November 8, 2005

Dear Lois and Eunice:

1545 page5 capne of the more compelling examples of our wrongheadedness is the way in which we are always thanking the wrong people for good things that happen.

We thank the terrorist for laying down his gun, for ceasing to destroy the culture of his people in the name of some doomed ideology. Anchorpersons speak earnestly of likely Nobel Peace Prizes. Yet thousands of quiet, modest people--Palestinians and Israelis, Protestants and Catholics--who have lived side by side in kindness through the strife, building up ties of trade and culture and discussion and dialogue, never get mentioned. It is they who have truly been peacemaking all these years.

The U.S. economy goes through one of its cyclic upturns because millions of plucky American men and women save and scrimp and take out second mortgages on their homes to start new businesses, but a U.S. president gets the credit for "turning the economy around."

1545 page5We praise the legislator or the mayor who gets the highway widened or reorganizes the sanitation program, but we have very little to say to the men and women who actually run the backhoes, drive the trash trucks, and keep our communities clean.

We end up praising people because they happen to be in the limelight when a particularly good thing occurs. We laud the actors mostly, not the stagehands and the choreographers and the coaches and the musicians who make it all possible.

But just now, I need to offer thanks for every Lois and Eunice of the church*--for the people behind the scenes who do the nurturing, the teaching, the training, the modeling, and the hundred patient tasks that keep faith alive and people growing. And while it is true that many men are also involved in these tasks, a quick look around Adventist churches reveals that most of all the loving and the caring that gets done is done by women.

The point is not to reinforce some traditional notion of men as hunter-gatherer types and women as hearth-and-home types, as many fundamentalists could wish. The point is that we need to remind ourselves that our church communities are actually held together by those who make a daily commitment to discipling and burden bearing and building others up.

Nurture is remembering to bring an extra towel for the newly baptized; offering to sit with the young mother whose noisy brood might otherwise both overwhelm her and disrupt the worship service; spending untold hours on finger plays and felt displays. Nurture is the assignment of believers who have taken Jesus seriously when He urges, "Occupy until I come."

That's why I say "thank you" to all of you--male and female--who invest in small group fellowships, who stand in Sabbath school classrooms, who greet and encourage in a hundred drafty church foyers, who reach out to the lonely and the hurting with both words and casseroles, who give that cup of cold water that you carried the extra mile.

You are doing the work of Jesus just as surely as is the evangelist in his auditorium or the pastor in her pulpit or the conference president in his office or the surgeon in her operating room. And the fact that we can see the results of your ministry only over time does not lessen its crucial importance for the growth of the kingdom.

Without your patient, faithful, often-hidden service, Christian fellowship and Christian community would be just pious fictions offered to the world. But because you care, and choose to keep on caring, the world is coming to know that we really are His disciples.

The evidence is accumulating: through your efforts, we are learning, however slowly, how to love one another.

* Paul wrote to Timothy: "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you" (2 Tim. 1:5, RSV).