John Glenn. Everyone knows the name of this American hero who flew fifty-nine combat missions in World War II and twenty-seven in Korea; first American to orbit the earth, and the oldest man in space when, at seventy-seven, he flew with the Space Shuttle Discovery crew; four-term U.S. Senator from Ohio.
His history of accomplishment is on exhibit at Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. One panel features his high school civics teacher, Harford Steele, citing the prof as the person who taught him the importance of public service—in Glenn’s words, “igniting a fire in me that never did go out.”
Flags weren’t lowered when Harford Steele died, but it was his influence that caused American flags to be flown at half-staff for nine days all over the world when John Glenn died on December 8, 2016.
Remember Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus? Probably not, because you don’t know him by that name. You know him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”
You might never have heard of the apostle Paul if Barnabas hadn’t given him a boost. On Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, he was shunned. The church wanted nothing to do with him; thought he was a fraud. But Barnabas stood up for him, and he was accepted. Later, when Paul was isolated in Tarsus, Barnabas recruited him, brought him to Antioch, and then accompanied him on his first missionary journey.
Then there was John Mark. You’d probably know nothing about him if Barnabas hadn’t taken him under his wing.
After jump-starting the careers of these two evangelists, Barnabas faded into the background. He never wrote a book or letter that found its way into your Bible, but it was his encouragement that launched the ministries of two men who, combined, wrote half of the New Testament.
A common ingredient in the lives of people who have lived up to their potential is the gift of encouragement. Someone believed in them, supported them, ignited the fire.
For John Wesley, it was his mother, Susanna.
For John Quincy Adams, it was his father, John.
For cleric Henry Ward Beecher, it was a teacher who taught only one year in the rural elementary school he attended.
For humanitarian and author Stanley Mooneyham, it was a County Superintendent of Schools.
For Paul Harvey, it was his widowed mother Anna and his beloved elementary school teacher, Miss Harp.
For American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, it was her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles.
Not to take anything away from your fine gifts and commendable accomplishments, but you are who you are and are doing what you’re doing because of the influence of a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend—a Harford Steele, a Barnabas.
Most of us are not beacons, just small lights: not playing on the big stage, but filling an important, though unheralded, role on a small platform. Whatever the part, someone saw something in us, believed in us, encouraged us.
For me, it was parents, friends—and other early influences: Mrs. Womack, my First Grade Sunday School teacher; Vance Mitchell, my Jr. High Sunday School teacher; Clarence Nelson, an elder in my boyhood church.
For you, it was _______________________________________
Lower the flag. Thank the Father.