“Mike Ruble” is not a name that would mean much to most of you. To me, he was a hero.
He was my junior high basketball coach. He was a P.E. teacher at my elementary school. He was better at basketball than me even though he was old and–uh, how do I say this delicately?–roundish. He could shoot free throws with incredible accuracy. He taught me lots of life lessons. He was kind. He was generous. He was present.
He was not famous. He had done very well in high school basketball, played in college, and had a very successful career as a volleyball and basketball coach. But most people have no idea who he is. He did not make the NBA. He does not have a YouTube video of dunk highlights.
We all just called him, “Coach.” But a hero by any other name is still a hero.
There are plenty of depressing things going on these days, enough to make you want to stay in bed some mornings. Aside from keeping the cable news channels on the air, bad news really accomplishes little. I guess there’s a certain value in knowing how things “really are,” but mostly it just makes people want to numb themselves with television.
I do not find it hard to get up each morning, however. For while bombs fly and children starve and politicians play their games, there’s some good news to be shared…
There are heroes among us.
I bump into many of my heroes in the church world. While plenty of places of worship have a bad rap of being rather self-serving, there are as many more communities of faith who really are the hands and feet of Jesus.
I once travelled with a group of students to New Orleans to chip in to the clean up and rebuild going on there. You wouldn’t believe the reception we were given. Once, while another one of our leaders filled our van with gas, a lady in a minivan pulled up alongside our trailer and waved me over. She only had two words to say… “Thank you.”
I will never forget Brenda. Brenda was a Louisiana native and had the accent to prove it. But even her thick drawl could not drown out the sincerity in her voice. Her house had four feet of water in it a year before, thanks to Katrina. By the time we left the place was freshly painted and Brenda was thrilled. Our group was humbled. Everywhere we went in New Orleans we saw church vans. When we toured the French Quarter there were youth groups all over the place taking in the sights. Our purpose was shared. While bureaucrats scrambled to sort it out, the church was making a difference.
In that setting, they were all called “volunteers.” Globally, there are thousands of “humanitarians.” Some, whose goal is more overtly spiritual, are called “missionaries.” They feed the hungry, cloth the naked, comfort the sick, and make homes among the poor.
Volunteers. Humanitarians. Missionaries. A hero by any other name is still a hero.
There is a couple who have served the children of some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of St. Louis for the better part of three decades. They are simple-looking, simple thinking people. The man is physically disabled. They face all kinds of limitations. One day I was taking a group of students down to their church to help do yard work and play with the neighborhood kids. It was a soggy summer morning, and when I arrived the front door was locked.
With rain just pouring down, I went around to the side yard and looked up to the deck on the back of the two-story, 100 year old brick building. There stood the simple lady singing her heart out to God, oblivious to everything around her. The rainfall deadened the volume a bit, but I have never heard a more angelic song. Over the years, she’s been an angel to more than a handful of under privileged kids.
As she sang and prayed over her city, I realized that many folks just called her Beth. Her husband’s name was roger. You can call them whatever you want.
I think a hero by any other name is still a hero.
All over the globe ordinary people, unknown ministry groups, and people with a multitude of passions are changing the world. Few people notice or applaud. Like a stealth bomber dropping love everywhere, these folks fly under the radar but their effects are felt by many.
Look around your community. Think back in your life. Names likely immediately come to mind. They were generous to you. They helped raise you. They invested in you. They were neighbors and coaches and teachers and preachers. Your single mom; your hard-working dad. The purposefully poor, the generously rich. The courageous. What were their names?
Coach? Volunteer? Beth?
A hero by any other name is still a hero.