Friday, June 06, 2008

My hero (one among many)

What makes a hero?

There was a time in my life when I couldn't drive down the main road in Section 16 towards Jalan Damansara without cringing. There was a huge billboard emblazoned with a publicity still from a local action movie, captioned, "Hero No.1 Malaysia". Said still was an upper-body shot of the movie's lead character in all his shaven-headed, mustachioed, leather- ("leather"?) jacketed glory. I discovered from the movie synopsis that said character was a criminal vigilante, one who took justice into his own hands when the law wasn't working his way. (Why does that sound familiar? Maybe it's because Hollywood has already done that plot so many times and for so long that it's ready to move to a retirement village and spend the rest of its days playing shuffleboard with old episodes from Lassie.)

Almost anyone else would just glance at the ad, snicker, and move on. After all, it was just a billboard.

My response was always to wince and wonder, that's Malaysia's hero? In the first place, since when was "hero" a recognised word in the Malay language? But more importantly, who appointed him an entire nation's hero, and did anyone actually end up buying chocolate-coated wafers because of this "endorsement"? Because, yes folks, that's what the ad was for: apparently, criminal activity and confectionery are a very appealing combination.

The point I've taken a rather long time to prove is that heroes are difficult to define, and sometimes, other people try to define them for you. But if you're like me, you don't take that sitting down, and you decide to say something about the people who you think really are worth your admiration.

Brother Andrew is one of those, and if you read his autobiography, you'd see why. The book was first published as God's Smuggler, then re-released a few years ago as The Narrow Road with accompanying first-hand accounts by Christians in hostile countries. Oh, and a CD single insert by Jars of Clay, but I don't think much of "celebrity" endorsements, as you might have gathered by now. I know it's hardly in the same league as the rather-sad-fictitious-"hero"-for-chocolate-wafers deal, but I couldn't help wondering why a band's name on a book should make it sell more copies, or gather more support for the work of the book's author. When will we learn to treasure things for their value, instead of relying on someone else to tell us what they're worth?

So, the book. It has all the intrigue of a spy thriller, the dry wit only a Dutchman (and a good ghost-writer) can master, and enough stories of miraculous provision and rescue to turn the hardest sceptic's head. And I bought it because it looked pretty... no, really, I bought it because I started reading the autobiography part while book-browsing one day in 2005, and I couldn't put it down, and I had a book voucher from my generous then-boyfriend. And it's probably going to remain one of my favourite books for the rest of my life. (Though it does look pretty, doesn't it?)


What makes Brother Andrew a hero in my eyes? Courage; sacrifice for a cause greater than himself; humility; faith; selflessness; and love for his family and friends, among other things. And I'm thankful to see these values displayed in many of the men I know. The cardboard heroes of the world are welcome to stay on billboards, vainly entreating people to buy cookies; while they do that, real men are changing the world one ordinary encounter at a time.

Who are your heroes?

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