We went there to save lives

The recent historical drama television series “Chernobyl” tells the story of the nuclear plant disaster which happened on 26 April 1986. It was the world’s worst nuclear accident. The Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin Atomic Power Station, near the town of Chernobyl in modern Ukraine, experienced what the authorities called a “minor accident.” The reactor experienced a catastrophic core meltdown, exploded and parts of the nuclear fuel were released into the atmosphere.

The effects of the disaster were felt over a wide area. In the first days after the accident 31 people were confirmed to have died from radiation sickness. In the years since the disaster there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from cancer. Some 100,000 people from the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat were evacuated. People will probably never live in Pripyat again. As the wind carried the gigantic plume over Europe radioactive particles contaminated wide areas. In Britain bans were placed on the sale of sheep in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales. In some areas the restrictions remained in place until 2012. Mikhail Gorbachev said that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the real reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union as people lost confidence in the authorities.

As the extent of the catastrophe became clear, more than 16,000 policemen and military personnel were deployed to extinguish the fire, remove the radioactive debris and enclose the ruin in a protective shell of steel and concrete. About 400 miners were brought in to dig a tunnel underneath the power plant to contain the contaminated material. As many as one in four miners may have died from cancer or radiation sickness. In the end, the core of the reactor cooled, and the tunnel wasn’t needed. All the people who tried to contain the Chernobyl disaster risked their lives that other might live. One miner, Vladimir Naumov said, “Who else but us? Me and my fellow worked were brought up that way. Not that we went there to die, we went there to save lives.”

At the heart of the Christian message is the good news that God, through his Son, Jesus, has intervened to save us from disaster. The great problem we all have is our sinful hearts. We live in rebellion against God and are powerless to change. We need someone to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. One hymn writer wrote, “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood.”

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah

This month rugby fans around Britain have gathered for the Autumn International matches. One of the features of matches played in Cardiff is that the Welsh supporters sing hymns, especially “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah.” In the past male voice choirs would stand together on the terraces to ensure the singing was high quality. Most of those who sing the hymns don’t attend church services yet the power of the words seems to move them.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah was written by William Williams Pantycelyn, who was born in 1717. He is Wales most famous hymn writer and was called “the sweet singer of Wales.” Williams was one of the leaders of the Calvinistic Methodists during the 18th century revival and wrote more than 900 hymns in either Welsh or English. A memorial plaque at Pantycelyn farm, where he lived, records that during his life he travelled 111,800 miles on foot or by horse visiting societies of Christians in every part of Wales. The tune Cwm Rhondda was written soon after the 1904-05 revival. The words and tune brought great strength and encouragement to the mining communities of the South Wales Valleys where life was hard.

Life is a journey and Williams hymn is a prayer based on the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. They spent 40 years in the desert and felt a deep need to know the presence of their God, Jehovah, being with them on their difficult journey. They were small and weak, but he was great and powerful. The words of the hymn resonate with us today because, although outwardly our lives are very different, inwardly we have the same need to know that this all-powerful God is with us. “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou are mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand: bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more.”

The last verse speaks of dying. As the Israelites had to cross the River Jordan to enter the Promised Land so all of us will one day face death, the last enemy. Then, more than ever, we will need God to be with us and the victory Jesus won by his death and resurrection to be ours. “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side: songs of praises I will ever give to thee.”

Robert Thomas – missionary to Korea

The name of Robert Jermain Thomas is known to very few people in his native country of Wales, but amongst Christians in Korea he is a hero. He grew up in rural Wales and graduated from London University. He was an excellent linguist learning Russian and taking just 4 months to master Mandarin. He left the independent chapel in Llanover, near Abergavenny, to go as a missionary with the London Mission Society to China. He and his young wife, Caroline, arrived in Shanghai after a 5 month sea voyage. Within a short time he was devastated when his wife suddenly died.

While in China Robert heard of Korea, which was then known as the Hermit Kingdom with no contact with outsiders. He made a secret visit in 1865 taking with him Chinese Bibles. Those who received the Bibles risked death if they were discovered. In 1866 Robert returned to Korea aboard the General Sherman, an American trading ship, taking more Bibles with him. Near Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, the ship ran aground and was set on fire by Korean fire rafts. Standing on the burning deck Robert flung the Bibles into the water hoping they would float ashore and be read by the people. He  died at the hands of a Korean solider. He was just 27 years old.

Many would see his death as the waste of a young life in a futile cause, but the reality was very different.  Robert’s death made a great impression on many who witnessed it. Some took the Bibles and used them as wallpaper in their houses. Some read the strange words on the walls of their houses and became Christians. Today there are millions of Christians in Korea. Most of the largest evangelical churches in the world today are in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Korean churches have sent thousands of missionaries to many countries around the world to preach the same message Robert Thomas brought to them.

The value of our lives is not to be judged by how long we live, but by what we have lived for. In 1956 a young American missionary, Jim Elliot, and 4 other young missionaries, died at the hands of the Auca Indians in Ecuador. As he set off for Ecuador, knowing the dangers which lay ahead, Jim had said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”