Nazi concentration camp, Poland, 1941. 600 men stand before the camp commander, a Nazi officer, who chooses 10 of them to die: “You…you…you…”. This in retaliation for one of their comrades having escaped the day before.
Now all 600 of these men--part of a slave labour assembly--have been brutally treated, severely beaten and starved. As they are being led off to their doom another frail-looking prisoner, a priest, steps up to the Nazi officer and asks to take the place of one of the chosen men. He knows that man has a wife and children back home. The officer agrees.
Now this Father Kolbe has already proven himself as the mentally strongest of all the prisoners. Though he is in bad shape--under 100 pounds--he always saves a portion of his tiny food rations to give to others who are suffering. And when any man there shows signs of severe mental distress the priest always finds ways to encourage him, and to always hold out hope.
The chosen 10 are locked into a cell where they lie naked on a concrete floor, left to die from starvation and illness. One by one they perish. Father Kolbe is the last to die, not before encouraging the others not to loose heart, that God has not forsaken them.
The man who was saved by the priest’s sacrifice survived and was liberated. He found his wife, but his sons had been killed. He became one of the people who spoke in favour of Father Kolbe to be made a saint. Which he was in 1971.
Now you may think that kind of courage--capable of the greatest personal sacrifice for others--is a very unusual thing. Well, not so unusual as we may imagine. I’ve read many true stories of people ready to give up the comforts and pleasures the rest of us enjoy. And doing that to help others who are in terrible, heartbreaking situations--poverty, illness, injustice, and more.
The best example I know of is Medicins San Frontieres (Doctors without Borders). It’s an organization formed of doctors and other health workers, mostly from developed countries. They donate their time to helping people, mostly from poorer lands, with much needed medical services. They often live in great discomfort and sometimes in great danger, working in places where war is going on, or where hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other disasters have devastated a country or region. Many of them have been killed in service, 12 at once in a bombed hospital in Afghanistan. The courage and sacrifice they demonstrate are often unbelievable. And these are people who could be bringing in large incomes had they stayed home.
In order to be free from pressure from governments, religions, political or economic influences, 90% of their expenses are paid by private donations. From ordinary people like you and me. Esther and I recently arranged for small but regular ongoing contributions to MSF. It’s the most deserving choice I can think of.
I and most of the people I know would not--except perhaps to defend our own country in wartime--go out of our way to put our lives in extreme danger. We might be willing to take a sudden risk to help save someone if we come across an accident, a fire or a drowning victim. But to deliberately go for weeks, months or years into very dangerous places? Where the chances of getting injured or killed are very real? I wouldn’t, and likely you wouldn’t either. But we can, by contributing money, raising money and promoting the cause, be of great help to those heroic individuals. And to the suffering and helpless they bring help to.
There are of course firefighters, police officers and others who often go willingly into highly hazardous situations as well. They of course are financed by taxes paid to federal, provincial or municipal governments. MSF must depend on donations.