Mr Chen & The Yangtze River Bridge


Nanjing China is home to the Yangtze River Bridge. The bridge has seen many people commit suicide. The thought of someone taking his or her own life is a painful thing to think about. Many people struggle with difficult situations and don’t know what to do. This issue probably has directly, or indirectly, affected us all.

When I first heard of the Yangtze River Bridge, it was because of Mr. Chen. News outlets like NY Times, GQ and more have covered his story over the last ten years. Every weekend, Mr. Chen comes to the bridge to watch for people who may try to jump off. “It is very easy to recognize,” he has said of potential jumpers. “A person walks without spirit.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Chinese aged 15 to 34, and the fifth leading cause of death for the entire population, according to a study by the CDC.[1] Mr. Chen decided that was not okay with him, and decided to make it his mission to help rescue those who feel ending their life is the only option.

“If I save one person,” Mr. Chen said, “one is a lot.”

He would take the bus to the bridge, holding pamphlets with his personal cell phone number as an emergency hotline. He talks people down, even tackles some, and then takes them to a restaurant to eat. He listens to their story and tries to offer them hope to keep on living. Many have been rescued by his efforts.

As if this work alone isn’t compelling enough, Mr. Chen said something that struck me: “I’ve saved lots of people, but one person alone isn’t enough to do this work.”

I am working on a book about dreams. I believe God has a dream for each of us – a dream to make a difference, a dream that includes others, a dream that is deeply personal and fulfilling. Mr. Chen’s story inspires me.

I think the things that make us mad, the issues that frustrate us, the pain we see in this world that we just can’t stand, helps lead us to our dream. For whatever reason, Mr. Chen couldn’t stand the thought of someone losing hope for good and committing suicide. He didn’t sit in his living room wishing someone else would do something, or complain that his government refused to do something, or hope every major news channel on the planet would tell his story; he just got up every weekend and volunteered to help, because one person mattered to him.

Every life counts.

When I think about dreams, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all just got up and started helping. If we weren’t so worried about who’s watching, or if we’ll get the credit, but we just decided to help somebody. I wonder if more dreams would be fulfilled.

In moments when I temporarily snap out of the self-focused coma that often captivates my attention, I begin to ask myself questions like:

1.    What are the needs around me right now?

2.    What is it that I can do today, that will help meet the needs of others?

3.    What is it that makes me ask, “Why doesn’t somebody should do something about that?”  Then I have to ask, “Why don’t I do something about that?”

I think about the clean water crisis. It bothered me. It really bothered me.  I was standing in line at Starbucks near Wilshire and Highland Avenue one day in 2007 and saw some headlines that read, “1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.”

That can’t be right? Can it? I wondered.

Then I discovered that the source of this statistic was UNICEF.  Later in the same Starbucks, I saw that the water bottles they sold, gave 5% of the profit to a water charity, which is an honorable plan. It sparked an idea for me. What if 100% of the money could go to developing nations water projects? I can’t help a billion people but I can use whatever influence I have and we can help one village.

It was a hunch, a desire, an easy way to help others and God took that tiny thought I had to help someone and we started Generosity.org. Now, eight years later, with my son, Jordan, leading the organization we have built 644 wells in 19 countries. This means that about 338,242 people now have clean water that did not eight years ago.  We continue to expand the efforts to end the global water crisis.

I think God blesses a dream to help others, to make a difference and when our dream includes the dreams of others, God makes a way. It’s not always easy and sometimes there are detours in life that hinder our dream, but if we can learn to overcome disappointment and setbacks, God will hook us up with a come back! (Come on somebody, I am preaching… err, blogging good!)

I can’t wait for you to read my next book about reaching your dreams. How does Mr. Chen’s story inspire you? What do you want to know about discovering and accomplishing your God given dream?

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5322a6.htm

Philip WagnerComment