I laughed louder and louder with each crash back down to my seat as the bus bounced me up and down and smashed me against its walls. I probably laughed because it seemed more like an amusement park ride than public transit as our Belarusian driver ramped in and out of large craters in the road.
Gripping the seat in front of me and cracking silly jokes about my somber comrades who were not having as much fun as I was, I noticed two men smiling at me. I was a long way from home and longing to speak English with anyone, so I smiled back and then turned to my interpreter with one raised eyebrow and a slight head turn.
“Armenians,” he said, as if that was supposed to mean something to me.
When the bus stopped, the two men made their way to my seat and began to try their best to communicate with me.
“Americanski, Americanski,” they questioned.
My interpreter jumped in to help and the next thing I knew they were holding my hands and obviously thanking me, but I had no idea why.
They told me about a terrible earthquake that had devastated their city in Armenia a few years before (The Spitak Earthquake of 1988). They talked as if I knew every detail of my heroic countrymen’s work, as they spoke with great admiration about those who came to help with food, medicine, rescue equipment, specially trained dogs and compassion. With tears of prayer-like gratitude in their eyes and warmth in their hands, both men told me how they had friends and family saved by these efforts and how much it meant to them to be able to finally meet an American to thank.
I later learned the earthquake had taken the lives of up to 45,000 and displaced half a million more.
For me, this horrific tragedy was just another vaguely remembered news item I’d heard on the nightly news and forgotten. As moved as I was by this experience and others I had during my three-week journalistic assignment behind the then recently-fallen “Iron Curtain,” I was even more reminded of the God-given wealth, beauty and protection of the nation I call home. By God’s grace, nothing like Spitak 1988 had ever happened in my homeland. I was reminded that in His kindness he has spared us.
Since my trip to Belarus, I have begun to see these United States in a different and yet I hope clearer light and I can’t help being regularly thankful for so fair a country God has truly shed his grace upon.
Only ignorance can obscure, foolishness be ashamed of and gross neglect can squander all of what God hath wrought among the people of this the greatest nation on earth.
From the day that William Bradford and his Christian brothers left their land, their houses and their families that perhaps they could become “the stepping stones for the advancement of the gospel of Christ,” God has been busy keeping his word.
In this life and in this country God has indeed blessed our fathers and subsequently us with an hundred fold of all they left. As our founders were pledging their lives their fortunes and their sacred honors to the establishing of a new world where the perfect law of liberty was known to every man, it is no wonder those who so boldly acknowledged him in all their ways were guided down the paths of plain providence. Honoring God with the first fruits of all their increases in this endeavor, should we ask why their barns of greatness were filled with plenty and their presses bursting forth with the wine of joy and gladness?
Before we’d half surveyed the purple mountains majesty, God poured out blessings we could not contain. Those we could not contain we gave to those who were in need at home and around the world. God, in turn, opened the widows of heaven and began to pour. Pressed down, shaken together and running over, men of every language and continent have men heaped unto the bosom of our sacred shores these good gifts from the Father of Lights.
For only the redeemed, whose father has enough for all, dare send out the world this call, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”