I am sure that God's story is still being written and it
is an epic one. The best stories contain tragedy and comedy, true love
and adventure, heartache and joy, magic and beauty. All I have to do
is take a look at the world to see that all of the pieces to the best story
ever told are in place.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
THE BOOK OF PRIEST PART 1
- - - - - - - - - - - -
What I ﬁnd to be truly amazing is that I get to play a part in this epic
tale. I get to help design the character that God has written into
existence. I co-write alongside the bestselling author of all time. At
times God will write in a bit of tragedy or adventure that I never
expected, but I also get to write new stories within this framework he
has set up.
I was born a Canadian white male on December 12, 1976 to Lloyd
and Mary Clark.
I didn't have a say in that part of my story. In fact, my life has had a
large number of scenes that have played out like Forrest Gumpʼs
feather or his box of chocolates. But as the secondary author of this
story, I have to go with the structure I've been given. What excites me
is that there is still a large majority of my story that remains to be told. I
can choose my own adventures. I can say, "yes" to someone in
desperate need or I can say "no." I can open the door of a truck or I
can leave it closed. I can knock, or I can walk away.
The priest understands this more than anyone I have ever met. I
have yet to live a story that truly compares with those in the Old or the
New Testaments. But I know someone whose current day stories
deﬁnitely compare. The priest has collected at least a whole chapter in
The Newest New Testament. He might even get his own book.