Sunday, May 15, 2011

Providence, Tim Hortons coffee and prayer

Providence is the expression of God’s care in everyday events. Tim Hortons coffee is delicious, especially double double. And pray matters. I read a great news article this week about two New Brunswick police officers who are convinced they saw providence at work last Thursday (and, yes, it also involved Tim Hortons coffee and prayer). Their decisions on a road trip that day had them running behind schedule, but put them at the right place at the right time to help save a man who was attempting to commit suicide. Heather McLaughlin did excellent work reporting on this in an article titled “God’s got another plan for you.” The following is a condensed version. (To read the full text, go to

A man is alive because two Fredericton police officers were [running] late. The timing put them in the right place at the right time to intervene in an attempted suicide. On May 5, Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn were en route to Charlottetown, PEI, to visit the Atlantic Police Academy… Durling insisted they travel through Maugerville to catch a glimpse of flood conditions before hitting the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway. “If you didn't take this cow path, we'd be halfway to Moncton right now,” Alchorn teasingly scolded Durling, who was driving.

Tim Hortons Drive ThruAdd in a coffee run through the Tim Hortons drive-thru near the Silver Fox Irving turnoff at Salisbury and the pair was running behind schedule. “There was a million reasons why we shouldn't have been there when we were ... Kathy and I both agree and I believe it definitely has to be divine intervention. It was just too freaky,” Durling said.

“The timing was pretty critical,” Alchorn said. “It was kind of weird that nobody else had stopped. He was very evident and I just couldn’t imagine how you wouldn't notice. A couple of seconds later, he would have been gone.”

About 12 kilometres past the Silver Fox Irving at 10:45 a.m., they crossed a highway overpass and were close to the exit off the four-lane highway that leads to Moncton and Riverview. “I observed a car parked on the side of the road with its four-way flashers on. Then I looked and saw a man sitting on the rail of the overpass with what appeared to be a white rope. Kathy and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Did you just see what I saw?’”

Alchorn had made eye contact with the man when they drove past. “He was looking over his shoulder all the time and when he turned around I looked right at him and I could see in his face, in his expression there was something wrong and when Tim started backing up, he was looking at us,” Alchorn said.

“As we’re backing up, he jumped. So we jumped out and ran as fast as we could and we looked over and the rope failed,” Durling said. Below them as they peered down from the highway, Durling and Alchorn expected to see the man’s body on a roadway. Instead the motionless man lay alongside a set of train tracks. “I hollered to Kathy to call 9-1-1 and she runs to get her cellphone. I take off down the embankment to the guy and as I’m getting there, I can hear a noise that's not familiar to me.”

CN Train“I’m checking the guy out to see what’s going on and I look up and see a train coming. I grabbed him and moved him away from the tracks and 30 to 40 seconds later a train goes by,” Durling said. “I didn't have a choice (about moving him). It was life or limb.”

When Durling propped up the man, he stirred to consciousness, although he was in shock, his neck and hands showing rope burns. “I saw you coming to help,” the man mumbled.

Durling noticed the man had a set of rosary beads with him. “I knew he did some business with God, so I said ‘God's got another plan for you buddy and it’s not to die today,’” Durling told the man…

Although the man had tied one end of his rope around the guard rail, he didn't have a chance to firmly knot the rope around his neck because the officers were rushing towards him. But he managed to entwine it around his neck a couple of times. Durling said that helped spare his life because the rope held long enough to break the man’s fall before he hit the ground.

Had the two police officers been a little later in arriving - and the man tied the noose around his neck - he would have strangled himself to death. “There’s definitely divine intervention there,” Durling said.

Several vehicles passed by the man and vehicle, but no one stopped. Durling credited their police training, including the skills they develop to observe a situation, as helping them respond in the way they did. A casual driver going by might have only assumed the vehicle was broken down and not looked closely enough at the unfolding scenario.

Fredericton police officersAlchorn said police and paramedics took over from the police officers to transport the man to hospital. “He’s doing pretty good. He’s in stable condition in the Moncton Hospital with a lot of broken bones and things of that nature,” Durling said. The man has begun talking to his family and the police officers have since learned that family issues were a factor in his decision to try to end his life. “We were glad that we were able to assist,” Durling said. “He’s alive. That’s the good side of the story. It’s a sad situation, but maybe it will have a good outcome. I know he’s going to get some help where he is.” The two officers hope to travel to Moncton in a week or so to visit the man to see how he’s doing.

There were some very interesting comments posted in response to this news article. Some people took exception to the article giving credit to God for saving the man’s life when they believe it was clearly the training of the police officers in action that rescued the man. To be fair, though, it is not the reporter who makes this about God’s providence, but the police offers themselves who “believe it definitely has to be divine intervention” that was involved in their decisions that day: in choosing their slower route and driving through a Timmies. Personally, I’m inclined to accept their interpretation. The man who jumped had been praying, and through a series of everyday decisions two police officers were there to save him just in time. I know this may generate questions about why God does not intervene in so many other things happening in our world, and yet I find myself unable to abandon my belief that God rescues those who cry to him for mercy. And sometimes we find ourselves making the same realization as Sgt. Tim Durling and Staff Sgt. Kathy Alchorn, that somehow God has put us at the right place at the right time to show his care to someone in need.

What do you think? Do you believe in providence? Could a stop for an unplanned Tim Hortons coffee be the decision God uses to put you at the right place at the right time? Are you doing God’s will? If so, why couldn’t he reach out and care for another person through you at just the right time?

I’ve selected a few comments to re-post here that were originally posted in response to the news article (see link above). These comments could probably generate some good discussion. How would you respond? What do you think about divine providence?

"There's definitely divine intervention there"
Seriously? Come on. Does this mean god wants people to die when the police or emergency officers arrive a moment too late?
This was good police work - what they are paid to do. Thanks for looking out for your fellow man.
Thereis Nogod, Saint John on 11/05/11 09:13:06 AM ADT

For the mans' sake, I am glad you were late. Glad also to see you put your training to the test and it produced a favourable outcome. Although some would say it was divine intervention, I would rather it be said that your ability to observe, rationalize and act in accordance with the skills you have learned as police officers saved this mans life. Congratulations on a job well done.
Pierre ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 09:28:49 AM ADT

God's plan indeed! Outstanding job by the police officers! Nice [to] read a storey with a good ending for a change. Hopefully the man gets the help he needs. God bless him and his rescuers!
M M, Grandlake on 11/05/11 09:49:17 AM ADT

Good work officers.
Sgt. Durling's decision to see the flood conditions was his and not God's though.
john ---, quispamsis on 11/05/11 10:11:14 AM ADT

Police Officers like these two don't get (or give themselves) nearly enough credit by attributing any of this to "divine intervention."
HAL 9000, Fredericton on 11/05/11 12:32:59 PM ADT

They wouldn't dare mention God if they hadn't have made it on time. Only when the outcome is positive do they claim their deity had anything to do with it.
Imagine if they claimed God had another plan for him if he got hit by a train after surviving the initial fall. It simply wouldn't have happened, and it absolutely should not have happened in this case either.

Bob ---, Fredericton on 11/05/11 04:27:17 PM ADT

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The children producing the cocoa never taste the chocolate

Kit KatThe cruel irony of the chocolate industry made it easy for me to give up chocolate for Lent: The children producing the cocoa beans used to make our chocolate never actually taste the chocolate. The Kit Kat bar that I might rip open, break apart and share with my kids is never enjoyed by the children who made its production possible. It strikes me as terribly unfair. During my chocolate fast, my two sons were asked to sell chocolate bars as a fundraiser for special activities at their school. Here I was helping my boys sell chocolate bars to enhance their experience of school, knowing that these chocolate bars were produced from cocoa harvested by children who will never go to school. It is a horrible injustice. Yet somehow most of us consuming Kit Kats, Mars bars and Snickers have never heard this bitter truth about chocolate.

I learned about it by watching the Panorama documentary Chocolate: The Bitter Truth which I have been posting in parts on this blog and by reading Carol Off’s book Bitter Chocolate. In this post, I want to share with you a scene from Carol Off’s important book, accompanied by a video excerpt with a similar scene from the Panorama documentary. At the end of the post, I will include part 3 of 4 of Chocolate: The Bitter Truth which begins to look for answers to this grave problem. My plan is to have another post on chocolate within one week (including the part 4 of the documentary) and then, finally, to suggest what we can do for the children of Africa working so hard to produce the chocolate we enjoy.

Click here to see Amazon listing for Bitter Chocolate by Carol OffThe following text is from Carol Off, Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet (Random House of Canada, 2006) 5-8.

The village is called Sinikosson, which in the official French language of Côte d’Ivoire translates into “Faite pour Demain” and in English means “Made for Tomorrow.” In fact, the villagers seem to make everything for today, living hand to mouth with little remaining for tomorrow. They grow some corn and cassava and cultivate bananas for food, but their primary activity here is to produce cocoa for the international market. As such, they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over.
    As remote as the community is, it is also the poorest I have seen in the region. Everyone looks tired and hungry, but at least for the time being the village has escaped the violence in the surrounding countryside. The drunken Ivorian soldiers we met at the last roadblock couldn’t exert themselves to come all the way up here to either conquer or extort.
    The arrival of a visitor from a faraway country is an extraordinary event in Sinikosson. Within minutes, the covered verandah of the central house in the village is crowded with people—all of them men and boys. The few women and girls who are visible remain a discreet distance away… None of the children here go to school, and there are no services—no electricity, no phones, no clinics or hospitals. The farmers eke out an existence here in the hills, in a land infested by volatile gunmen. Yet they seem satisfied to be here. Even in the midst of all the trouble around them, they say they are better off than they would be in their drought-stricken home country, where people are chronically hungry.
    I explain to them that I am writing a book about cocoa. They all nod. Cocoa is something about which they have immense knowledge. The quality of beans, the capricious rains, the unpredictable harvests, the cost of pesticides, the threat of witch’s broom (a disease of the Theobroma tree), the see-saw prices and the exorbitant government taxes. These farmers know everything about the difficulties of growing cocoa in this region.
    “What would you do if you couldn’t grow cocoa anymore?” we ask.
    “A catastrophe,” one man answers, and they all look grim.
chocolate bitter truth children    “This is our life,” declares the chief, Mahamad Sawadago. He tells me he is fifty-four, but he looks many years older. Three of the women here are his wives; he has eleven children.
    “Where does the cocoa go after it leaves here?” Ange asks the villagers. There is a confused silence, and everyone turns to Mahamad.
    “It goes to the great port of San Pedro,” the chief explains with authority, “and then on to people in Europe and America.” They all nod.
    “What do those people do with the cocoa beans?”
    Silence again, and everyone looks to the chief. But this time, he too seems puzzled.
    “I don’t know,” he answers honestly.
    He’s certain they make something with it, for sure, but he doesn’t know what.
    They make chocolate, I explain. Has anyone ever tasted chocolate? One man says he tried it once when he was away from the village and thought it tasted good. No one else even knows what it is.
Even Ange Aboa, who reports on the Ivorian cocoa industry, is surprised by how little these people know about the commodity they harvest. Ange tears a sheet of paper from his notebook and rolls it up into an oval tube. He explains that people in the West grind up the cocoa and add lots of sugar to make little bars this size. The bars are quite sweet and delicious. Sometimes milk and even peanuts are added. Children in Europe and America often get such things as treats.

    Ange goes on to explain that one of these bars costs about 500 West African francs (roughly equivalent to a Canadian dollar). Their eyes widen in disbelief. The sum strikes them as staggering for such a small treat—almost enough to buy a good-sized chicken or an entire bag of rice. It represents more than the value of one boy’s work for three days, if they are being paid at all, which I’m sure they are not. I explain that a child in my country will consume such a chocolate bar within minutes. The boys look awed. Days of their effort consumed in a heartbeat on the other side of the world. And yet they don’t begrudge North American children such pleasure. West Africans rarely express envy.
    As I look at the young faces, the questions in their eyes are the measure of a vast gulf between the children who eat chocolate on their way to school in North American and those who have no school at all, who must, from childhood, work to survive. And I feel the profound irony before me: the children who struggle to produce the small delights of life in the world I come from have never known such pleasure, and most likely, they never will.
    It’s a measure of the separation in our worlds, a distance now so staggeringly vast. . . the distance between the hand that picks the cocoa and the hand that reaches for the chocolate bar.
I tell the boys of Sinikosson who do not know what chocolate is that most people in my country who eat chocolate don’t know where it comes from. The people in my country have no idea who picks the cocoa beans or how those people live. The boys of Sinikosson think it would be a good idea if I told them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Royal Wedding: The Scripture Reading and Prayer

Kate Middleton’s brother, James Middleton, read the only Scripture reading during the Royal Wedding. Prince William and Kate Middleton chose the royal wedding reading after spending time with the clergy in preparation for the ceremony. And they chose to have it read in modern, gender-inclusive American English, from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. It’s a great reading about being transformed, love being genuine, and, as James Middleton read on Friday, it urges the royal couple to “associate with the lowly.” Reading the Scripture from the American NRSV may have been a bit controversial with Church traditionalists, including The Prince of Wales who is the Patron of the King James Bible Trust and is known to be a passionate advocate for the "poetry and cadence" of the old Authorized Version. Prince Charles supported this year's 400th anniversary celebration of the King James Bible and even recorded this video reading of John 14 in the KJV. So while it may have been a bit controversial, it was certainly the right decision. When Scripture is read, it should be clear and understandable (See: "There's a lot to be said for clarity" by Ken Symes.) This reading at the royal wedding sounded relevant to Prince William and Kate Middleton, and to all of us as well.

James Middleton reading ScriptureRomans 12:1-2, 9-18

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Truly a great passage of Scripture that gives us all a lot to think about, to experience and to live. I don’t recall ever hearing it read at a wedding before, but it was great. I’m presently updating an Internet resource I authored a while ago for couples who are getting married: Bible Readings for Weddings. Please feel free to direct anyone you know who is getting married to this link.

image-1-for-royal-wedding-wills-and-kate-tie-the-knot-in-westminster-cathedral-gallery-785155735The Royal Wedding also included a prayer written by Will and Kate. Such a prayer is typically included in the Anglican wedding ceremony, but it was refreshing to hear a couple write something new and fresh in place of the traditional prayer for families.

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

All in all, I must say I was impressed by the Royal Wedding. It was uplifting and inspirational. In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance of the event, I just wanted to highlight the great Scripture reading chosen by Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as the great prayer which they wrote together. I hope they will be true to this Scripture and prayer. May God bless them.


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