Breaking Point 

number 1I have a ladder which I like quite a bit.  Apart from its inherent usefulness, the thing I appreciate most about this piece of household equipment is that it clearly communicates its limitations to me.  There is a bold sticker on the side that says, “Max. wt. 300 lbs.”  If you weigh in at 350 and you hoist yourself up on my ladder, you’re going to have problems—and don’t come crying to me about it.

Ladders, bridges, fishing line—they all have a breaking point, and they all come clearly labelled so that you don’t expect more of them than you should.  If only people…

Today, a story of breaking points. Gird your loins–it’s a bit long for a Wednesday, but it does involve riots, crazy people, and secret police.  I think you’ll enjoy the ride.

It was my last day in Romania, just past Easter of 1990.  The entire nation had reached a breaking point just a few months earlier.  The people had absorbed the final ounce of torment from their dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and had removed him from power—rather violently and rather permanently.  I had come in later as part of a team to minister to the Christian churches, who were adding a measure of corporeal freedom to their freedom in Christ.  Now, my time was done, and I was looking to go home.

My plans were thwarted by another group of people who had reached a breaking point—the Romanian airline pilots.  It seems that they had grown tired of being paid bus driver wages for flying 747’s, and had decided to exercise their newfound capitalistic power.  They went on strike.  By the time I arrived at the airport for my morning flight to London, the place was teeming with thousands of travelers who had places to go, but no way to get there.

And now the fun began.

Thus far the breaking points I have mentioned were good things.  People had decided that enough was enough and had taken action to correct injustice.  Hoorah.  But now, plunge with me into the seamy side of breaking points—what happens when people just can’t deal with life.

I was fortunate to find a fellow English speaker—British, but close enough in dangerous times—and a calm corner from which I could observe the fomenting riots.  You see, after more than six hours of waiting for negotiations with the pilots to be successful, while passengers continued to arrive for flights that continued to not depart, people began to get cranky.  Complaining became shouting became screaming became pushing became punching became kiosk throwing became ransacking.

Breaking point.

Suddenly, the second-floor railing was ringed with soldiers carrying implements of doom, and a strange thing happened.  People who had, moments before, been consumed by chaotic rage found an extra measure of self-control.  Perhaps it was their civilized nature rising to the surface; perhaps it was the sound of a hundred automatic weapons being charged simultaneously.  Regardless, the mellow spread quickly.

The peace held, albeit by its fingernails.  No one rioted when, after ten hours in the terminal, our flight was loaded on a bus, driven a quarter mile out onto the tarmac, and left.  By left, I mean that a small car pulled up alongside the bus, our driver got out of the bus and into the car, and it drove away.  We were abandoned like Fay Wray, waiting to be taken by the Kong.

A planeful of people.

Stuffed on a bus.

Standing room only.

For forty-five minutes.

But we didn’t riot.  Sure, we might have rocked the bus a little, but that wasn’t a breaking point.  That was just some harmless fun.  Besides, it stopped when the bus went up on two wheels

the third time

so it’s not like we tipped over or anything.

Things were rather uneventful after that.  They eventually brought us a plane, and aboard we climbed.  I got a glimpse of the cockpit—secured from terrorism by a heavy-duty curtain—as I passed.  Dials, switches, hand cranks, and a man in the navigator’s chair perusing what I am sure was a Thomas Guide.  No computers or electronics to complicate things.  Keep it simple.

We were seated, announcements were made, and at long last we were aloft.  I must admit to a little trepidation whenever the crew made announcements, which of course happened several times throughout the flight.  You see, this was a Romanian airline, so it is only reasonable that the announcements were made first in Romanian.  German came next, then something that sounded like Tagalog, but probably wasn’t, and then English.  The pattern went something like this:

Romanian announcement lasting 30 seconds.

German announcement lasting 20 seconds.

Tagalog (?) announcement lasting 15 seconds.

English: “Please stay in your seats.”

I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing important information, but what could I do?

The flight was surprisingly uneventful for about an hour; then we reached the day’s final breaking point.  I do not know her name—I will simply call her The Troubled Woman.  She came suddenly and without warning from the back of the plane, bursting the exhaustion bubble of people who were now thirteen hours late for their destinations and still in the air.  The Troubled Woman ran up the aisle of the plane…then back down the aisle…then back up, all the while yelling, “We must stop them!  They’ve trapped us on this plane!  They’re keeping us hostage!  They’ve taken our children!

I don’t know what children.  There were no children on the plane.  Perhaps because they had already taken them.

My British friend from the terminal and I were all attention.  We had been passing the time playing, “Spot the secret policeman.”  We were convinced it was a thin man with a bad suit and a worse mustache about three rows from the back of the plane.  Sure enough, as The Troubled Woman ranted, Securitate Bob leaped from his seat, grabbed The Troubled Woman—who now began to shriek—and ushered her toward the front of the plane.  Two flight attendants emerged from the front, and The Troubled Woman was pulled behind a curtain separating the cabin from Flight Attendant Land.  Her shrieks continued for about seven seconds

then stopped abruptly.

After a few moments, we heard the:

Romanian announcement lasting 30 seconds.

German announcement lasting 20 seconds.

Tagalog (?) announcement lasting 15 seconds.

English: “Please stay in your seats.”

It all sounded normal, but they weren’t fooling anyone.  We were just wondering if they had sedated The Troubled Woman or simply smothered her with a pillow.

You think I’m making this up…but I’m not that good.

About twenty minutes later, the curtain was yanked aside and The Troubled Woman emerged.  She faced us very calmly and said, “I’m sorry, but you had to know how I feel.  You simply had to know how I feel.”  Then hands reached out from behind the curtain, and she was hauled back out of sight.

We cheered her.  It had been that kind of day.

Hey, Michael–any chance you have a point to make in all of this?

Yeah…there’s a chance.

Life can be crazy, and we all have our breaking points.  It would be great if we were clearly labelled, like bridges or fishing line, but we’re not.  Often you don’t realize you’ve hit your breaking point until Securitate Bob comes for you with the syringe.  He’s come for me several times over the years—metaphorically speaking.

But on that day in Romania I did not break.  I was twenty-one years old, alone and essentially trapped in a foreign country filled with crazy people—and I was fine.  Why?  I think I had stumbled upon a key that I have lost and found many times over the years.  It goes like this:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

I was on a mission trip.  I had been bathing in the Word and in prayer for weeks.  When crisis hit, I was so deep in God that I was able to sit back and watch him take care of it…and me.  It’s a lesson I need to remember but often forget.

When this world is all you have, you will rise and fall on its turbulence.  When your trust is in God, you will be held steady through the storm.  But, of course, the preparation has to come before the crisis.  Trees don’t sink roots while the wind is raging. The fortress is not built during the battle.  Take the time now, my friend.  Sink your roots deep into the Rock.  Make your foundation solid and firm.

Don’t make me call Securitate Bob.



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