For more than 3 years Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a civil war between Houthi rebels and the supporters of Yemen’s internationally recognised government. Children are paying the heaviest price as they face the threat of bombs, hunger and disease. Save the Children estimates that at least 50,000 children died in 2017 and that more than 11 million children now need humanitarian assistance. A recent airstrike hit a school bus carrying children under the age of 10 on a summer school trip: 40 children died, and dozens were injured.
Cholera is a major threat because the sewage and sanitation systems have been destroyed during the civil war. In 2017 there were more than 1 million cholera cases in Yemen. More than 2000 people died, many of them children. However, a new international initiative has reduced the number of new cases by 95%.
Using NASA satellite technology, the Met Office in the UK produces a rainfall forecast for Yemen 4 weeks ahead of time which pinpoints areas likely to be hit by heavy rain. This is important because downpours overwhelm the sewage system leading to a spread of cholera. The forecasts are analysed by a team of scientists in the USA to predict the areas where outbreaks of cholera are likely to occur. They use information such as population density, access to clean water and seasonal temperatures. The information is passed to the UN’s children’s charity, UNICEF, which then deploys resources to prevent the spread of the disease. Simple sanitation advice, such as washing hands and drawing water from safe sources saves thousands of lives.
The situation in Yemen illustrates our human predicament. On the one hand human beings are capable of great evil, leading to the death of many people, and on the other hand our God-given intelligence and skill can save many lives. In Yemen both facets are seen side by side. In our personal lives we also struggle with our natural inclination to selfishness and our ability to express love and kindness.
The apostle Paul vividly described his own struggle; “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Paul and many other people have found the answer to this struggle in Jesus Christ through whom they have experienced forgiveness for their sins and have been given strength to live a new life.
Captain Ernest Gordon came from Scotland and served with the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in World War II. Following the fall of Singapore, he was one of the prisoners of war whom the Japanese put to work on a jungle railway and bridge over the Kwai river. The conditions imposed on the prisoners were very harsh and Ernest became seriously ill. He was put in “Death Ward” and was expected to die.
There he was cared for by two very special men, Dusty Miller and ‘Dinty’ Moore. They gave 24-hour care to Ernest, boiling rags to clean and massage his diseased legs every day. To everyone’s surprise Ernest recovered and he also came to faith in Jesus Christ. He had been an agnostic, but Dusty’s simple, firm Christian faith in the face of the cruel treatment he and the other prisoners experienced made a deep impression on him. Ernest survived the war but discovered that, two weeks before the war ended, Dusty had been cruelly executed by a Japanese guard who was angry at his calmness in the face of hardship.
In his book “Miracle on the River Kwai” Ernest tells a remarkable story. Starvation, exhaustion and disease took a terrible toll on the prisoners and many gave way to selfishness, hatred and fear in a desperate attempt to survive. They felt like forsaken men – forsaken by their families, their friends, their government and even by God. Hatred of their Japanese captors became their motivation for living; they would have willingly torn them limb from limb if they had fallen into their hands. In time even hate died and gave way to numb, black despair.
One day the officer in charge said a shovel was missing and demanded that it be returned, or he would kill all the prisoners. No one moved and, then, one man stepped forward. The officer beat him to death. At the next tool check they found that all the shovels were there; there had been a miscount! The prisoners were stunned. An innocent man had been willing to die to save everyone else. Ernest said this man’s actions led men to think about the sufferings of Jesus, who laid down his life to save others, and they began to treat each other with more care and kindness. The change was so significant that when the skeletal captives were finally liberated they could, instead of attacking their captors, say to them, “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.”
A British rider has won the Tour de France for the first time. Bradley Wiggins won the 99th Tour de France after riding more than 2000 miles, over 3 weeks, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery and highest mountain passes in France. Bradley has already won 3 Olympic gold medals, and hopes to win another one soon, but the Tour de France is his greatest victory. His success, and the way in which he achieved it, has been a great encouragement and example to many.
Bradley’s Australian father, who was an accomplished cyclist, deserted his wife and son when Bradley was just 2 years old. Bradley grew up in Kilburn in London and began learning to ride at the Herne Hill Velodrome when he was 12. When he was 18 his father, with whom he had had almost no contact, was attacked and killed in a drunken brawl in New South Wales. Following his father’s death Bradley decided not to waste his talent as a cyclist and to make his family a priority. He has continued to experience difficult times but has come through them to achieve a great success.
One of the factors which contributed to Bradley’s success in the Tour was teamwork. Every member of his team, Team Sky, rode selflessly in support of Bradley as their leader. One of the team, Chris Froome, who came second in the Tour, seemed to have a real chance of winning the race himself, but rode alongside Bradley on many of the key stages, including the demanding mountain stages. On one stage someone put tacks on the road and many riders had punctures, including the defending champion Cadel Evans, who was one of Bradley’s greatest challengers. Bradley encouraged the main group of riders to slow down to allow the riders who had punctures to catch up and not be disadvantaged.
We live in a world where selfishness is common. Many people think the main thing is to look after No 1. The Bible teaches us the importance of caring for one another. One of the greatest commandments is, “You shall love your neighbour, as you love yourself.” Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus exemplified this teaching in the supreme act of selflessness when he died on the Cross to pay the price of our sins.