Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Maria “Meva” Dobrucka

Maria Dobrucka, nicknamed “Meva” (“seagull” in Polish), was born in 1927 and grew up in Czortkow, a small Polish town in present-day Ukraine.  Czortkow had a large Jewish population, and by March of 1942 the Nazis had established a ghetto where all the Jewish inhabitants---approximately 6,800 people---had to relocate to.  And within six months, the Nazis had begun shipping people from the ghetto to the concentration camp at Belzec. 

It was around this time that the Hausers, a Jewish family, got message to their friends the Dobruckas, begging them to help save their two year-old daughter Inka Hauser. 

Because of her size, it was decided that 15 year-old Meva would sneak into the ghetto through a tiny window in the wall, get Inka, and sneak back out.  The plan seemed to have little chance of succeeding, and if Meva had been caught she surely would have been executed on the spot.  Yet into the ghetto she crept, at dusk on that August night in 1942 with a Star of David on her arm in case Nazi soldiers spotted her.  Meva met the Hausers, took Inka in her arms, and climbed back out and into the night undetected.

For the next three years, as the Nazi atrocities grew, and roughly half of the Jews in the Czortkow ghetto were killed, Meva and the Dobrucka family raised Inka.  It would have been more than heroic enough for teen-aged Meva to have the courage to sneak in to the ghetto, get Inka, and sneak back out without the guards seeing her.  But the teen-ager also had the compassion to continue comforting and caring for Inka as a sister for the duration of the war.
In September of 1983 Maria Dobrucka-Mikusz, along with her parents Aniela Dobrucka and Andrzej Dobrucki, was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel for her heroism.

Miraculously, the Hausers survived, and after the war came knocking on the Dobrucka’s door.  Inka did not recognize her parents at first because she had left them when she was so young.

Now living in California with her own children, Inka Hauser-Huber has remained in close contact with the woman who had literally carried her through the valley of the shadow of death so many years before.

Maria “Meva” Dobrucka-Mikusz is a hero you should know.  And I‘m Dr. Ross Porter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Listening very much…

Holiday.  You’ll read that word a lot in the next several weeks.  We know what the term means to many nowadays:  time off from work, vacation, a chance to get last minute shopping done, parties, lots of food.  But what did it originally mean?  

Halig (Holy) daeg (day) was a Middle English word, first used in the 12th century.  It marked special days set aside by the Church.  General work was suspended in order to frame, consider, and celebrate “holiness”. 

Holy days help us understand what holiness really is---and how we too can become holy.  In the Christian world, every Sunday is considered a Holy Day, the Sabbath.   And of course we have days like Easter and Christmas to remind us why we have a faith.  Most believers will make some effort to get to church on these days at a minimum.

But if it’s just about Church attendance, we’re missing the point! 

Do you see signs of holiness in yourself, and in those around you?  My guess is that you’d know it if you saw it, or experienced it, even though you might not call it “holiness.”  It’s found in love, and gentleness, and goodness, and sacrifice, and faith, and joyful humility.  I’ve been blessed with many examples in my life, but I want to focus on an example from my seminary days which still stirs my heart.

For a couple of years, I lived next door to a beautiful Chinese family.  Grandma Yen, the matriarch, was well into her 80’s when I first met her but still very much in love with Jesus.  One day she knocked on my front door to ask a favor of me.  Would I be willing to read her favorite Bible verses while she recorded me?  I agreed, thinking Grandma Yen was wanting to practice her English, and quickly affirmed her desire to become more fluent.  With a smile, she politely corrected me stating that it wasn’t about her English, it was about her spiritual life.  As she explained it, because she didn’t have a strong command of the English language, the recordings would challenge her to “listen very much when God talks to me.”

Grandma Yen has been in Heaven for twenty-one years now, after a lifetime of listening very much to God’s words to her, and then following His directions.  I think of her every time the Holidays Season rolls around.  She will always serve as an example of holiness for me, and provides a clue for how we can all stay connected to the original meaning of the Holidays.

May we all listen “very much” to the words of God, cherish them, follow them…and help make this Holiday Season truly holy.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Neerja Bhanot

Twenty-two year old Neerja Bhanot was the senior flight attendant on Pan Am Flight 73 bound for New York City when it was hijacked in the early morning hours of September 5, 1986, during a layover in Karachi, Pakistan.  As four heavily armed terrorists, members of the Abu Nidal Organization (an offshoot of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO) boarded the plane, Bhanot notified the cockpit.  And since the plane was still on the tarmac, the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer were able to escape through a ceiling hatch.

Suddenly the senior member of the 13 person flight crew, the terrorists demanded Bhanot gather the passports of the 360 passengers so they could identify the Americans on board and execute them.  Bhanot instructed the attendants to hide the 41 American passports, under seats and in a trash chute.
After a seventeen hour stand-off, the terrorists opened fire inside the plane and began setting off explosives.  Bhanot opened the emergency exit, and as the first closest to the exit could have easily escaped.  But she chose to stay, and began helping people get out.  Pakistani commandos stormed the plane and took control.  In the chaos, Bhanot, shielding three children with her body, was shot multiple times by the terrorists and died.

Because of her quick thinking, and extraordinary bravery, Bhanot was able to keep the plane from taking off, helped to stall the hijackers, and limited the massacre to 22 dead.  It had been believed that the hijackers intended to use the plane to pick up Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus and Israel.  However, in 2006 one of the hostages wrote that he’d heard the hijackers discussing the plan of crashing the plane into a target in Israel.

All four hijackers were eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison.  By 2008, though, all four hijackers had been released.

Bhanot was posthumously honored with India’s highest peacetime medal of bravery, the Ashok Chakra Award.  She was the first woman, and the youngest person, to receive this distinction.  Her parents and Pan Am Airlines honored her memory by establishing the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust, which awards prize money each year to one flight crew member worldwide and one Indian woman who act with remarkable courage for social justice.

Almost exactly fifteen years before 9/11, Neerja Bhanot showed once again that there is nothing more powerful than the willingness to die in order to save lives.  It’s the opposite of terrorism, and the stuff of greatness.

Neerja Bhanot is a hero you should know.  And I‘m Dr. Ross Porter.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Heaven, Hell, and the virtue of Hope

“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” -Viktor Frankl

Dante, in his Inferno, wrote that the gate leading into Hell carries the inscription, “Abandon all hope, you who enter.”  Indeed life without hope is hell.  But can hope be found in the midst of hell?  I’m talking about the here-and-now, in this world and this life, in the midst of suffering, and pain, and despair that threaten to rob one’s life of meaning?  Can hope be found when all that matters most seems lost, or in real danger of being lost? 

To fully understand the virtue of hope, one must recognize that “hell” is actually the best place to find it.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl described an intimate moment that speaks to this point.  Early one morning he was marching with fellow prisoners inside the concentration camp of Auschwitz when he began thinking of his wife.  He imagined her smile, her reassuring facial expressions, and a dialogue they might have if they were together.  And he suddenly realized that whether she was in fact alive or dead, at that moment he was changed.  He had connected with something transcendent, and the hope it inspired lifted him above the horror of his present situation and gave him a reason to go on. 

Surrounded by death, Frankl discovered that which death cannot swallow up. 

Hope is what makes life worth living.  It is the virtue that confronts cynicism and despair.  It is the anchoring conviction that there is meaning in life, and it is the force that urges you to find it…and keep finding it.  But hope is more than this.

Hope is grounded in the reality that in the eternal battle of good versus evil, good will win.  In the end, things will make sense.  If optimism is lighting a candle in the darkness, hope is the knowing that whether the candle goes out or not the dawn will eventually come. 

It may not look that way sometimes, in fact it may not look that way many times.  And if one only considers the present state of the world, and passing circumstances, disillusionment and fear can set up permanent residency in the heart. 

Bad things do happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, and life is not always fair.  Hope does not deny this reality, but it does challenge the belief that this reality needs to be final and ultimate. 

Do you believe this?  Do you believe in your heart that good is more powerful than evil, that love is greater than hate, and that death doesn’t have the last word?  And are you moved to act?  I pray you are. 

Because the ongoing search for meaning and purpose is essential to being fully alive.  It is only in this search that one finds reasons to hope, and thus reasons to go on.

Heaven and hell do begin in this life.  Hope is the virtue that decides which one you’ll choose.