Someone pulled a knife on the dusty streets of Cité Soleil, and Joel N. Clark's life was never the same... But not for a reason you'd expect. Check out Joel's story about a "real-life hero" in this excerpt from the book Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story (The Book You Can Watch).
I watched as they dragged a screaming woman into the dusty streets of [the Haitian city] Cité Soleil. Stopping directly outside our truck, a group of men threw her to the ground, savagely ripping the shirt from her body. One man jumped in with fists flailing. He was trying to drive away the others, but there were too many... At least ten men were involved in the fighting, but the crowd that had gathered to watch easily numbered more than fifty, and it was growing by the second. My eyes were glued on the woman who was at the center of it all, being pulled back and forth like a rag doll.
Father Rick Frechette — whom I simply call "the priest" — was talking on his cell phone, not yet aware of the brutality happening just outside his eyeshot. Only when a man was shoved against the side of the truck did his attention shift... Unable to make myself move (and unsure what I would do if I could), I sat and watched as the violence began to spread. Some of the spectators — men and women — were beginning to join in the fight.
The woman was screaming... Tears mixed with the dust to make muddy tracks down her cheeks. Wrestling an arm free, she slugged one of her assailants hard in the face. Shock shifted to rage as he grabbed hold of her arm once again and slammed his fist into the side of her head. Stunned, her legs momentarily gave way as she slumped between the men.
A knife flashed from somewhere deep in the crowd... Someone was going to die.
My breath stopped as a knife flashed from somewhere deep in the crowd. The fighting seemed to be spreading to a much larger group. At least twice as many men and women had now joined in the madness. Less than a minute earlier, only ten men had been fighting, but now there were more than thirty men and women who were shoving and screaming at each other wildly. Yet it was this woman who was at the heart of the chaos... I didn't know what had caused it, but that didn't matter. Someone was going to die.
Another man rushed forward, trying to free the woman, but he was shoved hard. Stumbling back, he slammed against the side of the truck and fell to his knees. Transfixed on the scene in front of me, I didn't hear the door opening on the other side of the medical truck. I didn't notice the priest exiting the vehicle...
The woman was on her knees now, tears flowing freely as she struggled to rise. Her shirt was lying on the ground, trampled by the madness that raged around her. A thick sheen of dust filled the air, eerily framing the scene. Another woman who looked to be much older, with the leathery skin and deep wrinkles of someone who hadn't had an easy life, pushed through the crowd, trying desperately to reach the woman on the ground. Her arms were fully extended, but she couldn't get to her. Two men were holding her back as she screamed and pushed against them...
Everywhere I looked, people were shoving and punching each other wildly... I was still frozen in my seat.
As the woman rose unsteadily to her feet, I saw another knife rise high in the air, the sun reflecting off the blade like a mirror. This knife was different from the others I'd seen. The others had been shaken violently in order to threaten; this one was raised with the intent to kill.
That's when the miracle happened.
That's when the miracle happened. I watched it unfold right in front of my eyes. Out of nowhere another hand shot into the air, grabbing the hand with the knife and stopping it before it could plunge the knife into the heart of the woman. The mob quieted in an instant, like waves suddenly calmed. The man with the knife lowered his eyes with an embarrassed, almost apologetic look. That's when I saw him, the priest, standing at the center of it all. He had walked into the heart of the mob and stopped a murder. He is not a tall man, but he definitely stood above the crowd that day. I watched as he took off his jacket and put it around her. He said a few things to her in a language I didn't understand and then led her over to the young men who had followed him out of the truck. These men were trying to look like his bodyguards but ended up looking like mere boys standing next to this real-life hero. The priest must have instructed them to take the woman home because they all surrounded her and guided her away from the crowd. He then said a few more words to the people, putting his hands on their shoulders and calming them.
A minute later, he was back inside the truck. Putting the phone to his ear, he continued with the call he had been on before the whole incident erupted. He hadn't even hung up his cell phone when he stopped the murder... He made no mention at all of what had just happened.
[What the Priest Taught Me...]
Father Rick once told me that much of the world is sound asleep and feeling empty. He said that we are sleeping to what life is really about, and only when we step out of our comfort zone will our talents and abilities be drawn out of us.
I'm desperate to live a greater story. I've spent much of my life fantasizing over what I might do and daydreaming about who I hope to become. Yet often when I find myself in a position to actually do something about it, I continue my dreaming, too afraid, jaded, or cynical to step up to the plate.
I think most of us want to be more than we are now. We want to be kinder, bolder, more passionate, more assertive. And in our dreams we know exactly what to say or do. Yet when we find ourselves face-to-face with an opportunity to act, we run back to the safety of dreaming, too afraid to live fully awake...
The priest lives his life fully awake. He would be the first to say that some of his days are filled with failure and struggles, and I know firsthand just how messy and chaotic they can be. I've heard his stories of loneliness and heartache. Yet I have seen insane miracles while I was with him, and he has told me stories of amazing beauty. The priest has collected more God-experiences than anyone I've met.
Many of us have been taught that our lives aren't supposed to be messy or chaotic. We've been told that living safe is better than getting it wrong, and if we are a little bored, well, that's OK as long as we don't fail or make any major mistakes. Yet this isn't living; this is sleepwalking. The priest showed me what it means to awaken to my life. He showed me a new way to live.
[Meet "the priest" in this video from Awake.]
-Joel N. Clark
Learn more about Awake: Discover the Power of YOUR Story (The Book You Can Watch).
(Some styling above is a web-exclusive feature not included in the text of Awake. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)