Servanthood

Category Archives: Servanthood

The Starfish

A man was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up. Left on the sand by the receding tide the starfish were certain to die as the sun dried them out. The man also saw a boy picking up starfish and flinging them back into the sea. Planning to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, the man walked up to the boy and said, “I have been watching what you are doing, son. You have a good heart, and I know you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around here and how many starfish are dying on every beach every day? Surely such an industrious and kind hearted boy such as yourself could find something better to do with your time. Do you really think that what you are doing is going to make a difference?” The boy looked up at the man, and then he looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the starfish, and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean, he said, “It makes a difference to that one.”

Source unknown.

An Empty Box?

Mark was an 11 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister’s son. She never failed to remind young Mark, if it hadn’t been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.

Mark’s schoolteacher had not noticed him particularly until he began staying after class each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt’s anger, she later found) to help her straighten up the room. They did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When they did talk, Mark spoke mostly of his mother. Though he was quite small when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent much time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Mark failed to stay after school each day. His teacher looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, she stopped him one afternoon and asked why he no longer helped her in the room. She told him how she had missed him, and his large gray eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, “Did you really miss me?”

Mark’s teacher explained how he had been her best helper. “I was making you a surprise,” he whispered confidentially. “It’s for Christmas.” With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn’t stay after school any more after that.

Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mark crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. “I have your present,” he said timidly when his teacher looked up. “I hope you like it.” He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.

“Its beautiful, Mark. Is there something in it?” I asked opening the top to look inside.

“Oh you can’t see what’s in it,” he replied, “and you can’t touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights, and safe when you’re all alone.”

I gazed into the empty box. “What is it Mark,” I asked gently, “that will make me feel so good?”

“It’s love,” he whispered softly, “and mother always said it’s best when you give it away.” And he turned and quietly left the room.

 

Source: Unknown

Telemachus and the Colosseum

The story of Telemachus is the story of extreme courage in the face of evil. Telemachus was a Christian monk who, in 391CE, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Colosseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.

Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle.  After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.

In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowd’s verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.

Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action, this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not to break God’s law by murdering.

The response was anything but favourable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.

But his death was not in vain. In 405 Emperor Honorius declared gladiatorial battles were to end at the Colosseum. Tradition tells us that it was Telemachus’ brave protest that helped move him to do so.

Source: Reported in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

The Messiah is Among You

There was once an old stone monastery tucked away in the middle of a picturesque forest. For many years people would make the significant detour required to seek out this monastery. The peaceful spirit of the place was healing for the soul.

In recent years however fewer and fewer people were making their way to the monastery. The monks had grown jealous and petty in their relationships with one another, and the animosity was felt by those who visited.

The Abbot of the monastery was distressed by what was happening, and poured out his heart to his good friend Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a wise old Jewish rabbi. Having heard the Abbot’s tale of woe he asked if he could offer a suggestion. “Please do” responded the Abbot. “Anything you can offer.”

Jeremiah said that he had received a vision, an important vision, and the vision was this: the messiah was among the ranks of the monks. The Abbot was flabbergasted. One among his own was the Messiah! Who could it be? He knew it wasn’t himself, but who? He raced back to the monastery and shared his exciting news with his fellow monks.

The monks grew silent as they looked into each other’s faces. Was this one the Messiah?

From that day on the mood in the monastery changed. Joseph and Ivan started talking again, neither wanting to be guilty of slighting the Messiah. Pierre and Naibu left behind their frosty anger and sought out each other’s forgiveness. The monks began serving each other, looking out for opportunities to assist, seeking healing and forgiveness where offence had been given.

As one traveler, then another, found their way to the monastery word soon spread about the remarkable spirit of the place. People once again took the journey to the monastery and found themselves renewed and transformed. All because those monks knew the Messiah was among them.

Information Please

A man tells the story about a special friend he made while just a boy. When quite young, Paul’s father had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. Paul was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.

Then Paul discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information, Please” and there was nothing she did not know.

“Information, Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. Paul’s first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, Paul hacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.

The telephone!

Quickly, Paul ran for the foot stool in the parlour and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlour and held it to his ear. “Information, Please,” he said into the mouthpiece just above his head.

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into Paul’s ear.

“Information.”

“I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone.

“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.

“Nobody’s home but me” Paul blubbered.

“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.

“No,” he replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”

“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. He said he could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.

After that, Paul called “Information, Please” for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his maths. She told Paul that his pet chipmunk, which he had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time Petey, the pet canary died. Paul called and told her the sad story.

She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but Paul was inconsolable. He asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”

She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow he felt better. .

When Paul was nine years old, his family moved across the country to Boston. Paul missed his friend very much. “Information, Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.

As he grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity Paul would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on his way west to college, Paul’s plane put down in Seattle. He had about half an hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, Paul dialled his hometown operator and said, “Information, Please.”

Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, “Information.”

He hadn’t planned this but he heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you,” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”

“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” Paul told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his sister.

“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”

Three months later Paul was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” She asked.

“Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”

Before he could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Is this Paul?”

“Yes,” Paul replied.

“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.” The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”

 

Application: Listening – Information Please gave Paul one of the most precious yet simple gifts a person can give, the gift of listening.

Application: Hope, Death, Heaven. “There are other world’s to sing in”. Beyond death lies the hope of a new life.

Application: Community, Friendship. This story reminds us that we need each other. Information Please and Paul both had their lives enriched in powerful yet simple ways by the gift of their friendship with one another.

Application: Children. We adults often make the mistake of dismissing the concerns of small children. Yet coping with the death of a budgie or telling someone that you’ve hurt your finger are the things that are important to a small child. Sally reminds us of the importance of being attentive to the needs of children, not expecting them to function as mini adults but nurturing their journey as children.

 

Source: Unknown.

He Aint Heavy

In 1972 a two year old Chinese boy, Hu Jen-chuan, fell from a table and went into a coma. When he woke up after six days he was not able to talk or move. Like any parent, his mother, was terrible distressed. Yet her distress was multiplied by the fact that she could not afford to place him in a nursing home.

Instead she has cared for Hu Jen-chuan herself, and her care has shown the unfathomable depth of her mother-love. You see, because he is unable to move Hu Jen-chuan is liable to get terrible bed-sores. So for the past thirty years his mother has done the unbelievable – she has carried her son on her back. As of May 2002 Liu Kuei-lan was 65 years old and weighed 40 kilograms. Her son, now a grown man, weighed 82kg. On many occasions Liu has fallen and fractured bones while carrying her son. Yet she continues to carry him. When asked how she can do it her reply is simple: “he ain’t heavy, he’s my son.”
Source: reported in the Taipei Times  May 11, 2002

Father Kolbe

Father Maximillian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz during the Second World War. His story is one of inspiring sacrifice. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 Father Kolbe knew the firary would be seized and sent most of the friars home. With the aid of a few remaining friars he turned the resources of the friary to providing shelter for 3,000 refugees, including 2,000 Jews. He was imprisoned and released, but was not deterred. He continued to provide shelter for refugees, until May 1941 when the Nazis closed down the friary and sent Kolbe and his four fellow priests to Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz Kolbe continued his sacrificial ways. The prisoners were slowly and systematically starved, so when food was brought everyone struggled to get their portion. Father Kolbe however, made a practise of standing aside until the others had been fed, often meaning there was nothing left for him. When he did receive a portion he was often found sharing it with others.

But Father Kolbe’s love reached its greatest heights in July 1941. In order to discourage escape attempts the camp had a rule that 10 men would be killed for every person that escaped. After a man from Kolbe’s bunker escaped the rest of the men were led out to face Commander Karl Fritsch. Ten men were selected to be placed in the starvation bunker. One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek, broke down in sobs. “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?”

At this, Father Kolbe stepped forward, took off his cap, stood before the commandant and said, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”

The Commandant was astounded. “What does this Polish pig want?” he asked.

Father Kolbe pointed to Franciszek and again made his request. “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”

The Commandant remained silent for a minute, then agreed to Father Kolbe’s request. Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks and Father Kolbe took his place. The ten condemned men were led off to Building 13, where they were left without food or water until they starved to death. After four weeks four of the men were still alive, Father Kolbe one of them. As the Nazis needed the chamber for more victims the four were put to death by lethal injection. And so on August 14, 1941 at the age of 47 years, Father Kolbe finally died, having given his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek. Franciszek survived the war and lived to the age of 95. He never forgot Father Kolbe or telling people of his heroic love.

Father of Kolbe of course, was following the example set for him by his Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Christ laid down his life four us, so Father Kolbe laid down his life for his brother.

 

Source: Information on Father Kolbe obtained from “The Holocaust” website (www.auschwitz.dk).

Enyon Hawkins

You’ve probably never heard of Enyon Hawkins. Enyon was a Welsh miner, born in 1920 and dying in Wales in 2001. Yet you probably should know about him, for Enyon characterises much of what an unknown person can do through simple acts of love. During World War Two Enyon was an able seaman aboard the British navy vessel British Dominion. On January 10, 1943, German U-Boats fired three torpedoes into the British Dominion. The ship exploded into flames and was burning furiously. Many of the crew jumped into the sea, the only way they might escape with their lives. However even that was fraught with more than the usual danger, for oil from the ships fuel tanks had spread across the water and threatened to set even the ocean ablaze.

Enyon Hawkins was one of those crewmen who jumped into the ocean. He was also a very strong swimmer, and keeping his wits about him, organised most of the sailors into a group and led them away to safety.  It was his example and encouragement, especially to the weaker swimmers, that kept them going until they were rescued by the British Navy.

On two occasions Enyon left the group to turn back and save others. This meant swimming into oil covered waters that were ablaze. The risk of being completely enveloped by the flames was very high, and though Enyon escaped it was not before he suffered extensive burning to his face. However it was made worthwhile by the lives of those he saved.

After the war Enyon was awarded medals for bravery and leadership. It was recognised that apart from Enyon’s actions most of the men from the British Dominion would have lost their lives.

Application: love, bravery, courage, impact, greatness. Enyon’s story reminds us that you don’t need to be an admiral or famous to make a dramatic impact on the world. All you need to do is start loving people where you are, as you find them.

A Drowning Girl

One wet and miserable morning in Ohio Ray Blankenship was making breakfast in when he looked out the window onto the open stormwater drain that ran alongside his house. What he saw terrified him – a small girl being swept down the drain. He also knew that further downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath the road. Ray ran out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the little girl. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. He surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about one metre of the drain going under the road, Ray’s free hand felt something protruding from one bank. He grabbed a hold and held on for dear life. “If I can just hang on until help comes,” he thought. But he did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Ray had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the US Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, Ray Blankenship was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. You see, Ray can’t swim.

 

Source: Reported in Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Bamboo

Once upon a time, in the heart of an ancient Kingdom, there was a beautiful garden. And there, in the cool of the day, the Master of the garden would walk. Of all the plants of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest and gentle withal. And often when the wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would dance and play, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the garden, which most delighted the Master’s heart.

Now, once upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting.

The Master spoke: “Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use you.”

Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny.

His voice came low: “Master, I’m ready. Use me as you wish.”

“Bamboo,” The Master’s voice was grave “I would have to take you and cut you down!”

A trembling of great horror shook Bamboo…”Cut …me… down ? Me.. whom you, Master, has made the most beautiful in all thy Garden…cut me down! Ah, not that. Not that. Use me for the joy, use me for the glory, oh master, but do not cut me down!”

“Beloved Bamboo,” The Master’s voice grew graver still “If I do not cut you down, I cannot use you.”

The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There was a whisper: “Master, if you cannot use me other than to cut me down.. then do your will and cut”.

“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would cut your leaves and branches from you also”.

“Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but would you also have to take from me my leaves and branches too?”

“Bamboo, if I do not cut them away, I cannot use you.”

The Sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away. And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low: “Master, cut away”

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… split you in two and cut out your heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use you.”

Then Bamboo bowed to the ground: “Master, Master… then cut and split.”

So did the Master of the garden took Bamboo…
and cut him down…
and hacked off his branches…
and stripped off his leaves…
and split him in two…
and cut out his heart.

And lifting him gently, the Master carried Bamboo to where there was a spring of fresh sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then putting one end of the broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in the field, the Master gently laid down his beloved Bamboo… And the spring sang welcome, and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of bamboo’s torn body into the waiting fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.

In that day Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, was yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.

 

Source: Author Unknown.

Einstein’s Pictures

Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi were three towering figures of the twentieth century.

Schweitzer was a brilliant German theologian and philosopher who felt the call of God to work as a missionary doctor in Africa. So to the highly esteemed professsor returned to his university as a student of medicine.  Family and friends thought him crazy and tried to dissuade him.  But Albert was true to God’s call. He entered medical school in 1905 and spent the next seven years studying, all with the goal of missionary service.

Albert and his wife, Helene, took the long journey to Africa. and set up a hospital in a remote region of Gabon. For the next four decades they treated patients, many walking hundreds of miles to receive help. Despite the remoteness of their location Schweitzer became a celebrated humanitarian and philosopher, so much so that he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

Ghandi of course was the non-violent activist who brought the British to their knees in India and secured independence for his people.

The third member of our trio was Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of his time, perhaps of any time. Why does he belong here? It’s said that throughout his life Albert Einstein had two portraits on the wall of his home – the great scientists Newton and Maxwell. They were an inspiration, they summed up the drive of his life – science. Towards the end of his life Einstein took their pictures down and replaced them with two others – two great humanitarians, Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. He explained that it was time to replace the image of success with the image of service.

 

Source: story of the pictures reported in Sheronna Price, The Pastoral Partner

A Son to a Dying Man

A nurse escorted a tired, anxious young man to the bed side of an elderly man. “Your son is here,” she whispered to the patient. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. He was heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack and he dimly saw the young man standing outside the oxygen tent.

He reached out his hand and the young man tightly wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing a message of encouragement. The nurse brought a chair next to the bedside. All through the night the young man sat holding the old mans hand, and offering gentle words of hope. The dying man said nothing as he held tightly to his son.

As dawn approached, the patient died. The young man placed on the bed the lifeless hand he had been holding, and then he went to notify the nurse.

While the nurse did what was necessary, the young man waited. When she had finished her task, the nurse began to say words of sympathy to the young man.

But he interrupted her. “Who was that man?” He asked.

The startled nurse replied, “I thought he was your father.”

“No, he was not my father,” he answered. “I never saw him before in my life.”

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” asked the nurse.

He replied, “I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I knew how much he needed me.”

 

Source unknown.