My job has afforded me the unique chance to spend holidays around the world and oftentimes that comes with stories of tragedy. We like to think that this time of year is special and represents hope and faith, but as evidenced in the world we live in, we
know that rarely is anything considered sacred.
As a journalist, I have often been forced to take my journalistic hat off and approach many of these situations with compassion and empathy. It is then that I have seen the true heart of the matter.
One Christmas Day while reporting from overseas in a war torn land, I found myself asking the same question that the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wondered about—is there really any peace on earth? During this particular time, the night sky on Christmas Eve was lit up almost continually by the crackle that accompanies tracer fire. Some of you
are familiar with how that sound becomes a background noise that you cannot ever tune out.
On this night, the fire coming from the tracers
seemed to be random and unprovoked. Unless the enemy knew something that we didn’t (which was not very likely given the amount of intelligence that we usually have at our disposal) their efforts were a waste of time and resources. Suddenly, from beyond the darkness there was a loud burst of rifle fire that rang through the crisp night air. My senses became more alert as my confusion heightened.
During the night I kept asking myself what was going on and I knew that my safety and that of my crew would be at risk if we went out to investigate. So, I decided that we would wait until Christmas morning to assess the situation. What we saw changed us.
We knew for certain that rebel forces in Syria had obtained more military grade armor. But what we them or why they even wanted them in the first place? Now it was clear. They were using them to kill innocent resistors who were not willing to fall in line with the Assad regime.
Think about that: Innocent people had been killed on Christmas Eve for no real reason at all. How could a just and loving God ever let this happen?
As a Christian myself, I had often struggled with how a God who “so loved the world” could allow for such hatred and bitterness to fill that world that He made? Perhaps that is a question that in my rational mind goes unanswered. But it is a question that I think we all ask at one point or another in our lives.
As we wandered the streets our fear grew deeper that the damage and tragedy were worse than we had expected. As we continued to travel the rampaged streets, we began to see more and more of the story unfold right
before our eyes. The reality was that we had no clue how many people were dead or even if these rebels were still looking for more innocents to massacre? All that we knew was that we had to tell the story and
stick to the facts, so that is what we did. It isn’t until well after the event that you begin to question what really happened and what you saw.
This particular event would take me years to wrap my brain around and in many ways, I still don’t understand it. But one thing that I do understand is that there is One who does.
We spent the rest of the day rummaging around taking pictures and talking to people who had witnessed the Christmas Eve slaughter unfold. Some told horrifying tales of how Assad forces were going door to door,
kicking them in and killing people who would not swear loyalty to the pro-Assad regime.
Truth be told, there is still no telling how many dead there actually were, but either way it seemed to me that one life lost was one too many.
Later that night when we returned to our “secured location” the crew and I withdrew our version of a Meal-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) from our bags. We turned on a battery operated lantern, pulled out our notebooks and
satellite pods, and began dispatching the stories, photos and videos back to our offices in London. What the pictures and video relayed was not even a fraction of the bloody aftermath that we had seen firsthand, and
we knew it.
A studio producer buzzed my satellite phone telling me to be ready to go live via Skype in 5 minutes with a presenter who was doing the news. It was part of my job , so I proceeded without hesitation, as I always did.
For 3 or 4 minutes I pondered what I could say and how I even could say it so it would make some sort of difference and spur the rest of the world into action?
I knew that would be a tall order because the American’s and NATO allies were already “war weary,” or so to speak, from the 10+ year War on Terror. But, how could somebody not act? That, sadly, was a question I could not answer, nor did I try.
At the end of the live shot the presenter said “Matt, thank you for that report and um, yes, stay safe and of course, a Happy Christmas.” We had just finished a report about innocent lives being taken by outlaws and power hungry maniacs, and he just had the nerve to wish me a “Happy Christmas” on live radio?
It felt like he was mocking the victims, mocking the atrocities my crew and I could never erase from memory. It seemed like a thoughtless, if not cold-hearted, greeting. If I hadn’t been shocked by the carnage, I was
shocked by the presenter’s disregard. I took off my ear piece and slammed it to the ground. I looked at my crew, and with every bit of sarcasm I could muster, said “Yeah, Happy Christmas to you, too.”
As I sat with my meal and my reporters notebook in hand, I pondered the deeper questions and I tried to wrap my mind around what was a well-intentioned comment and around the hate that we had just witnessed. I can never understood how these things happen or why?
At that point, they really cause one to
question almost everything that they ever believed about anything. But in a matter of days I would be on my flight back to London and this entire saga would be left behind along with those who were left to endure it.
As I moved on with life, I learned that I had just packed away such instances somewhere deep within the darkened closet of my mind. There it would stay and wait like a jagged knife to the gut waiting for the perfect time to be removed. I never knew if that time would come or when it would be, but the reality is that as I write this story now, with all emotion and through tears, I ponder many of these same thoughts and others. Just as Longfellow did, I too often feel as if “There is no peace on earth” or “goodwill to man.”
From the killing fields in the Middle East to a
massive tsunami or even a truck crashing
through a market in Berlin, we are reminded of the type of world that we live in. But there is
one thing of which I know: “Unto us a child is
born this day.”
The message that I want to leave with you now
is not one of sorrow or of tragedy, but one of
hope and of love—a message that speaks to us
in days of war and in times of peace. I want to
leave you with the message that I know in my
heart that Christ and love is the answer for all
of these tragedies, both public and private. It is
through Him that we can know with all blessed
assurance that in the end, everything will work
out just fine.
While I have seen a good bit of tragedy in my
career, some things that I have come to love are the countless places of worship that I
have encountered around the world in my
various travels. From the mosques to the ca-
thedrals and temples that dot this tiny planet
I am constantly amazed at the faith of so
I have, with pride in my heart stood before
the very pulpit at the Ebeneezer Baptist
Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bore
his testimony that all men were created
equal. I have stood in the shadows of Latter-
Day Saint Temples that call all unto Christ and
I have knelt in Sikh Hindu chapels where all
are called to reflect on their inner self.
To me, as a Christian the faith of so many speaks loudly that despite the tragedy and despite our differences, we can all rest assured that if we are so willing to know that there is a God, and that by whatever name we
know Him, He stands ready and waiting to heal our hearts and our minds with love and peace that only He can bring, no matter where we are.
With love and peace and in the name of our Savior, I leave with you my very humble prayer that you and yours may have the very best holiday season and year to come.