The Heavenly Bridge Builder -
By Scott Reeve, Hsinchu, Formosa (Originally in English)
Twenty years ago in 1987, a severe earthquake struck Ecuador. A teenage boy watched this disaster on TV from the comfort of his own living room in a small Swiss mountain village. His heart was moved to do something and he told his father that he was going there to help, but his father didn’t support him. The boy then took his youth’s savings for the airfare, received contributions from his neighbors and flew to South America with only his heart as a guide.
Upon reaching the disaster area, he realized how useful bridges were to the local people. He saw that medical supplies and food couldn’t be delivered across the river. Rewarding his sincerity, God sent him an angel - a Dutch engineer married in Ecuador who taught the boy simple bridge building over the next five months. Later he invented a method of building suspension bridges by hand with the local communities and went on to become “The Bridge Builder from Heaven.”
After he learned to build simple bridges, God sent him another angel so he could improve his work, an Ecuadorian welder named Walter Yañez. They became friends and traveled throughout Latin America as “partners for the poor.” This partnership evolved into a golden practice as the two servants improved the lives of over half a million people over the years! Toni’s actions bring a sense of pride and confidence to the local people because he always needs their help to build the bridges. Therefore he also helps people become more independent.
With time, Toni became very wise to the ways of the world. He built hundreds of bridges in the most remote areas of Latin America and South East Asia, and learned to do it for a tenth of the price of building a commercial bridge! He doesn’t accept money from governments but will accept financial donations from individuals that support his mission; and he personally goes to Argentina, Italy, Mexico and Ecuador to humbly ask donors for their leftover steel pipes, and the Swiss mountain cablecars for their used wire rope.
In 2007, Toni was awarded a third-grade Labor Medal by Aulacese President Nguyễn Minh Triết for assisting over 100,000 inhabitants of Bến Tre province.
With building bridges on two continents, Toni is a man that truly lives in the moment. His schedule is so spontaneous that he hardly sleeps in the same bed more than three nights in a row! He doesn’t own a car, a house or a comfortable life. He only has a laptop computer and a bag that allows him to travel the world helping those in need of his expertise. He is also asked to give lectures on various topics including the reality of direct action and aid, politics and logistics, prefabrication and transportation, communities and values, and engineering and construction procedures. Remember that Toni started out as a young boy without any experience or knowledge!
A sudden paralysis struck him in Cambodia in 2002, but he fought back against the odds and recovered – after 1-1/2 years of patient exercise! Toni looks at this recovery as God’s mercy and blessing so he can continue his work, and commented, “I only see as far as the next bridge. I have no future. In fact, I shouldn’t even have a present.”
Supreme Master Ching Hai has always reminded us to lead a noble life through acts of selflessness and humility. Toni Ruttiman from Switzerland, a young boy who followed his heart, exemplifies the life of a humble person, one who knows how to help people without seeking acknowledgement of any kind. He isn’t interested in fame, money or personal rewards. He leads the life of a courageous person who doesn’t worry about what the next day holds. His heart is his teacher and his desire for a better world his inspiration. He once said, “Building bridges for poor people is the way I express my love for this world and the people who live in it.” If everyone could live a humble and selfless life like Toni, the world would definitely be a better place.