Three Inspiring and Uplifting New Year’s Stories!

Writer Kevin Ott At Rocking Gods HouseThree Inspiring and Uplifting New Year’s Stories!Every now and then, I get a “this day in history” bug, where I become impossibly curious about events that happened on a particular date. Many publications will list top events or articles from the past year on New Year’s Eve, but this post offers something a little different: three uplifting true stories from three different centuries — the 1800s, the 1900s, and 2000s — that took place on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

In the spirit of Philippians 4:8, may these stories cause you to “think about such things” that are noble, lovely, and admirable. Allow these stories to remind you that God’s mercies are “new every morning,” as it says in Lamentations 3:23.

True Story #1: A Man’s One-Word-Sermon “Eternity” Reaches Millions (New Year’s Eve, 1999)

As TV networks around the world cycled between the various New Year’s Eve fireworks shows and Millenial celebrations on 1999, one in particular stood out: Sydney, Australia. The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge was emblazoned with the word “Eternity” in illustrious copperplate script that looked hand-written — except it was the size of a giant bridge, of course. For many Christians, the word was a happy reminder of God’s wonderful promises in Christ. For many others, it was a curious sight — especially if the viewer didn’t happen to believe in eternity or Heaven or Hell. People began asking about it, and the story got out. An illiterate alcoholic heard a sermon in the 1940s and was powerfully saved. He was subsequently cured of his alcoholism as he grew in his personal relationship with Christ. One day, he heard a sermon in which the preacher shouted the word “Eternity!” and exclaimed that he wished all of Sydney could hear the word and contemplate where they would be spending eternity. The preacher described it as a one-word-sermon: “Eternity!”

220px-Stace001At that moment, a lightning bolt of revelation struck Arthur Stace’s heart. He found some chalk, walked outside, and in beautiful flowing script wrote “Eternity” — even though he had never learned to read or write. He could never explain how he managed to write it, but for the next 35 years he wandered through the streets of Sydney in the nights and early mornings and wrote the word wherever he could — sidewalks, subway walls, buildings, etc. One newspaper estimated that he would go on to write his one-word sermon 500,000 times. The city took notice and newspapers searched for the mysterious “Mr. Eternity,” as they called him. For years, no one could discover his identity or photograph him, and he never stepped forward. Finally, in 1956, a reverend caught him writing the word and obtained his name. Only four photographs were taken of him in 35 years. He was very elusive.

For him, it was his simple way of getting people’s minds focused on spiritual matters so that, hopefully, they would think about their eternal destiny and eventually come to faith in Christ.

It became such a part of Sydney’s lore in the 1900s that in 1999, the city honored Arthur Stace by replicating his handwriting in enormous letters across the city’s most famous bridge. Cameras focused in on that word during the fireworks show, and millions of viewers around the world saw the simple Gospel message of a reformed, illiterate Christian man. One word was all he had to offer to God, but — like Jesus multiplying the boy’s few loaves of bread — God multiplied Arthur’s efforts far beyond anything he could have imagined. His one-word-sermon was preached not just to Sydney, but to millions upon millions of people around the world as the New Millenium began. How’s that for going viral? And all he had was a piece of chalk!

True Story #2: American Soldiers in Iraq Save Iraqi Baby (New Year’s Eve, 2005)

During the most intense years of counterinsurgency, American soldiers in Iraq often conducted house searches when they suspected that a terrorist was hiding in a certain area. Sometimes they were right, and they found insurgents. Sometimes they weren’t, and they left the house after questioning its residents. A friend of mine from my hometown — an Army Ranger named Ricky Barraza — died after being ambushed by insurgents as he entered such a house. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I heard the news that a friend from childhood had been killed in combat.

During those days, much of the nation was hungry for good news from overseas. That ray of light came near the end of 2005. In December, when soldiers conducted a house search, instead of finding insurgents, they found a baby in desperate need of special medical care. The family who lived in the home had tried to bring the baby to local doctors, but they could do nothing and instead sent the baby home and told them to prepare for her imminent death.

However, when the American soldiers were shown the baby and the large tumor protruding from her back, something unexpected happened, as CNN reported: “The platoon’s teenage medic, Pfc. Justin Donnelly, carried a digital camera on every patrol. He began taking pictures of Noor and with a few clicks of a camera, counterinsurgency melted into compassion.”

The soldiers took the pictures back to the doctors at the base, and they decided to do everything they could to save this baby. They found a charity in the United States that would be willing to finance the medical care in America that would save her life, and on a fateful New Year’s Eve in 2005, the Army was using their military transport to do something they never imagined it would do: airlift an Iraqi baby thousands of miles to the United States for life-saving intensive care.

The baby’s name was Noor. Iraq’s miracle baby — or Baby Noor as she was called in news reports — is alive and well today.

True Story #3: Lincoln Ends Slavery (New Year’s Day, 1863)

This is a familiar event in history, certainly, but it’s interesting to know that the Emancipation Proclamation — the document that issued a military-based executive order to declare slaves in the rebel states free — was signed by Abraham Lincoln on New Year’s Day, 1863. Abolitionists everywhere rejoiced. No doubt the date was picked for its symbolic meaning. Their meaning was clear: it was a new day for humanity to throw off the chains of slavery and start afresh. Lincoln said these words after signing the Proclamation: “I never in my life felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. If my name goes into history, it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

All of these stories can encourage us and remind us that in Christ there is always a new beginning available to us, no matter how things have gone in our lives. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is more than just a time for resolutions of weight loss and exciting fireworks and celebrations. It is a time to remember the greatest freedom there is: the freedom of Christ’s limitless grace that saves us from the slavery of sin and opens the door for an eternity of joy with God — the ultimate New Year’s Day!

As we head into 2014, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to scrawl the word “Eternity” across our hearts as we fix our eyes above, as Colossians 3:1-4 says:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.For you died,and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife,appears,then you also will appear with him in glory. (NIV)