|by Doug Ward|
Recently a wealthy alumnus of Miami University made a substantial donation to his alma mater for the establishment of an ongoing series of lectures by distinguished leaders. The series had an auspicious beginning in October 2000 with the inaugural lecture given by General Colin Powell, now the new Secretary of State of the United States. A crowd that must have numbered over ten thousand packed Millett Hall, the basketball arena at Miami, to welcome the distinguished visitor. Among those in attendance was Hope Taft, the wife of Ohio governor Robert Taft. My son Andrew and I arrived about twenty minutes before the lecture was scheduled to begin and found that most of the remaining available seats were in the ``nosebleed section'' in the upper reaches of the arena. The scene, with thousands of people gathering expectantly in a sports arena to hear a speaker, reminded me of worship services I had attended at Feast of Tabernacles celebrations in years gone by. And as it turned out, the stirring address delivered by General Powell could be described as a sort of secular sermon.
The son of immigrant parents, Colin Powell grew up in the South Bronx, a poor and often dangerous section of New York City. From that humble background, he rose to become a military leader and advisor to Presidents. Today he is so highly respected that if he chose to run for President of the United States, he would have an excellent chance of being elected. General Powell credited his parents and community for giving him a good start in life by imparting values of responsibility, diligence, discipline, and self-confidence. He made special mention of a ``network of aunts'' that watched over him as he was growing up and let him know what was expected of him.
Powell noted that he had dedicated nearly thirty years of his life, beginning in 1958, to protecting the Western world against the threat of Communism. As an American military officer, he served in places like Germany, Korea, and Viet Nam. Then in the 1980s, the situation began to change rapidly. General Powell recalled traveling to Moscow with U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz in 1988 to meet with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. At this meeting, Premier Gorbachev had told them that the United States would have to find a new enemy. And indeed, the next few years saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. It was no longer possible, Powell asserted, for those countries to continue ``living a lie.'' He observed that today, the whole world is seeking the personal and economic freedom that exemplifies the American way of life. As an indication of the extent to which the world has embraced capitalism, he mentioned a Pizza Hut television commercial featuring Mikhail Gorbachev.
At the conclusion of his lecture, General Powell stated his conviction that God has given the United States a historic opportunity to be a ``city on a hill'' and lead the world to a brighter future based on American ideals. He also expressed his concern that the next generation of Americans receive the preparation necessary to take on such a responsibility. Through a network of private and public organizations called America's Promise, he has tried to ensure that all American children receive the same opportunities for growth and success that he enjoyed as a child. He urged the people in the audience to become involved with volunteer efforts to help guide the next generation.
I left the arena greatly inspired by Colin Powell's example of service to his country and its young people. Through America's Promise, he has done a great deal to ``turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers'' (Mal. 4:6). As a Christian, I would make just one adjustment in his list of values: in place of self-confidence, I would put faith in Jesus Christ. While American democracy and free-market economics can improve the lives of many, the world's hunger for true freedom will ultimately be satisfied only by the One who died to bring freedom to all.