Welcome to the Real World

Singapore — On a flight enroute from Singapore to Tokyo I read a national U.S. newsmagazine cover story that leads off with ticket scalping on a commercial flight from Medan to Banda Aceh. I’m a bit unsure about the point of the tale, except to say that in this crisis there are those who are exploiting the situation.

I were to speak to the writer, and if I were to have a bit of attitude, I would
say, “Welcome to the real world.” Usually it’s those of us who are considered
“starry-eyed idealists” offering humanitarian aid who are regarded as a bit out
of touch with reality. You’re surprised by

When crises hit–in the U.S.,
Africa, Europe, Asia and points in-between–there are those who see an occasion
for unfair profit and they behave in unprincipaled ways. They exploit the weak.
They take advantage of the care-givers. They

Then, I would say, “So what’s
your point?” That you and your editors think this is worth the lead in an
article about the relief effort; that you adjudge it newsworthy at all, is
surprising to me. Such behavior is as old as human

…there is
and goodness in
the human heart
and in this
we can take

And then I would say, I wish you could have
been with me this past week. We worked from sunrise to midnight most days. I
travelled with Indonesians who have lost family members, homes, businesses and
their places of worship, which are the centers of their community. And despite
all of this they showed us gracious

Christians are a
minority in this country, sometimes experiencing discrimination, or worse. Yet,
they have rushed to provide emergency aid to anyone who needs it. They are not
checking religious affiliation, ethnic heritage, language group, age, sex or
income. They are just serving people in

They took time to travel with
our delegation to introduce us to people and show us damaged areas.

One young man insisted on carrying
an equipment bag for me. He always chose the heaviest bag, despite my
protestation. I was continuously jockeying with him to share the load, but he
was insistent.

On a street in Banda
Aceh we stood shoulder-to-shoulder and he pointed out to me his apartment in a
collapsed building. It was so damaged it was inaccessible. He has not been
able to retrieve any belongings, or even to visit to see if he has anything

On another street he
exclaimed, “Oh my!” I asked why. He explained that the storefront before us
belonged to his parents. It was utterly destroyed. Nothing of worth was

Then I would relate how
our room plans fell through late one night and a family from the Bireuen
Methodist Church took six of us into their

I could also talk about how at
the end of our trip they showered us with gifts and thanked us for coming, but
you get the point.

Of course I saw
looting. But I also saw heroic, sacrificial service to those in need. I saw
people bridging gaps of religion and culture that, if such behavior takes hold,
could transform this country.

don’t overlook corruption or condone exploitation. But neither can I overlook
the selfless, gracious hospitality offered to me and the other members of our
group under conditions that could hardly have been

And that would bring me back
to a less harsh judgment about the choice of subject matter in the cover story.
It would cause me to be more compassionate toward those writers who saw the
worst and wrote about it while walking through the best and failing to

Experiencing the best of human
behavior takes the edge off experiencing the worst. It doesn’t excuse the
worst, forgive it, or cause us to overlook it. But it does add

And as I reflect on all
that we’ve seen in these few, short days, I have to believe that there is
selflessness and goodness in the human heart and in this, despite all other
evidence to the contrary, we can take hope. I’ve seen it and experienced it.
It’s real.

Welcome to the real

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