EXCERPT: Charles Dickens began one of his essentially autobiographical tales by wondering aloud if he would prove to be the hero of his own life. Reality is so dynamic and changeable it is hard for anyone to know where their actions will lead them, or how they will bear up to the challenges of the day or the year.

Those same questions tugged at me recently when I traveled half a world away from our editorial offices in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A., to Australia, to participate in a religious liberty meeting of experts in Sydney, Australia. I left Australia some decades ago as a teenager; and each time I return, the question of what I have made of my life nags at me.

The day I arrived in Sydney I stopped off at Paddy’s Market, where they sell things like kangaroo skins and souvenir hats made in China. It was crowded and noisy, with commerce yelled out in mostly accented English. I found that I was less interested in buying than analyzing the sellers. They struck me as an incredibly diverse group, and I wondered about the story of their lives.

One especially vigorous and vocal Chinese woman caught my attention. “You want to buy souvenir pens?” she pitched. I looked over the products briefly, and asked her where she was from. “I come from Hong Kong,” she answered in a voice still pitched for Mandarin but heavily accented with Australian inflections. “Where are you from?” was her bounce back.

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