Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Fireman in the Coffee Shop

It had been a long, difficult year for Paul; in fact it had been the most difficult year he could remember in his 20 years of service with the Kitchener Fire Department. It seemed like every call in the last 12 months ended the same way, with another dead child. Whether it was a car accident, a house fire, or some other tragic event, Paul had never had to deal with the death of more children at any time in his career.

He had reached a breaking point of sorts, and something was going to have give. With his 20 years of wisdom and experience, Paul knew he had to take action, so he decided to approach his Chief and request a leave of absence. Without hesitation his Chief granted Paul’s request and told him to take 2 weeks off after finishing out the rest of that work week. For the first time in a long time, Paul felt a real sense of relief as his mind was immediately taken to discovering where he would go and what would he do with his much anticipated, 2 weeks of rest.

Every available minute, for the remainder of that week, Paul spent scanning the internet, desperately trying to find a destination that would take him away from all his troubles. Just when he thought he might change his plans and not go away at all, there it was; in his diligence he found what he was looking for! In the South Pacific there was an island named Pindadwa, inhabited by natives. The island of Pindadwa, the article stated, was completely isolated from Western Culture and had almost no tourist trade whatsoever. In fact, any visitors to the island would have to venture 10 hours, North East, on a fishing boat from New Zealand, if they wanted to go; just the right amount of adventure and seclusion that Paul was seeking.

The following Monday, Paul boarded a flight that left Pearson International Airport in Toronto and, after 3 stops, 16 hours later he arrived at Christchurch International Airport, in New Zealand. Paul then had about a 20 minute taxi ride to the harbour where he would find the small fishing boat that would eventually take him on his 10 hour trip, through calm seas, to Pindadwa. The weather was absolutely beautiful and the water was stunningly blue and crystal clear; Paul was relaxed. Even though he had very little knowledge of Pindadwa’s culture, he knew that the Pindadwans accepted American Currency, which he had a pocket full of, and he knew from his research that there were some island accommodations that he would be able to find once he physically arrived in Pindadwa.

Paul did learn something new about Pindadwan culture, however, from the Captain of the fishing boat during their 10 hour trip. The Captain explained to Paul that he should be careful about visiting any homes where the Pindadwans live. He went on to describe how in Pindadwan society they don’t know, or believe, that people actually physically die; in fact when someone is dying, the Captain exclaimed, in Pindadwa the natives pay little to no attention to that individual until the person is actually dead. “It is at that time they believe the person to have fallen asleep, and then they bring their corpse home where it slowly rots and decomposes in their midst”, the Captain grimly dissuaded. He went on, “they believe that after 10, 000 years all the sleeping remnants of people will awake”, Paul was told. Although it definitely put a new spin on his “vacation”, Paul wasn’t all that discouraged by the news. Sure it was creepy, “but what will that matter to me”, he thought. “I just won’t go into any native homes”, and with that Paul, once again, found the calming relaxation he had known before his conversation with the Captain took place.

With all the chatting Paul found himself engaged in, before he knew it they had arrived at the dock in Pindadwa. “What a strangely, beautiful place”, Paul quietly pondered as the Captain worked at getting the boat securely docked. Immediately, Paul (with a large bag slung over his shoulder) and the Captain shook hands and he made his way off the dock where he was eagerly greeted by a local cab driver who was proficient enough in English that he could direct Paul to the best accommodations available on the island. Twenty minutes later Paul was checked into a nice little “hotel”. He had a one room hut where he found everything he needed, including the most comfortable hammock he’d ever laid down on. For the rest of the day, the theme song from Gilligan’s Island played over and over in Paul’s head, as a joyous smile had snuck in and made a permanent home on his otherwise weary face.

The next morning Paul was able to find a native that pointed him to the nearest Pindadwan’s version of a Coffee Shop. It was no Tim Horton’s, Paul joked to himself, but it was 85 degrees, the sun was shining, the waves were lazily lapping on the nearby shore, there was a covered table that sat on a beautiful section of beach, the coffee was pretty good, and most of all... no one was asking anything of him! “Just what the doctor ordered”, Paul muttered as he unashamedly indulged himself. “If anyone deserves this, I sure do”, he went on in an effort to reassure himself and quiet that still, small voice, in the back of his mind. And besides, who could argue? After the year he had been through, Paul was certainly in need of his rest.

It was then, that the most unfortunate and unexpected thing happened, something no one could have predicted; just as Paul was getting up out of his lounge chair he heard the unmistakable sound of a person gasping for breath. Instantaneously, his tired eyes shot to the direction of the terrifying sounds of life hanging in the balance, and to his dismay he saw what looked to be a little girl of about 10 years of age who was choking, but to his further horror... no one was paying any attention! In a second Paul recalled what he had been told about Pindadwan culture and how they don’t believe that people ever die. The little girl’s face had the unmistakably frozen look of sheer terror, a look which, if nothing else, proved that within her innocent, 10 year old mind she had realized the truth about life and death. It was very clear to Paul, as she was trying feverishly to dislodge the obstruction in her throat without any assistance, that she would soon face that truth if someone didn’t respond to her need.

Without further deliberation, Paul leapt to her side, spun her around, and immediately began performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre. After several moments of continuous efforts, Paul deemed the obstruction too deep in the oesophagus, or too large in size, to be removed by using traditional Heimlich techniques. He knew with the age of the child he was dealing with, and the force he was exerting trying to help her, that he could actually harm her enough to kill her if he continued. So at once he drew upon some experimental training he had recently received, where in rare cases when oral obstructions could not be safely expelled using standard Heimlich, the rescuer should fill their own mouth with water, and then, placing their mouth over the victim’s mouth, discharge the water with maximum force. In theory, Paul had been taught, it could result in saving someone by forcing an obstruction down their oesophagus enough that they could resume normal breathing on their own.

Not taking notice of all the native Pindadwans who were outraged by Paul’s actions in trying to save the little girl’s life, he forged on and grabbed a bottle of water from a passerby. At that moment, time was irrelevant to Paul; the time this episode would demand from his rest; the time it would take to explain himself to the natives of the island afterward; the time he felt he needed for himself; and so Paul acted, as he filled his mouth with as much life giving water as was humanly possible, to the point of overflowing, and with one large push he expelled the entire mouthful into the little girl’s limp face. A few seconds passed, but nothing, there was no response. Her eyes rolled back in her head, the little girl lay limp in Paul’s gentle arms. A few more seconds passed, faithfully, Paul took another mouthful and gave everything he had. Still the young child lay motionless.

Paul had hoped his efforts hadn’t gone in vain; but still he knew he had done what was right, when just then, the ailing child began to cough, and then cough again! Moments later she began to regain her consciousness, and with exhaustion, Paul fell to ground... his hands on his face, with his head down between his knees. Paul began to reflect on what had happened, and soon he became very grateful that in his need for rest he had travelled to Pindadwa. Paul was banished from the island on that day, told never to return, but because of the boldness of his heart and the faithfulness of his actions in helping that little girl, he was able to bring life to another! And with great peace, Paul realized the purpose of his life, and of all of those that share his calling.

Firefighters are never off duty; even when they’re on vacation, they’re always on call. In the same way, as Paul honoured his duty and responsibility to others in need, we as Christians should see ourselves. Every believer has heard:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18-20

But how many of us are living as though we’ve done enough in Jesus? Somehow, the church today, has been tricked into thinking that by believing in Jesus, going to church, and then simply being upbeat, people persons, when we’re out in public, that as we “live our faith” in a way that is so special, so different from other upbeat people around us, that we’ll be able to save others. Huh? In principle, Paul could have done the very same thing in the previous story; he could have rationalized that the islanders at the Coffee Shop should have been able to recognize the Kitchener Fire Department logo on his t-shirt, and therefore if they really needed help, they could have just asked him. But he didn’t do that. No, he knew that the little girl in the Coffee Shop was in very real danger of dying. He also knew that, in their ignorance, the Pindadwans would not recognize the danger of the situation. So despite his personal feelings, Paul acted in obedience to his call. He found himself a Fireman in a Coffee Shop, in a situation where no one knew how much that little girl needed the water that would eventually come from his mouth; that water gave life!

God might give you 1 chance or 10 chances, in a day, where a stranger engages you in some way. Do as Jesus did; use those opportunities to proclaim His testimony as the WAY to life! Be bold and unashamed, as you act on those chances to save lives! Use common conversations that God gives you with others and then swing them over to Jesus! Ask a perfect stranger what they think is going to happen when they die! Then be prepared to tell them the truth, no matter the cost. Remember, like the Pindadwans, the lost do not understand the danger of the life they are living; it’s up to us to act! We are His hands and feet. Please go... to God’s word, pray, and then take action, today! Remember, we’ll never be good enough, and we’ll always miss opportunities. But don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking it’s ever too late to be obedient if you’ve sinned, because when God grants you His amazing grace, and continues to give you opportunities as He calls, just respond and answer the call. Bring glory to His name!

Tim Rector

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