Can you imagine God asking you in heaven why you didn’t stick up for someone who needed help during your life on Earth? The first time I remembering needing to stick up for someone came when I was attending junior high in Potomac, Illinois. While waiting for the school bus one day, some kids started picking on my younger brother, Stevie. Stevie had experienced brain damage at birth and attended special education classes in school. His speech has never been very clear, and as a child he had trouble controlling his saliva glands, which meant that his shirts usually had a wet spot in front. And so the kids started calling Stevie “retarded”; that day someone called him a “slobber-box.” An anger rose inside me that surprised me—I was ready to fight them all.
When the other kids saw my clenched fists and the fire in my eyes, they backed off, stopping their teasing and name-calling. After cooling down, I pondered the source of my surprising reaction. Partly, I was surprised because I liked to pick on Stevie, too—when we were at home. Stevie was very stubborn, and we got in lots of fights together. But when someone else was picking on him, I was ready to fight for him.
I love movies in which a hero sticks up for someone who has no power or who is without a voice. In the amazing movie 42, for example, I loved watching Branch Rickey sticking up for Jackie Robinson. In my favorite scene, Peewee Reese, whose family and friends were sitting in the stands that day, put his arm around Jackie. Several were very upset that a “Negro” was trying to play professional baseball with white men, but the movie showed how Reese’s friendly attitude toward Jackie influenced a small boy in the stands, even though he was surrounded by racist people.
Back in the 70’s, when I first became a youth minister, someone from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services approached me about becoming an “advocate.” At first I didn’t really know what the word entailed, but now I love it: It simply means someone who sticks up for someone else. In French, defense attorneys are called advocates. I agreed to become an advocate for a small 10-year-old boy named Clarence. In his short life, he had already experienced much physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and he had no positive male role model. I did my best to love and encourage Clarence, knowing that he was fighting an uphill battle in life. Sometimes I thought At least Clarence has one person in his life who is advocating for him, trying to help him rather than abuse him. Is there someone near to you who needs an advocate?
REFLECTIONS: Can you think of people living near you who don’t have influential voices? Can you think of people in other nations that don’t have voices, for whom you can be an advocate? Think of a creative way to speak up to protect or bless someone who is marginalized with no voice.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves