Wednesday, August 01, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Americans who make a difference

While we visited the other day with Brig. Gen. (Select) Rowayne Schatz, the commander at Little Rock Air Force Base, and later with members of a local church, they reluctantly mentioned some extraordinary things they’ve done — one in the line of duty, the others going overseas with a church group.

Schatz mentioned his role in the tsunami relief at the end of a long interview, and by the time I worked through my notes, I’d run out of space in my three-part interview with him to write about his humanitarian work.

Two months ago, two couples from Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville — Alderman Gary Fletcher, his wife Glenda, and John and Leta Haggard and their son Sam — as well as Josh and Michael Faulkner of Friendship Baptist Church in Sherwood — along with other church groups from around the country, traveled 8,000 miles to a Romanian village to build a little church in less than a week.

But as I say, people don’t like to brag about the good they do. You almost have to coax it out of them:
After a couple of interviews with Schatz and taking several pages of notes, I’ve just found a couple of paragraphs I jotted down toward the end of our second meeting about how Schatz had led humanitarian aid efforts after the tsunami hit Southeast Asia and an earthquake destroyed an area of Pakistan.

The general doesn’t advertise his accomplishments in Asia, but if you keep asking, he’ll give you the details.

Schatz says C-130s and C-17s flew into Banda Acha in Indonesia with supplies as the U.S. military helped with recovery efforts.

“Our approval rating went up from 10 percent to 65 percent,” Schatz said.

He was also in charge of rescue operations after an earthquake devastated parts of Pakistan in 2005.

He says, “2005 was a busy year.”

Crews airlifted 25 helicopters into Pakistan so they could deliver supplies into the mountainous regions where the earthquake had killed thousands of people.

“Twelve hours after the earthquake, the ambassador had called for aid,” Schatz recalled. “We flew into Islamabad within 24 hours of the quake.

“That had more of an impact on the war on terrorism than anything we’ve done. We were the ones who came and helped.
“It’s key to achieving America’s objectives in the world,” Schatz said.

The same could be said for individual Americans who try to make the world a better place in their own modest way.

That’s what members of Jacksonville’s Second Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church set out to do in late May, when they flew to the Romanian capital of Bucharest — after having the hardest time obtaining passports — and then took a bus across the country to the village of Birchis in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania.

The group was part of the Romanian Chapel Project.

John and Leta Haggard had been to Romania many times before and had even lived there for three years. They had built 40 churches over the years.

This time, the group worked every day from 7 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. and sometimes till 6 p.m. It rained every day, but they kept going, stopping to eat meals prepared by the villagers.

“We like to go every year. It’s totally different from here. It’s almost a Third World country,” John Haggard told us. But, he added, “It’s a beautiful country.”

“They had the most beautiful gardens,” Glenda Fletcher recalled. “They had the most beautiful grapevines and beautiful gates. They had cattle and chickens and ducks and donkeys that ran around.

“It rained until the last day, when we finished the church,” she continued. “The sun came out, and it was absolutely gorgeous.”

The day they dedicated the church, the mayor attended with 200 other villagers. Many of them had to stand outside during services. Beyond the village, the mountains were still covered in snow in June, the Fletchers said.

“They’re the sweetest, the most hospitable people,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Why did they pick Romania?

“That’s where God led us,” John Haggard said.