Doug Nichols was a young college student and living "the good life," partying and getting drunk One night he came home to his apartment rather inebriated and a fellow student, studying through the night, came and offered him some coffee. As Doug drank cup after cup, the other student told him the Gospel and, in the wee hours, he accepted Jesus into his life.
The first book he read in the Bible was Romans and when he read chapter 13, "owe no one anything," he was convicted. He had used thievery to support himself and now went back to each home he had burglarised, introduced himself, asked them to make a list of everything he had taken and he would come back later in the evening to repay them. "Funny thing," he says, "none of them called the police on him. They were probably too shocked.
He decided to go to Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta but had such learning disabilities (how had he managed college then?) that he was ready to pack up and quit when old professor came to him, encouraged him to continue and promised that he and the other staff would try to help him. After graduation (he said he didn't really graduate, they just let him leave), he applied to thirty mission organisations and none of them would take him. When he got married, his wife was wanted but he still wasn't. Eventually they wound up in the Philippines.
It was in the Philippines that he and his wife founded Action International, a ministry aimed at the thousands of street children in Manila. The mission now, nearly forty years later, "has over 225 members from thirteen different countries, with ministries in over twenty countries including: Austria, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Spain, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA, and Zambia."
Doug tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl in Sao Paulo, Brazil who wanted to join a gang. To initiate her, they raped her all night, poured igniter fluid on her and set her on fire.
During the genocide in Rwanda, refugees fled to Zaire. Imagine a million people in one camp without proper toilet facilities. All the toileting was in the open and, because it was rainy season, everything poured into the lake from which they got their drinking water. This is a recipe for cholera and in three days, 50,000 people died, many leaving orphans behind. Doug recounts being outside a hospital tent, watching a worker come out the door with a baby in his arms. The baby was living, moving. On the ground nearby were many children of various ages laid in rows. Some were dead and some still living. The worker gently placed the baby amongst them and walked away. There was nothing more they could do except put the little one out to die.
We cringe at both of these stories and cry out, "There must be something we can do!"
Doug reminds us of the story of the two fish and five loaves. Just as the disciples didn't have much food to start with in feeding the crowd, we may not have much either but it's not how much we have but how little. He points out that if left unused, fish begins to stink and bread dries out. If we're not allowing God to use us and the little we have, we are stinky fish.
There are three groups of people, says Doug: The neglected, the nobodies and the needy.
1. The Neglected
a) There are three billion people in the world who have no gospel and no one nearby to tell them.
b) The Elderly
During the European heat wave in 2003, nearly 15,000 people died, most of them elderly. They were neglected.
Many never have an adult to talk to them or have never had a home-cooked meal.
Doug was living in Colorado, fighting cancer. He had left work early because the latest radiation treatment had made him sick. As he passed a doughnut shop, he saw their advertisement for doughnuts at half price, so he stopped. Inside a large teen boy was angry and swearing at the tiny Asian girl behind the counter. Doug was about to rip into the boy until God nudged him and so he listened to the boy's story instead. As they talked, the teen noticed that Doug was sick. He walked Doug back to the car, buckled him in and said, "Thank you for talking to me." Doug remarks, "I was ready to tear him apart and he thanked me for listening!"
d) Races, Colours, Muslims
One time Doug was on a plane and discovered his seat mate was a Muslim. They began to talk about the differences between Islam and Christianity and finally Doug asked the man, "Do you know if you will go to heaven?"
"No," said the Muslim, "I don't know if I will have enough good works to go there."
Doug replied that he knew he was going to heaven.
"How can you be so sure?" the man asked.
"Because of good works."
The Muslim was amazed. "How is that possible?"
"Ah! It's not my good works that will get me there, but Jesus'."
Doug gave the man a tract, and the Muslim got off the plane excited to know that indeed a person can know he is going to heaven.
2. The Nobodies
These are the poor. The Bible says to defend the rights of the poor and the needy. Where does a three-year-old street child go when a typhoon comes to town? What does a six-year-old do when she has the flu?
What do poverty-stricken parents do when they cannot manage? Sometimes they sell their children into prostitution. Doug said that 15,000 kids between the ages of 9 and 12 have been or are sold into prostitution. I wonder if that is per year because according to UNICEF Philippines, in 2001 there were between 60,000 and 100,000 child prostitutes.
In Manila itself, there are 50,000 prostitutes. Doug was with a group of short-term missionaries who had arrived just the day before. He gave a pamphlet to one of them, pointed out a little girl prostitute and asked her to go talk to the girl. When the woman went over, the things she said were insensitive and critical. Finally she looked down at the girl and saw that she was crying. The woman asked if she had offended the girl and the girl responded, "No. I never knew anyone who cared before." The woman asked if she could start over and the girl accepted Jesus. Then she brought her friend to also hear what the woman had to say.
We may be old or sickly, but we can still do something.
3. The Needy
Who are the needy? Children, orphans, widows. Jesus said, "Let the children come to me." (Matthew 19:14) What sorts of things can we do for children? Orphanages! So what if you're 80! You're going to die soon anyway, so why not give your last years to take in 500 children in Malawi. So what if you work yourself to death in two years? You'll have 500 children standing around your grave, thanking God that you came to them! No one forces the key to death. Jesus controls and turns it and so there is no need to fear death. "Let the Grey Heads Arise!" he declares.
One day Doug was being driven to a speaking engagement when the driver stopped at a detention centre for children ages three to seventeen. When they entered the compound, the children recognised the driver and climbed all over him and, since Doug was with him, they figured Doug must be a good guy too and climbed all over him as well. He noticed a little boy, the ugliest kid he had ever seen, following him. When the boy drew near, Doug reached out his hand to touch the boy's shoulder. Immediately the boy jerked away--evidence that the boy had little to no experience with a good touch from a man. But he kept following and Doug kept reaching out. In the end, the boy allowed Doug to walk with his arm around him. When it was time to leave, and Doug had walked out the gate, he turned back to see all the kids congregating around the fence. He saw the boy at the back of the bunch and reached his hand through the fence towards him. The boy came forward, grasped his hand, clasped it to his chest and wouldn't let go. When Doug finally got into the car, he broke down in tears.
He ended the evening encouraging us to pray this prayer, "Lord, give me a little of the passion I heard tonight."