PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Helping Each Other Become Everlasting Splendors or Immortal Horrors!” By: Ron Woodrum
In 2004 a Documentary Short Film was nominated for an Academy Award for Short Subjects. It was a film titled The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club. As a member of the Bang Bang Club, Kevin Carter was a photo-journalist documenting violence in South Africa, where he had grown up. In a few short years he had recorded countless murders, from beatings, stabbings, gunshots, and necklacing-where a victim was tied up, and a tire, filled with oil, was placed around his neck, and lit on fire, making him a human torch. Such encounters, over a period of time, made Kevin calloused to the violence that he had witnessed. He certainly could identify with the message of Jackson Browne, in the song-Doctor My Eyes!
Doctor My Eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the Evil and the Good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Was it unwise-to keep them open for so long?
(The song ends-)
I hear their cries, is it too late for me?
Is this the prize, For having learned how not to cry?
Kevin Carter had lived that song. But one afternoon he would have an assignment that would change his life forever-both good and bad. He was sent to the Sudan to document, in film, a nationwide famine. Exhausted after a day of taking pictures in the village of Ayod, he went out into the open bush to relax. He heard a whimpering and came across an emaciated toddler, a little girl, too weak to walk, crawling toward the feeding center. She had knelt in a heap, too weak to crawl on. As he took pictures, a plump vulture landed a few feet from the toddler, just waiting for the right moment to prey on her. Carter watched for 20 minutes, finally scaring the vulture away, temporarily, finishing his cigarette, and left. (Having learned how not to cry!). He later sent his pictures of the toddler and the waiting vulture to the New York Times. They printed it to document the Sudanese Famine. That photo won Carter the Pulitzer Prize, making him famous. But readers inundated the New York Times, and Carter’s phone with questions about the welfare of the little girl. Carter admitted that he did not know what had happened to the toddler. There arose a public outrage against Carter for not intervening to assist her and rescue her! That 2004 film documents how Carter was overwhelmed with guilt over that incident, and over all his exposure to the sufferings of South Africa. In July of 1994, he left a note saying, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings, corpses, anger and pain” He took his own life. There is something deep inside us that is unforgiveable for not intervening and rescuing someone, when it is well within our power to do so. When we are a person’s only hope, and we walk away, the guilt is overwhelming. As Christians, responsible for witnessing to those who are perishing, we should never forget that lesson!
Another film, one that won a lot of Academy Awards was the Titanic. The world was mesmerized by the account of that famous tragedy. But there was one personal story about the Titanic that was not documented in that famous film. It was the story of John Harper. John Harper was a Pastor and Evangelist. He was a widow, with a six-year-old daughter. He had boarded the Titanic to make his voyage to America, to become the next Pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, but it was never to be. When the ship hit the iceberg, Harper, sizing up what was about to happen, put his daughter on a life boat for safety. He was offered the opportunity to stay with her, since she had no mother. He forfeited that offer. Instead, after securing her safety, he began to assist women, children, and others to the lifeboats. As he did that, he pleaded with every one of them to accept Christ as their Savior, in case they did not survive this tragedy. Many did accept his offer. Others rejected him. One man, after refusing the offer, was surprised when Harper took off his life jacket, and put it on the man, saying-“you need this more than I do”. Harper was heard calling out, “Women, children, and the unsaved, please get in the life boats!” He was seen swimming from one person after another, fighting hypothermia, pleading for their souls. Four years later, at a Titanic Survivors Meeting in Toronto, Canada, a young man told how Harper had pleaded with him to accept Christ, which at first, he refused, but when he asked a second time, he consented. He told the survivors-“I was John Harper’s last convert-I watched him slip away after pleading for my soul”. In London, at the White Star Line company headquarters, concerned family members waited for news to be telegraphed about the survivors. Outside the headquarters was a board with two lists: Those Known to be Saved-Those Known to be Lost. John Harper gave that a new heavenly meaning! So, can we if we learn from Kevin Carter’s story, and don’t walk away from our opportunities to be used of God to rescue the perishing.
C.S. Lewis took this responsibility very seriously, and encouraged all Christians to realize what an opportunity we have every day to make a difference for eternity. In his book The Weight of Glory, he wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…It is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, or exploit. We need to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw them now, you would be tempted to worship, or they might become a horror and corruption such as you can only meet in a nightmare! All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. You may influence them for Christ and they become and everlasting splendor, or fail them and they become an immortal horror…this is the most serious thing”. Kevin Carter had a calloused heart that hindered him in that kind of rescue. He was never able to forgive himself for that failure. Magnify that by eternity’s implication. Such failure is far more regrettable Christian! We are without excuse. Make an eternal difference now. God is handing out heavenly Pulitzer Prizes for those who make the effort!