'Break Their Hearts, Lord': An American Views Tsunami Aftermath
By John Schafer
The 700 Club
CBN.com -- Editor's note: This is the story of a CBN producer's struggle with the calling on his life. By leaving the comforts of home and reaching out to the tsunami survivors, his life was transformed forever.
Set Free from Fear
Gary Lane, CBN News International Director, prayed for a CBN co-worker and me the day before we flew from Medan, Indonesia, into Banda Aceh, saying, “Break their hearts, Lord.” It seemed like too simple of a prayer in light of the overwhelming situation that awaited us. That’s always been my problem – I make God too complicated and at the same time, minimize His power to overcome.
This is not where my story begins, but it is a pivotal moment in my relationship with God. A few years ago, Gordon Robertson asked me to pray about visiting our CBN ministry in Indonesia. Prior to 9/11, I would have jumped at the opportunity, but since that day I began to fear what man could do to me more than doing what God was asking of me. I thought the fear was God withholding His peace because He did not want me to go. I knew I could not go without His peace. The decision was made. I turned down the opportunity. Much like the Holy Spirit, Gordon was a gentleman and did not force the issue.
In April 2004, a CBN co-worker named Mike and I attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. We met with the director of CBN Indonesia and one of his colleagues. We prayed together in their hotel room, and it was an anointed time. Mike and I often talk about the night we all prayed together, because we knew those prayers reached beyond that particular moment in time.
Mark invited us to visit him and the CBN Center in Indonesia. Mike was thrilled. He is certain of his call to be a missionary. He was ready to go. I smiled weakly at Mark, knowing I already made that decision a few years back.
On my return to Virginia Beach, I met with Gordon and told him about our time of prayer with Mark and John. He asked me to reconsider visiting Indonesia. We were developing a new technical infrastructure there for sharing media with the States and our other regional centers. I told Gordon that a burning bush would have to tell me to go to Indonesia. He simply smiled. I’m not sure if he thought my comment was funny, or if he had a glimpse of what God had in store for me.
The Burning Bush
When I woke up on December 26, 2004, I started my computer in order to check my e-mail. The breaking news on the opening home page was a report about a tsunami hitting Southern Asia with up to 8,000 assumed dead. The news really didn’t impact me on an emotional level. I do remember thinking about how strange it was that this time last year an earthquake in Iran killed upwards of 26,000 people. As hours, then days, passed, the world truly saw the devastating power of the tsunami.
My wife and I watched interviews with mothers who had survived but were not able to hold onto their children. Every mother said the same thing. The last thing they saw was their children’s faces as they were swept away. That shook Tina and me to the core. Then God spoke to my heart, “I see this every day. I see My children being swept away from Me for eternity.”
We were praying for India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, and we wanted to help in a concrete way. The Indonesian families pulled at our hearts. We decided to give a gift to Operation Blessing’s Tsunami Relief Fund. I went to the Operation Blessing offices and handed our check to a lady working there. As soon as the check left my hand, God spoke to my heart, “That’s not what I wanted from you.” The burning bush had spoken.
I sent an e-mail I never dreamt I would write. I asked Gordon if he would pray and consider me as a volunteer in Indonesia if CBN or Operation Blessing decided to send help. I was finally willing to go. It was not long before I received an e-mail with a list of CBN team members being considered for field assignments into the devastated regions. It was soon confirmed that I would be going to Indonesia. Mike and I would travel from Virginia Beach, through Singapore to Medan, Indonesia, where the people from CBN Indonesia and Operation Blessing had established a command center for the relief efforts.
Prior to departing, I met my friend Bo for lunch. Bo had been my spiritual mentor since I arrived at CBN six years ago. I told him I was no longer afraid of going to Indonesia and that God had given me peace about the trip. God gave Bo a message for me: “Don’t be afraid of them, and don’t be afraid of the condition they may be in or of getting disease from them. Hold them tightly in your arms and tell them you love them. They will see Me through your actions more than they would if you preach to them.” I was reminded of what Gordon occasionally shares with us -- In every situation, Love never fails.
As Bo and I finished lunch, I still had one concern: What if that one grieving person asks me, “Why did God take away my wife, my children, and my home? Why did God let this happen?” I knew I would not know how to answer that. Bo told me the Holy Spirit would give me the right words when that time came. He didn’t say if that time comes, but when that time comes.
Newark to Singapore to Medan
Mike and I went to Norfolk International Airport together. He flew Delta to Kennedy, while I was scheduled to fly Continental to Newark. After we cleared security, I learned that my flight was cancelled because of bad weather in Newark. Mike’s flight left as scheduled. He arrived in Indonesia a day ahead of me. So, I spent an extra day with my family. I thought it was an awesome blessing. Little did I know what God was orchestrating behind the scenes.
The next day my flight departed on time. I had a ten-hour layover in Newark, so I began to look for an opportunity to be used by God. I saw a middle-aged woman sitting alone by the windows. She seemed really burdened and looked as if she didn’t have any hope. I saw her periodically throughout the day, and figured God was bringing her to my attention. So, I approached her and asked if I could pray for her. She looked me straight in the eye and said she didn’t believe there is a God and that she had no hope for her future.
I felt like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. I didn’t know how to respond, and I froze. I hadn’t even left the States and I had been rejected and felt defeated. As I boarded the plane to Singapore, I kept thinking how difficult my time in Indonesia would be if I couldn’t even encourage a hurting lady in Newark. I slept most of the 18 hours in the air between Newark and Singapore.
As I waited for my connecting flight, I saw a group of Americans getting together in front of the gate where we would soon board. It was a ministry group from the States getting together to pray. They got into this huge circle and held hands. I asked if I could join them in prayer, so two men made a gap for me. As they grasped my hands, I felt as if they reached down and pulled me up. I know my experience with God is not about touchy, feely sensations, but as we prayed I felt energized and encouraged. God gave me a badly needed boost for the final leg of my journey.
Fears Put to Rest
As I boarded the plane I saw that I had an aisle seat, and the man already seated in the middle looked very professional and successful. He appeared to be Indonesian, but I wasn’t certain.
I sat down and pulled my MP3 player out of my carryon and started listening to music. One of my favorite songs, “Salt and Light” by Jami Smith, began to play. It was uplifting to listen to those particular lyrics, and I was really getting into the song when I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to stop the music and talk with this gentleman. I’m thinking to myself, and telling God at the same time, “This man probably doesn’t even speak English.”
As soon as I pulled out the earphones, he said to me in perfect English, “Why are you going to Medan?” I told him I was meeting our relief team and left it at that. He asked where I was from, and I told him, “America.” He stared into my eyes and asked me, “Is God punishing us? Is He judging us?”
There it was, the moment I most dreaded. He was asking the very questions I feared hearing. And it happened before my feet even touched the ground in Indonesia! I remembered Bo saying, "The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes." Well, now was the time. All that came to mind to say was “I don’t think there is a person on this planet that could answer that question.”
He looked me in the eye and said, “Good answer; because if you thought you could answer that question, you would think you were God.”
When he returned to reading his newspaper again, there was an awkward silence. Then I interrupted him. I told him that I felt God was moving in the hearts of millions of people to come to the aid of Indonesia. We hadn’t seen this many countries come together, especially since the start of the war in Iraq. I also told him, “I believe God has a great plan for Indonesia. Today people are coming to help your people, but there will be a day when the people of Indonesia will go out and help those who are lost.”
He smiled at me and said, “That’s an interesting notion.” He opened his briefcase, pulled out a business card, and wrote his number on the back. As he handed it to me, he said, “If you ever get into trouble in my country, this is my personal number and I will come to help.” He stowed his briefcase and returned to reading his paper.
I looked at his card. The gentleman’s name was Henry. His business? He was the president of tourism for Northern Sumatra. I realized that God loved Henry and me enough to keep me home one more day so He could schedule this divine appointment.
Who knows how God touched this man? The fear I had carried onto the plane did not deplane with me. In that short exchange, God set me free and addressed Henry’s questions before I reached my destination.
View a slide show of John's trip to the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia
Read part two: Lost in Translation'
Read part three: Hiroshima Again
Read part four: Deeply Overwhelmed
You can help other natural disaster victims -- give to Operation Blessing today.
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