Encouraging Eric the Eel

By Al Earley - A Religious Point of View

Over the last few weeks I have been looking at some of the “One Another” texts in Paul’s letters. Through Paul God is revealing how Christians should treat one another. A few weeks ago I looked at the importance of building one another up. This week we look at the importance of encouragement. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Paul notes there is a difference between encouragement and building people up. He writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Words that build up are blessings we give them to help them see how God has created them. Words of encouragement help people to keep going when things get difficult.

One of the most touching moments in the Sydney Olympics (2000) was when Eric “The Eel” Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea swam in the 100-meter free style qualifying heat. The 22-year-old African had only learned to swim that January, had only practiced in a 20-meter pool without lane markers, and had never raced more than 50 meters. By special invitation of the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permits poorer countries to participate even though their athletes don’t meet customary standards, he had been entered in the 100-meter men’s freestyle.

When the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, Moussambani was forced to swim alone. Eric the Eel was, to use the words of an Associated Press story about his race, “charmingly inept.” With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop, when something amazing happened, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and cheered the swimmer on. After what seemed like an eternity, the African reached the wall and hung on for dear life. When he had caught his breath and regained his composure, he said, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.”

I have been a distance runner all my life. I know it is a rare runner that competes at a high level by themselves. The top runners are usually from teams, and they run better when they hear their friends and family cheer for them. Film star Celeste Holm once said, “We live by encouragement, and we die without it slowly, sadly, and angrily.”

A longtime friend of mine tells a story of a day she was going to attend a community Bible study. All the people were from different churches, and the teacher, we’ll call her Bea, was the faithful teacher, no matter how many people showed up. One day my friend woke up with a migraine headache, and had decided not to attend the Bible study. While showering she sensed God talking to her soul, telling her to go to the study and take time to pray for Bea. She knew it couldn’t be God because she felt so bad, and she never prayed in front of other people.

However, the voice in her soul didn’t go away, and as she entertained the thought of going to the Bible study her headache suddenly vanished. Realizing it must be God she decided to go to the study, and she might pray. When the group prayer time began it seemed that everyone there had such beautiful prayers. She had just about decided not to pray when that voice came back stronger than ever. She found some courage, and prayed a very simple, brief prayer thanking God for Bea, and her leadership. When she looked up Bea was crying. She explained that she wondered if the Bible study mattered to anyone. She told God that she needed someone to encourage her or she would quit being the leader. My friend’s prayer was just the encouragement she needed.

Has God ever nudged you to be that person who encourages another person? Do you think of yourself as a person who encourages others regularly? Why or why not? How important are words of encouragement for you? I want to challenge each of you to find one person that is doing a ministry in your church or serving in some way in the community, and find a special way to encourage them.

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By Al Earley

A Religious Point of View

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