(Author’s note: this article originally appeared in the April edition of “The Cross and Tower” newsletter from FUMC Winnfield. The entire newsletter can be viewed at http://www.fumcwinnfield.com)
On March 15, 2018, I was invited to speak for a few moments at the Winn Parish Special Olympics at Stokes Walker Stadium on the campus of Winnfield Senior High School. I also led the athletes and spectators in the Special Olympics pledge “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It was a great privilege to play a small part in this special event for these special needs students from all over Winn Parish.
I was touched by so many volunteers, adults, teachers, youth, who made this a special day for these students. I was touched by the big smiles on the faces of the students as they ran, jumped, and were awarded medals for competing. I was touched by the crowd that cheered and yelled as each student competed in the events.
But what really got my attention was the finish line of the races. As each competitor raced, student volunteers held up and waved signs of encouragement. Other volunteers cheered and applauded. Each competitor received hugs, high fives, and a medal as he or she crossed the finish line. Inevitably, whether the finish was in first place, second place, or even last place, smiles and joy was the result for the competitor.
As I watched, I wondered what would happen to us if we intentionally tried to be encouraging. How would the world change if we smiled more, gave more high fives, a few more hugs, and cheered for one another? This world is full of criticism, disappointment, trouble, and frowns. But what would happen if we learned from these special Olympians and those volunteers to cheer for and encourage others rather than discourage and marginalize others?
There’s no way to know what would happen, but my guess is that if we truly cheered for and encouraged others, we would have fewer tragedies like 17 students killed in a high school shooting. We would likely see violence decrease. Maybe we would remember what we have in common rather than our differences. Maybe our world would change, one person, one special person, at a time.
Can you imagine what would happen in our church if we made a habit of cheering on and encouraging others? If we patted people on the back and said “great job” instead of criticizing and cutting down? It seems like this is God’s design for His church. I Thessalonians 5:11, written by Paul to the church at Thessalonika, says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Paul’s clear expectation for the church is that we are already cheering for, helping, and encouraging each other.
Who are you cheering for? Who are you encouraging? Cheering and encouragement made a difference for these special needs children and it will make a difference in the lives of those you help. Thank you to the Winn Parish Special Olympics for allowing me to help. And thank you for reminding me how important it is to cheer on and encourage others.
Looking to Cheer for and Encourage Others,
Kevin D. Smith