April 25, 2012

The Domino Effect

Imagine this sequence of scenes.
Two geese, male and female companions, are peacefully grazing the soft and fresh green shoots of a lawn. They look happy and content. Spring is in the air. They are soul mates.
Hard cut to the next scene: An irate male goose, coming out of nowhere and trying to impress a female companion, angrily swoops upon the erstwhile happily grazing geese couple. He had been grazing a bit down the path, but somehow felt that life was better where the other couple was. He flaps his big wings dangerously, beak nipping violently, and creates a ruckus. The first couple is now getting agitated as well. Nobody wants to be pushed around. Now watch the following scene.
Amid angry barks and vicious crackles male goose number one (formerly very serene and content) is now retreating but seems to be entering the territory of a third couple. True to the motto “attack is better than defense,” he duplicates the second male’s behavior, and soon the entire lawn is full of snarling, honking, crackling, and barking geese. Nobody is happy.
It all started with just one gander getting up on the wrong side of the bed—or whatever the goose approximation of that expression involves.
2012 1512 page6We have all seen the domino effect in action: a rude driver leading to an upset coworker, who in turn shouts at the misbehaving children at home. This domino effect seems to duplicate extremely fast and always causes uncalled-for hurt and pointless tension. At times church boards or business meetings provide ample demonstrations of this negative spiral. A thoughtless side remark is not taken well by Sister A, who, in turn, chides Brother B’s ill-founded enthusiasm for a new project. Brother C finds this behavior inappropriate and also says so, while sister D cannot understand all the fuss—“Let’s just get on with our agenda.” The atmosphere gets tense, and not much is accomplished during this board meeting.
However, there is another type of domino effect. A more personal story will illustrate this. Sixty-two years ago, somewhere in a neighborhood of post-World War II Cape Town, South Africa, an overworked and worn-out woman, pregnant with her sixth child, lay in bed, sick and worried. A devout Catholic, married to a hardworking husband who was not really interested in religion, and with a house full of hungry and lively children, she felt very discouraged. An Adventist neighbor had put her name down for prayer at an evangelistic meeting that was under way in town. Now the evangelist, a native of England, stood in front of the plain stone structure that was home to seven people. He listened well, and his prayers were reminders of God’s loving care. He opened Scripture and shared God’s amazing promises—a simple pastoral visit. The pastor came again and again and kept on praying with Eileen. They began to study the Bible together, while an irate husband purposefully banged on the roof and cleaned the gutters, clearly signaling, I am not interested! Once a week the humble, soft-spoken pastor visited that neighborhood, and slowly but surely the seed was taking root. Eileen’s husband had stopped cleaning the gutters and had joined the studies, even though at times he would fall asleep and start snoring. On one of these occasions the pastor motioned to Eileen, who, embarrassed, was trying to wake up her snoring husband: “He is working so hard.” When Eileen was invited to give her life to Jesus through baptism, her husband said no. He too wanted to be ready so that they could be baptized together. Some months later Eileen and Albert were baptized together, and when little Robert was finally born, the family had found their home in a small Adventist congregation.
Sixty-two years have passed, and I still marvel at this positive domino effect—a soft-spoken, praying pastor, who never knew the full results of his acts of kindness and care. The seed for three generations of church workers (including a number of pastors, teachers, and spouses of pastors) and many faithful Adventists was scattered that day. And it all began with a soft knock on a door. One kind act; one intercessory prayer; one listening ear.
I am eternally grateful to Pastor Daniel James Handysides for this domino effect that completely changed the direction of my wife’s family.
Gerald Klingbeil is an associate editor for the Adventist Review. This article was published April 26, 2012.