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A Real Life Hero

Everyone should have heroes and heroines. If there is one thing (there are actually many things) I would like to pass along as curative and strengthening It would be that as long as you have heroes you have hope. The enduring image of John Wayne is like that for many older Americans. He was, of course, a product of what we call today the media. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan went from being an actor to being Governor of California and later President of the United States. To many he was a hero in every sense of that word. It is ironic that he was a hero to many of my heroes, and I am certain that he did not see himself as a hero. Heroes usually do not. They see themselves as people who found themselves in a situation and did what they saw as their duty. One of the blessings of my life is that I have met many of my heroes and found that up close they are real. Their humility and humanity are also real.

A few years ago I met a man for whom I had prayed many years ago. His name is Natan Sharansky. He has been the Minister of Housing and Construction in Israel. He has also served as Deputy Prime Minister of that nation. He was born in what was then the Soviet Union into a Jewish family who had little of this world's goods. In Stalinist Russia even life itself was more fragile than we can imagine. And to be a Jew was to be under suspicion at all times. To cling to any identity other than what the State determined for you was dangerous. I remember asking my friend, Richard Wurmbrand, another of my heroes, how widespread the persecution of Christians was in the Soviet Union. He astonished me by answering, "The Soviet Union does not persecute Christians." Then he added, "The Soviet Union persecutes all its citizens. Everyone is under suspicion at all times, and most especially the Jews. Never pray for the persecuted Church, without also praying for the Jews, the Gypsies, and tiny minorities known only to God. The Soviet Union will collapse, if Henry Kissinger and others will stop negotiating the terms of our surrender. God will raise up someone who will call evil evil." That was in 1973. Wurmbrand was not disparaging the efforts Kissinger put forth with regard to Vietnam, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize, but what he believed was Kissinger's acceptance that the Soviet empire was a permanent part of the political landscape. He could not seem to see that really evil things were going on. He could not form the word "evil".

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan did just that. And Natan Sharansky, in an eight-by-ten foot cell on the border of Siberia, rejoiced in his heart. This gifted physicist and mathematician had, years before, cast his lot in with the dissidents and had been accused of being a spy for the United States. He had spoken out for the Jewish community's right to teach Hebrew, to read works in Hebrew and other things so basic to freedom that we take them for granted. In 1986 Natan was released from prison. During his imprisonment he had clung to a Book of the Psalms. He demanded to take it with him as he was taken from prison. His book about those years is called Fear No Evil. In my opinion, it is one of the most significant books of our time.

He has written a book. It is called The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. To say this book is optimistic is an understatement. But remember this book was not written by a man in an ivory tower, but by a man who has suffered and been proven in the fire. I would write that he is a man without fear, but he told me that was not so. Instead, he said he simply was a believer, and that he had his own heroes, like King David who wrote the 23rd Psalm and Andrei Sakharov and Ronald Reagan.

Yes, we spoke about the Palestinians. I sensed about this man a love for the children of those who have declared themselves the enemies of all Israelis. Many despair and say there will never be peace in the Middle East. Sometimes I myself think that way. But as long as there are men like Natan Sharansky there is a reason for hope, and a knowledge that there are still real heroes.

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