The Angel of Nanjing

chinsi

 

The Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China is believed to be the most common location in the world for a suicide to occur. So it is there that 48 year-old Chen Si heads every weekend, to try and save lives.  This is not his job, but it is his vocation.

There was a time when in the not-too-distant past that the Chinese government would have forbid him from intervening as he does, but not now.  And Chen has prevented over 300 suicide attempts in the past twelve years and is now known as the “angel of Nanjing”—a chain smoking, heavy drinking angel who struggles with his own demons.

He wrestles with depression, his outreach has strained his marriage, and his own friends don’t want to talk about his work anymore.  But he doesn’t stop.  He can’t stop.  This all started with the suicide death of a neighbor, an elderly man Chen was planning to visit but didn’t.

So now every weekend he arrives at the bridge, usually by 7:30 AM, armed with emergency pamphlets explaining where people can get help, and business cards with his personal cell phone number.  Sometimes Chen walks, sometimes he rides his motor scooter.  But always he’s watching.  He’s become an expert at picking out the most desperate figures looking down at the brown water of the Yangtze 230 feet below.  Even so, he’s witnessed over 50 people jump to their deaths before he could reach them.

Chen’s style of intervention depends on the person he’s trying to save.  He can be gentle, speaking like a therapist to those who have not yet decided, but he can also be aggressive when necessary—as in the case of a person who’s already on the other side of the railing.  And his efforts are not always appreciated.  He’s been physically attacked and beaten by would-be jumpers.

Chen Si’s care doesn’t end once he’s gotten the suicidal people off the bridge.  He rents an apartment where they can rest for a few days and receive crisis counseling.  He often phones people he’s saved for weeks afterwards to check up on them.  He’s even spoken to creditors, trying to lessen the financial burden many he saves are under.

His ultimate hope is that the government will make more of an effort to curb the growing suicide epidemic in China where more than a third of the world’s suicides now occur.

There is a Chinese saying, “The prosperity of a nation is everyone’s responsibility.”  For Chen that means being a weekend lifeguard on the Yangtze River Bridge.

Chen Si is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know:  Andrew White

 

andrew white

Six weeks after being assigned as the priest to Coventry Cathedral in the West Midlands of England, 33 year-old Andrew White began experiencing balance and eye sight problems.  He was hospitalized, and on the same day that his second child was born, Fr. White received the news that he had multiple sclerosis.  So, he did what any human being would do—head for war- torn Iraq to serve as a pastor, a peace-maker, and a leader of inter-religious dialogue.

In the eighteen years since, he’s earned the title, “Vicar of Baghdad.”  Fr. White has been involved in everything from mediating the release of Muslim and Christian hostages to facilitating communication between Shia and Sunni leaders, to founding The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME).

FRRME provides medical care and emergency supplies to persecuted peoples in Northern Iraq and Jordan, including Christian and Yazidi refugees.  White’s organization works with the United Nations and other churches to ensure the food and medicine actually gets to those who are most vulnerable.

Because the Jordanian government does not allow refugees to work, FRRME is also providing shelter for 500 Iraqi families in Marka (a suburb of Amman), and education for 175 children.

Fr. White’s peacemaking efforts also include The Jerusalem International School for Reconciliation (JISR), a summer school program that teaches Israeli and Palestinian youths about new methods of reconciliation.

Along the way, White and his wife have also adopted five Iraqi children.

But like any true ministry, he has suffered.  White’s life has been threatened numerous times, and he has endured hijackings, a kidnapping, torture, and he’s had to travel with bodyguards for years.  In 2014 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered White to leave Baghdad, due to increased security risks.  Yet he remains near, in Jordan.

Fr. White has been recognized by several international groups for his reconciliation work, including the ICCJ Prize for Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations, the International Sternberg Prize, the Tanenbaum Peace Prize, the William Wilberforce Award, and the Anne Frank Award (presented by the Dutch government).

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

Andrew White is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.