“Person of the Year”

By Rich Leatherberry, Associate Pastor for Mission

Last week, Time Magazine named Ebola Health Care Workers  as their “Person of the Year.”  The reason was because these workers have responded heroically to save many lives at great personal risk. 

Ebola has been around for decades, mostly in West Africa. But 2014 was the year it shifted to epidemic status and when it did, we learned 3 things.   

The first thing we learned was that we are not as safe as we thought we were.  As soon as we started to hear about cases in Spain, Germany and Dallas, Texas, we recognized there were holes in the public-health infrastructure all around the world and here in the U.S. And that scared us.

Second, we learned fear leads people to react in some pretty crazy and irrational ways. Time Magazine reported that an Ohio middle school closed when they discovered an employee had flown on the same plane as a nurse who had treated the man who died in Dallas from Ebola. The employee, however, was not on the same flight; just the same plane the nurse had flown on. Additionally, a school teacher in the state of Maine was forced to take a three-week leave of absence because she had been to a conference in Dallas. Not the same room or the same hospital as the man treated for Ebola. She had to leave because she was in the same city – Dallas.   

In response, Kaci Hickox, reflected the frustration of many health care workers in saying; “It is crazy we are spending so much time having this debate about how to safely monitor people coming back from Ebola-endemic countries, when the one thing we can do to protect the population is to stop the outbreak in West Africa.” 

Never has any society had so much to protect itself with and yet felt as threatened as we do.  What Kaci and others like her are pointing out is that our preoccupation with personal safety prevents us from doing the most healing and saving thing. 

That brings me to the third thing we learned which is: we need to redefine who our heroes really are. Our culture’s obsession with beauty, power and success has assigned hero status to the celebrities, athletes and business tycoons who have come out on top. But the big difference between them and Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” is that the former make sacrifices which benefit themselves and the latter make sacrifices which benefit others. Heroes save lives.

A couple of weeks ago we commissioned Lynn Pelton, who is now working in a hospital for persons infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone.  Lynn would never, ever, ever think of herself as a hero but in my book, that is exactly who she is.  Was she scared? Yes.  Would she miss out on special family moments? Yes. Did people around her tell her she shouldn’t go because of the extreme risk? Yes. But because Lynne follows Jesus, she has learned to listen to a different voice. And she heard Him, who gave his life for the rescue of us all, ask her to go. So she went.

Hero status is not for the self-interested or the personally preoccupied. It’s for those who know they have been given this life to be a blessing to others. It’s for the ones willing to make sacrifices to rescue lives. We can choose safety and isolation from this broken world, but we should be careful what we wish for. We just might end up safe and isolated. Day after day, week after week, year after year, until our lives are filled with big bold dreams we never lived and daring adventures we never experienced.   

One of the marks of the early Christian church was that Christians lived these selfless, sacrificial, heroic lives in ways that saved others, even at risk of losing their own lives.  Because they knew that even if they died they would live. That was one of the most compelling reasons for why so many people became Christians and the Church grew exponentially over the first 300 years.

Jesus isn’t asking us all to go to Sierra Leone. But He is inviting us to listen to a different voice and instead live in courageous ways that save lives. That happens whenever you mentor someone, or in the thousand daily sacrifices you make in order to be a good parent, or in all the ways you reach out to a neighbor who needs your help, or when you volunteer in one of our outreach ministries or in the ways you use your position and influence to help others flourish.

Enough with this cultural preoccupation with safety and our worship of the self-interested.  Bring on the real heroes. 

So how is, or how could God use you to save lives?  Who needs the hero in you?

”For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28. 

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