Report from Hell
He has been stalked by snipers, caught in a Kosovo minefield, and arrested in Cuba. He was watched helplessly as children starved in Somalia and stood over mass graves in Rwanda. He has tracked crime bosses in Russia and read the diaries of soldiers slain during the Persian Gulf War.
As foreign correspondent for USA Today, Jack Kelley has traveled to 86 countries and conducted interviews with 36 heads of state, including Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, The Dalai Lama (who jokester that he is, burped in Jack's face), and Mikhail Gorbachev.
What has brought him to the front lines of human conflict and tragedy?
"Journalism is a calling," he explains. "I feel God's pleasure when I write and report. It isn't because of the glory, but because God has called me to proclaim truth, and to worship and serve him through other people."
His role models, he says, are four of "the greatest journalists of all time"; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
"I try to be people's ears, eyes, and hearts so they can understand the times they are living in," he says.
One might think he has become callous after seeing so much misery.
But he hasn't.
"The day it stops affecting me or I become cynical is the day I want to get out of journalism," Jack says.
He chooses to see how God is working and teach universal lessons through his stories. Here are some of the most important things he has discovered in his extensive and intense journeys across the globe.
God does intervene
After Jack crossed a kingpin while investigating organized crime in Moscow, he received several death threats. The State Department advised him to go to the U. S. Embassy. On his way there he realized he was being pursued by four men in two cars. As he ran down foreign streets, he prayed for God's help.
"I got this vision of an apartment building with the number 925 on it and an elderly man next to the door up one flight of stairs. Next thing I knew, I came upon building number 925. Walking in, I found an elderly man on the right who told me to come in until my pursuers passed," Jack recalls.
"I can remember the apartment vividly. It was decorated with a blue sofa and chairs, and the refrigerator was well stocked. I stayed there for a while until the men looking for me had passed. When I sent my interpreter to that apartment the next day to thank the man, she couldn't find him. The manager said the apartment had been empty for more than a year. This was just one of the many times God has spared me.
"I talk to the Lord constantly," he adds. "That is the only way I can get through this job. I should have died a long time ago. God is protecting me. I don't think I am testing the Lord. I just think this is what he has called me to do, and he will equip me as necessary."
The essence of evil
"When I interviewed a warlord in Somalia some years ago, it was obvious that he was lying. I asked him why food donated by churches and organizations in America for victims of the famine had not been distributed. He told me, 'Every single bag is given out, as are all the blankets we receive.' As I left the interview I saw his well-nourished soldiers wearing blankets as starving people begged for crumbs," Jack says. "And I remember thinking that here was a perfect example of selfishness and evil, and of what happens when people put their own needs above others and take their eyes off of God."
One reason God has called him to journalism, he believes, is to deliver a wake-up call about the need to oppose such evil and to affirm Godly values.
"If I can write a story so compelling that it makes someone in Portland or Seattle or Kansas City wake up to the world around them," he says, "then I have succeeded."
Jack feels Christians should be aware of what's going on around the world and exert influence where good and evil are in contention.
"As Christians, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. But some Christians, I'm afraid, are not even in the world. They refuse to keep up with the news. They isolate themselves.
"After all I've seen," he continues, "I realize that people are more alike than they are different, and that everyone is trying to make it through with some measure of dignity.... It doesn't matter what color their skin is, or their income, or where they live, the most important thing is to show people the love of the Lord."
When truth is a casualty
In times of war and crisis, Jack has repeatedly seen how easy it is for misinformation to color perceptions. He has been stunned by the false reports he has received in war torn areas.
"During the war in Kosovo, NATO and pentagon reports said that hundreds of Kosovo men were being held in a stadium where Serb forces were executing them. I grew a beard and dressed as an Albanian and went to the stadium with an Albanian interpreter. We found two men there: one was a security guard and the other was kicking a soccer ball."
Jack says the best way for him to demonstrate his Christian walk is to strive for excellence in all his dealings. He checks and rechecks his facts and sources, and puts in extra effort so his reports will be accurate and to the point. He tries always to be fair and even- handed. One Muslim man even uses Jack's articles to teach his daughter about Islam.
His efforts pay off. Jack regularly receives 110 letters a month from readers. People often send money for charities to help the people he writes about.
His goal as a journalist is to bear witness to the truth so his USA Today readers can see both the cowardice and the heroism of common people caught up in extreme distress.
Giving even when it hurts
Perhaps the most remarkable example of self-sacrifice that Jack has seen occurred in Somalia during a severe famine. His photographer gave a malnourished boy a grapefruit. The boy was so weak he could not even hold the citrus, so they cut it in half for him. Kelley and his photographer then followed the boy as he walked back into a village.
There the boy found a younger boy (his brother), lying on the ground with his eyes glazed over. Jack thought he was dead. The older brother knelt down, bit off a piece of grapefruit, chewed it, and put it in the boy's mouth. He then worked his younger brother's jaw with his hand.
Kelley discovered that the older brother had been keeping his younger brother alive in this manner for two weeks. Ultimately, the older brother died while the younger one survived.
"We are told that there is no greater love than to give your life away for someone else," Jack says. "Our life is just a breath and then it's gone. We need to give our life away to make it count."
He was also deeply impressed by a young Kuwaiti man who, during Iraqi occupation, led a group of young people who secretly visited the sick, elderly, and poor, giving them money, medicine, and food. This man was beaten and left for dead by Iraqi soldiers when they found him. They wanted to know the names of his friends.
Jack describes his interview with the man this way: "I said, 'What did they do to you?' He lifted up his shirt and there were knife scars on every part of his chest. The Iraqis had cut out the man's nipples. I said, 'Well, did you give in? Did you tell them what they wanted to know?' He said, 'Absolutely not, sir.'
"I remember driving home that day through a road full of craters from mortars, and thinking, If that man could do that for his country, why can't I be like that for my God? I knew then that it was time for me to get real with my life and with God, to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost."
Jack, who became a Christian 21 years ago in the Catholic charismatic movement, also has role models in his own family. "My mother was the first to be born again, and encouraged my father, my sister, and me to follow her example. My sister is now a missionary along with her husband and children with Youth for Christ, and my wife Jackie is also a loving and giving person. Jacki and my mom have more integrity than anyone I know."
Jack and his wife, senior vice president of advertising at USA Today, attend an evangelical church in Silver Spring, Maryland. "We take the time every day to pray together, to study Scripture. Jackie has great compassion for the poor and the oppressed," he says.
Renewal in unlikely places
Jack is impressed by people in many places who have embraced Christianity wholeheartedly after years of government suppression.
"There is an explosion of faith taking place in Cuba," he says. "I went to several churches, including one on the outskirts of Havana in an abandoned building without air conditioning. It was built for about 150 people, and at least 400 were packed in there. People were worshiping with all their strength, singing so loud you could probably have heard it in the next town.
"The same thing is happening in Russia. People have been denied the right to express their faith, and now it is just spilling out. One 78-year-old woman I met in a church in Moscow told me, 'I have waited almost all my 78 years to be able to say Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.' She is so grateful she finally does not have to hide the truth."
There are still places where Christianity is seen as a threat, though.
"One missionary couple in Iran I know asked that I not call or visit them because they know my phone is usually bugged and I am followed. They don't want the prayer meetings they hold in their homes to be discovered. Some governments are very good at making people disappear."
Jack has seen Christians in China write Scripture verses on toilet tissue because they didn't have paper. He has also seen their clandestine prayer meetings, which could land them in trouble with the authorities if discovered.
"After seeing such devotion," he admits, "I have no right to complain or to put my own feelings and thoughts or wishes above God's, ever. The Lord teaches me with every assignment the kind of person he wants his followers to be."