You know, the Olympics, as much as I watch the Olympics and I thought, you know, at least the opening ceremonies, I haven't watched the second half of that and I thought, oh, boy, look out, here they come. It was impressive and there were some heartfelt moments as well. I want to tell you a story that started back in May.
It was a cool, bright blue afternoon in May. Do you remember those times when you were a kid that just made you wish summer would just hurry up and get here? It was one of those days. And it was a Monday. But it was the last full week of school. So you had that beautiful early summer on the last week of school, Monday, you knew. Remember, you didn't do jack. Especially when you were 9. All you could think about was getting out of school. Most of the second grade students who attended the small amount area school, they were all in a great mood because the end of school wasn't far away. And not only did that mean the beginning of summer vacation but also the official countdown to their country's Olympics, and none of them could wait. So it was on this Monday. The old clock on the wall crept slowly to 2:30. Three young friends. They were walking together in the school's main hallway and they were laughing and joking and talking about plans for the summer. Olympics, what else. Their idol, 7' 6" center Yao Ming would be playing basketball against Team USA in the opening round and that was almost too good to be true for these 9 year olds. When they were walking down the hall, suddenly the floor started to shake and they didn't have any idea what was going on. They steadied themselves, unsure of what was happening. But the tremors only grew worse. The walls started to shake. The ceilings cracked. Plaster turned to dust and swirled there in the air. The lights rattled and flickered. Posters and bulletin boards that once had announced sports schedules or honor rolls fell to the floor. Glass shattered all around them. And then a rumble approached. It was low and quiet at first but it grew louder and louder until it was on top of them and so was the school. Heavy support beams and walls crashed all around the three friends, trapping, trapping them out of reach of one another. Water pipes burst and electrical wires sparked and then just as quickly as it started, the shaking stopped. Their world was dark and early quiet. But the three friends were still alive.
Badly injured, the boys knew that each of them would die without a miracle. And then one appeared in the most unlikely of places. One of the boys, a thin 9 year old with jet black hair and a smile that could light up a room was awake and alert under the rubble. He knew his friends had to be as freaked out as he was. So he started singing to them. He led his two friends in song after song and he told them, don't be afraid. And all the while he worked to free himself from the rubble and eventually he succeeded. Pulling himself to the top of the smoking pile of debris, the boy realized that his head and his arm was bleeding and injured badly. But there wasn't a rescue worker or a siren in sight or sound. No other classmates yet were free and so the boy was alone and knew what he had to do. He climbed back on through the rubble of his collapsed school and he searched until he found one of his friends, still having him sing, pulling away the twisted metal and furniture, the boy reached his Popsicle stick arms down to his friend and pulled them out to safety. Then he went back again. Never once worrying about his own injuries or that he might fall back into the rubble. He climbed the pile, found his other friend and rescued him as well. Two of his friends were saved, but a lot of other people weren't that lucky. 20 of his 31 classmates died that day.
That day was May 12th, 2008. Unbeknownst to the boys at that grammar school, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake had just devastated their province in western China. Buildings and homes were leveled for miles and the human toll was breathtaking. 70,000 were dead. Hundreds of thousands injured. Millions were homeless. But sometimes it takes the darkest clouds for people to notice the brightest light. While often it's hard to see God in a tragedy, he can almost always be found in the way people react to one. And so it was that day in China, when somebody asked that little 9 year old boy why he went back into the rubble to save his friends, he gave an answer that if not sent by God directly, was surely inspired by him. Because... I was the hall monitor. It was my job to look after my classmates. You might have seen that little boy walk proudly hand in hand with his hero, Yao Ming, during the opening ceremony. Some say putting those two together was symbolic of one national hero leading in the next. But as you think about that little boy's answer, you might ask yourself, who is leading whom.