In 2005, townspeople in Gevas, Turkey, watched in horror as one sheep jumped to its death, and then 1,500 others followed over the same cliff. When the villagers, whose livelihoods depended on the flock, reached the bottom of the mountain, they found a billowy white pile of death. Some 450 sheep were lost, but amazingly 1,000 survived. As the pile grew, the dead bodies cushioned the fall of other sheep. How did this accident happen? The shepherds responsible for protecting the flock had left the sheep on the mountain to eat breakfast, and then the fleeces started to fly.
The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas, located in Van province in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP per head is around $2,700.
“Every family had an average of 20 sheep,” Aksam quoted another villager, Abdullah Hazar as saying. “But now only a few families have sheep left. It’s going to be hard for us.”
It is the shepherd’s willingness to go after the one that gives the ninety-nine their real security. If the one is sacrificed in the name of the larger group, then each individual in the group is insecure, knowing that he or she is of little value. If lost he or she will be left to die. When the shepherd pays a high price to find teh one, he therefore offers the profoundest security to the many.
One day George Adam Smith, an Englishman who traveled extensively in the Middle East, came across a sheepfold and said to the shepherd, “That is where they go at night?”
“Yes,” said the shepherd, “and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe.”
“But there is no door,” said the Englishman.
“I am the door,” replied the shepherd.
Sir George looked at him and asked, “What do you mean by the door?”
“When the light has gone and it’s night,” said the shepherd, “and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space. No sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf ever comes in unless he crosses my body. I am the door.”