This is the Way Walk in It: "They Were Not Afraid To Die"

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This is the Way Walk in It

"They Were Not Afraid To Die"

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The earth shook. The sea came. Nothing would be the same again. It's been said that life is what happens when you're making other plans. This calendar date that changed numerous lives forever was March 11, 2011. It was then that the greatest earthquake in Japanese history struck its northeastern shores. The catastrophe set off a chain reaction of events that are still reverberating as I write.

Being from Southern California, I am no stranger to earthquakes. You know the feeling when one comes. You feel the sway and perhaps hear the rumble (sometimes quiet and sometimes deep and loud). And then comes either the rolling wave action or the quick jolt, and you hold your breath and say in your mind, "What's next? Is it over, or is the big one just a second away?" But a 9.0 on the Richter scale like the Japan event? Unimaginable! Monstrous! This quake set off a tsunami wave action that reached several continents. The fast-moving and powerful waters swept over Japanese cities and swallowed up farmlands. Sadly in some spots, where life was spared from collapsing buildings, the turbulent sea claimed its quarry and swept them away. The death toll is now 11,600, with 16,000 missing. The final toll is expected to be 20,000 (figures from The New York Times, "Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis," April 4, 2011).

Beyond the earthquake and the accompanying tsunami, the third catastrophe in this chain reaction of tragedy would ultimately emerge. The three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (150 miles north of Tokyo) were compromised by the surge of the tsunami. The compound's cooling systems faltered within 90 hours of the original quake. Explosions and fires, spent fuel rods that overheated, and radioactive material filtering into the atmosphere from the power plant created the greatest nuclear power crisis since the Chernobyl incident. Due to the possibilities of nuclear waste exposure, much of Japan, and the world as a whole, has been "holding its breath."

But what has emerged from this multidimensional tragedy and caught the world's attention is not the size or scale of the quake or tsunami, or nuclear waste leaks, but the size of the hearts of "everyday workers" at the plant who have stepped up in time of trouble. They have become known as the Fukushima 50. And their story should serve as an inspiration to us all.

Raw courage in the face of certain danger

As their story of raw courage emerged, the Fukushima 50 were deemed civilian warriors, likened to the legendary samurai in the minds and hearts of their people. When the news began to filter out about the potential meltdowns within the nuclear facility, a 12-mile zone of evacuation was created. The facility's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) would evacuate 700 employees. But 50 would remain behind and walk back into certain danger.

Just imagine: as everyone was moving in one direction away from probable disaster, they were walking into the abyss of the unknown. These brave men and women would stay on duty to connect electric cables, repair machinery and check equipment to avert a total meltdown.

They realized that even working in one-hour shifts near the reactors would expose them to dangerously high radiation levels. As one mother proudly but sadly lamented, "They accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long term" ("Quotes of the Day," Time, March 31, 2011). You might say there were no good choices and no way out from personal harm. As one daughter would share with her mix of bewilderment and pride, "I fought back tears when I heard that my father, who is to retire in six months, had volunteered" (quoted in "Fukushima Workers Labour Round the Clock in Effort to Avoid Catastrophe," The Guardian, March 17, 2011).

The bottom line is that many felt it was a suicide mission. Even so, they stood up. They stepped forward. They stepped in. It's been said, "It takes courage to stand up and be counted, but it takes more courage to keep standing up after you have been counted."

Yet their courage was not lost on others. It challenged others to join them. Today, the Fukushima 50 are no longer alone. Having stood their ground, more than 400 other TEPCO employees have swelled their ranks. But again, it does not come easily. One worker, Emiko Ueno, wrote an email quoted in The New York Times. "My town is gone," he said. "My parents are still missing. I still cannot get in the area because of the evacuation order. I still have to work in such a mental state. This is my limit" ("Workers Give Glimpse of Japan's Nuclear Crisis," March 30, 2011).

Nevertheless, even as I write, these same people continue to expose themselves to a living death. When it is all said and done, they simply are not afraid to die. Does that mean they weren't frightened as one by one they made a choice to reenter the toxic labyrinths and vaults of the facility? I don't think so. I'm sure their knees were shaking, but it was firmness of heart that bid them enter. After all, courage has been described as "fear holding on a minute longer" and "fear that has said its prayers."

"There shall be a time of trouble"

The Bible speaks of other people in other times and places that have and will yet have to face incredible decisions to stand up and be counted when everyone else is "headed for the aisles." Yes, people that have a sense of direction in the darkest moments that will eventually touch every corner of the earth. Scripture clearly offers a warning alarm of a tsunami-like catastrophe that is not simply going to affect one island nation, but is going to literally sweep the entire globe. Daniel 12:1 warns, "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time."

But this tidal wave of global trouble has a source of devastating energy just as much as a tsunami is created by the jolt of the ground. Revelation 12:12 warns one and all: "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time." Satan makes his insidious splash, and the ripple effect is felt around the world. The extent of the impact and casualty list at first glance is incredible. Revelation 12:9 supplies the tally of his penetrating havoc even today by stating, "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world."

In the midst of this rising tide of malevolence depicted in chapter 12 stands one the most electrifying passages of the Bible, verse 11, which depicts the courage of the saints in the face of Satan's attacks and the source of their energy: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." The New Living Translation words it this way: "They were not afraid to die."

"Whoever desires to save his life will lose it"

Here are people who not only can recite the words of the 23rd Psalm, but live and, yes, are willing to die, as they stand firm in its meaning. They fully understand and believe, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (verse 1). And in fact, they follow His own example of supreme self-sacrifice. He is the very same shepherd who "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The same shepherd who said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). The same shepherd who said to those who would follow in his footsteps: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25). Indeed, the same shepherd who ultimately did not ask someone else to give his or her blood, but voluntarily walked into the seething hotbed of Jerusalem knowing full well the consequences of his determination—giving His own blood as the Lamb of God. No, He certainly was not afraid to die.

The folks granted the roll call of honor in Revelation 12:11 "get it" and understand the 23rd Psalm's deep meaning when it says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Whether it be the heroic Fukushima 50 of Japan, the saints of God down through the ages or Jesus Christ Himself, there is a commonality that bonds each of them as to why they move in one direction while others stand paralyzed or flee from the "oncoming fire" of life. It is simply this: You do not find your values in a trial but take them into the trial with you.

The unshakable Kingdom

Christians recognize in their inner treasure chest of things valued, locked deep in their heart, that God's goodness and mercy will indeed follow them. They recognize that this life is not an end in itself but that, as pilgrims, we are simply passing through. Oh yes, life can be challenging and "max us out," with no human reserves left to go on. But, as people with the Spirit of God, we put those same "butterflies of worry" that go up and down our spine into formation and wholeheartedly hand them over to God—recognizing a purpose is being worked out here below. The same God declares through the author of Hebrews: "He has promised, saying, 'Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.' Now this, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:26-28).

The "shakes" of life will come. You don't have to stand in line and place your order. They will find you. This is not a variable, but a reality. We cannot choose the timing, but we can choose how we will respond to them. They came to first-century followers of Jesus Christ, they come to us now, and they will come to those who will yet wondrously witness of Him during the prophesied Tribulation. The question only you can answer is not how big the future shake will be in your life, but how big a Christ-like heart do you have to respond to the call.

It is my hope and prayer in life that you and I will have the courage of the Fukushima 50 and will stand firm in the same conviction of the saints in the book of Revelation of whom it will be said, "They were not afraid to die." A scripture that further amplifies the clarion call of Isaiah 30:21—"This is the way, walk in it"—is discovered in the writings of the same prophet in chapter 6, verse 8: "Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'"