As the tenth anniversary of the Louisiana hurricanes approaches, we’re sharing stories from our book, Hearts across the Water. This week’s posts concern the aftermath of the Indonesian tsunami. I was part of a team that worked there in March 2005.
Beginning next week, we’ll share stories from Katrina and Rita.
Chapter 11 : A Millionaire named Bruce
Bruce is the type of guy everyone likes when they meet him.
A fireman for the City of Shreveport, he’s a country boy who grew up in rural Mooringsport, Louisiana.
You would wonder how a fireman would end up being part of a medical aid team to Indonesia.
Bruce’s responsibilities with the Shreveport Fire Department are as an Emergency Medical Technician. Being an EMT was exactly how he could serve.
On our nine-member medical team, Bruce ran the triage unit.
He was the first contact with the patients and would learn their needs and symptoms and route them to the correct station.
He was a natural: A big nice-looking 25-year-old former football player, this was his first mission trip of any type but he quickly took to the people with a big smile.
When we arrived in country at the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, our first chore was to change our money from American dollars to Indonesians rupiahs.
The going rate was one dollar exchanging over into over 9,000 rupiahs.
In other words, when you had 100,000 rupiahs, it was actually worth only about $11 USD.
We even had pocket cards showing the comparison of sums between dollars and rupiahs.
It helped us keep clear perspective on what were fair prices for taxi rides or cups of coffee.
We had been instructed to bring only the very newest, crispest, and unfolded US $100 bills. This would ensure the highest exchange rate for us. We all walked to the nearby money exchange office.
Two smiling Indonesian women began the task of changing our money.
It was comical as they painstakingly looked over every bill with the most tender care and concern.
Invariably after consulting in the Basran language, they would announce some flaw or defect with every bill.
It either had a mark, the wrong signature by some Secretary of the Treasury, a folded crease on a corner, or a serial number they did not like.
No one got the highest exchange rate. We all had to settle for a somewhat less favorable rate.
I thought of Romans 3:23, “For all have come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.”
Just as none of our bills could meet their “exacting standard,” we humans face the same problem when we are “examined by God.”
Our personal sins cause us to be declared, “flawed.”
That is why my plea when presented before God will not be my flawlessness or any good works, but the perfect forgiveness and cleansing provided by Jesus.
Back at the Jakarta exchange office: Bruce was the last to go inside.
I asked him, “Bruce, have you ever wanted to be a millionaire?”
He just grinned.
I continued, “Bruce, take $125 dollars in there and exchange it.
He was gone a few minutes and came out with a huge stack of rupiahs in denominations of 10,000 to 50, 000.
It was 1.15 million rupiahs.
Bruce laughed as he announced his new designation as a millionaire.
On the trip Bruce was great.
Nothing flustered him and he naturally was attracted to the Achenese people.
His already compassionate heart bloomed during our two weeks of work there.
There were several younger people in our group:
This mix of Americans and Indonesians easily merged together and obviously loved each other’s company. They spent a lot of time together having fun.
Erin was among this group of twenty-something year olds. She lived in New Orleans and had just finished seminary.
Erin, a Virginia native, was thrilled to be on this trip. She had spent two years previously in Indonesia and had a great love for these people and a good command of their language.
Erin was amazed that we were going to Northern Sumatra. During her two years in Indonesia, this area was strictly off limits to westerners.
The idea of going into this area was a non-existent until the tsunami hit at the end of 2004. Now doors were wide open in Indonesia and she couldn’t wait to return to her adoptive land.
If there was ever a spark of romance on that trip I missed it and so did the rest of our team.
Bruce later told us that he asked Erin out on the plane ride home. Erin laughed at him probably thinking of the distance from Shreveport to New Orleans.
But Bruce meant it and when Erin later returned to Louisiana a week later than the rest of the team, she got the first call.
Bruce meant it.
Soon, in spite of their long distance courtship, they were in love.
They spent two weeks in our summer camps this past summer.
They shared with our campers about this life-changing trip they’d been on. Their heart for the hurting people of Indonesia was exhibited each day.
And were they ever in love! It was evident for all to see.
Bruce and Erin were married in September between the arrivals of Katrina and Rita. They are living in Shreveport but are making the necessary steps to return to Asia. Of course, Indonesia is their top choice. Right now, however, they have been busy working with disaster relief right at home.
According to the world’s standards, they are making some poor career choices.
You’ll never become rich working in a foreign country helping others.
The hardships and dangers are daily.
The difficulties of living so far from family and among a different culture should never be underestimated.
Some would claim that the worst mistake Bruce made was messing up his ordered, simple life by wandering off on a two-week disaster relief trip.
But in my mind, I see Bruce’s grin as he holds up over 1 million rupiahs in the market area of Jakarta, Indonesia.
Yes, he is still a millionaire. Not of the earthly kind, whether measured in dollars or rupiahs.
But Bruce has found his calling
And he has found his life partner.
And he has found that simple secret: a secret so simple and plain that most of the world trips over it.
The secret that true fulfilment doesn’t come from amassing wealth, but rather from serving others and having the joy this service brings.
The kind of joy and purpose that makes a man a millionaire.
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