Our friend Marc, age 29, seemingly had it all. Youngest bank manager ever in Lebanon. University lecturer in strategic management. Nationally recognized human rights activist.
But in a split-second dive into the Mediterranean Sea, his life slammed to a standstill.
He awoke from a coma, unable to feel his body. Paralyzed from the neck down and his head in traction, he could only blink. His saw no one in his hospital room. But he sensed a Presence.
“I surrender myself to you,” he whispered. Instantly, he was flooded with serenity.
His mother entered, weeping. Then his brothers, despondent. Then a crowd of over 300, in a perpetual parade. Despairing, grieving, weak friends entered, but emerged with hope, rejoicing and strong/
We ached with Marc, visit after visit, as he grappled with exhausting therapy, chronic infections – and most of all, the dilemma “Why?” Yet Marc insisted on facing reality head-on, refusing anti-depressants.
“Serenity has never left me, not for a moment,” he declared. I know God didn’t leave me here to torture me; He wants me for something. I must find that purpose.”
So, we asked, “Who was with you in that room?” He admitted, “I don’t know.” “What was that Presence like?” “Calm. Caring. Strong. In control.” “Can you name that person?” Marc mused for a moment… “The Saving Spirit of Serenity.”
“So, how should that affect how you live? What value should you practice?” “Well, I smiled when I surrendered, so… Smiling Serenity.”
“And what does that Spirit want you to do, what mission?” He paused, “To give myself so that the despairing find hope and the weak become strong.” His smile beamed; his eyes sparkled.
We traced the origin of two profound questions to a monastery where we stay on our trips to Damascus. There a first-century activist, Saul of Tarsus, on his way to exterminate all those he deemed to be apostates, had a life-changing existential crisis.
By his own account, nearing Damascus about noon, Saul was blinded by a flash of light and heard a voice out of the blue. Saul asked his interlocutor two simple questions.
First, “Who are you, Lord?” Then, “What do you want me to do?”
Saul was stunned by the answers, and pondered the next three days in the dark. Then one of his intended victims relayed a revelation. Light pierced Saul’s darkness of mind and restored his sight.
Two simple questions. “Who are you, Lord?” perceives the character of the divine nature or, if you prefer, attributes of the prime mover, the nexus of ultimate reality. This character is the reference point by which we define and measure the practice of values: who we are to be. Thus, we either imitate the values reflected in that nature – or we fight against it.
“What do you want me to do?” recognizes a divine mandate, a life mission. This mandate integrates and focuses our influence, talent, and effort for purposeful impact: what we are to do.
But surely, one might wonder, people like Marc and Saul are extraordinary. Not so. The discipline of values, mission, and vision still delivers impact in zones of crushing poverty and sectarian violence.
Other local visionaries are today in hot pursuit of their missions, propelled by their values. They are creating and piloting curricula to teach those values to boys laboring in brick factories in the Middle East and to impoverished tribal children in Southeast Asia. In addition, Dreams InDeed is collecting data to measure the effectiveness of the curricula.
The curriculum is part of a larger effort. We recognize that it is high time to capture the lessons learned over three decades with visionaries living under martial law, in chronic poverty, in the midst of sectarian conflict. Like our visionaries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, we know that good news is possible among the poor in hard places. Our aim over the next few years is to craft the strategy, materials, and means to share our learnings with the next generation.
Let’s expand the meaning of “our” in the vision of “a light in every hard place in our generation.” Together we can do this, strengthening visionaries now and those who join us for future generations.
Believing with you for “a light in every hard place in our generation.”