The year was 1989. A deadly earthquake struck Armenia. In less than 4 minutes over 30,000 people died. The moment the quake stopped, a terrified young father rushed to the local elementary school to search for his son. But when he arrived, all he saw was a huge pile of rubble where the school had been. The quake had collapsed the entire structure. The father stood there in disbelief, remembering the promise he made to his son that "no matter what happens, I'll always be there for you." With tears in his eyes, the father began digging through the rubble with bare hands while other grieving parents were weeping and crying out alongside him.
After a while, friends and neighbors tried to pull him away, saying "It's too late. They're dead. Go home to your wife." Then a police officer told him to leave, but he didn't. He labored through the debris and darkness for 8 hours : then for 12, then 24, then 36 hours without taking a break. Finally, after 38 hours of frantic digging and clearing debris, he pulled back a large brick and heard a child's weak voice. The father shouted his son's name, "Armand!" A small, muffled voice responded, "Daddy, I'm here! It's me, daddy!" Then the boy added these priceless words, "I told the other kids not to worry, Daddy! I told them if you were alive, you'd save us. I remember your promise to me, "No matter what happens, I'll always be there for you!" The father worked more feverishly than ever, and was joined by others who cleared the way out of the rubble for Armand and other surviving children.
This was a true story that made the world news 23 years ago. But the story also mirrors the message of the Gospel, namely that God is and will always be there for us. Think what this means! If we let God into our lives, we never walk alone. God will help us up when we fall. God will heal our hurts : not just the hurts others inflict on us, but the hurts we inflict on ourselves. God will remind us where we're going and how to get there when we lose our way. God will gently hold a mirror to us when we allow our hearts to harden and act in unloving ways. God will strengthen us to complete our unfinished work. God will do all this for us and more, and never let us come to ultimate harm.
What does God ask in return? Just that we do the same for each other. That we fulfill our calling to help each other grow in peace and justice, in wisdom and love, and that we leave no one, absolutely no one, outside the circle of our love. That's a challenge! It's a messy and difficult calling at times, it's never neat or tidy, and it's never done without a price. But it is a holy calling because the call comes from God. How are we responding to God's call these days? Lent is a good time to ask this question and to come up with an honest answer.