Kevin H: Service You Don’t See
As long as Michael let’s me write what I want, you guys are stuck with them. It’s what I know. You don’t want me writing about art or poetry or quantum physics. Fine subjects all of them along with many others. But if I’m going to keep a shred of credibility around here, writing about such things isn’t going to do it. So I go with what I know.
The man’s name is Elliot Uzleac. I had never before heard of the man when he was the main focus of a feature story on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Uzleac was a lifelong football coach who had been an assistant at multiple high profile college programs and also the head coach at a couple mid-level college programs. He even spent a year in the NFL. Six years ago he retired.
However, in 2015 and at the age of 74, Uzleac decided that retirement didn’t fit him. He decided he wanted to coach again, but this time was different. He pursued a high school head coach opening. And not just any high school. A high school in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a town that once had a strong manufacturing industrial base but has fallen upon some harder times. A high school football team that did not have a single win each of the last two years, a total of four wins over the past eight years, and had never made the playoffs in the school’s history.
When going through the interviewing process and displaying his passion for coaching, Uzleac said that he did not want to collect a salary but rather wanted it put back into the program to help improve the team equipment and facilities. At that point, the school administrators were sure they had found the right man.
Uzleac got the job and going into the season he told his team that they were going to make not just the playoffs, but the state playoffs. As the season played out, Benton Harbor managed to make the district playoffs for the first time in school history. As the underdog, they won their first playoff game and advanced to the district final. The winner would advance to the state playoffs and Benton Harbor was playing the defending state champs. As the huge underdog in this one they ended up losing and falling just short of the coach’s goal of the state playoffs, but accomplished far more than anyone else would have ever imagined.
What this coach did for the morale and confidence of his players and everyone associated with the football program was likely immeasurable. A man who had attained position and been successful at much higher levels reached down to a lower level to help those who were really struggling. He forewent any salary and gave of his time and abilities when he just as easily could have been spending his time on the golf course or in some retirement villa getaway.
Often times here we bemoan the antics of some megachurch pastors and various other Christian “celebrities”.
How they seemingly orient their time and attention around activities that will bring them more notoriety or influence or pleasure or money. How it so often seems to be much more about “them”, than it is about their congregants or followers or people in need.
Now, we know that we are all fallen and nobody is going to do everything right and we shouldn’t be too greatly surprised by the carrying-on of these Christian “leaders”.
However, there are so many more pastors and others in Christian service (formal and informal) who carry themselves as this football coach did.
Those who sacrificially give of their time and abilities. Some who could achieve “success” at “higher” levels, but instead choose to serve where there is need. There are perhaps even some who gained lofty status and financial success but have now stepped back and are giving of their time and abilities and finances.
There are plenty of these stories out there. They are just not well known and most aren’t glamorous to tell. There is no ESPN SportsCenter to broadcast their stories to millions of people, but they are out there.
Just in my own life I can think of so many examples of pastors and church leaders and family members and friends and associates who have and continue to diligently work and serve where God has placed them. Serving where there is no noteworthy award for pastoring a small church for many years, or tirelessly working a hard job to provide for the family, or regularly taking time to serve others or meet them in their time of need.
The stories that so often catch the attention of both the media and ourselves are the exploits of the rich and famous. Sometimes there are justified reasons for why those stories should be told and brought to light.
But for every story we hear of a megachurch pastor getting rich off the church, let’s keep in mind that there are many more stories of pastors who are working for little, many who need to work a second job just to make ends meet. For every story we hear of a Christian celebrity saying or doing something outrageous, seemingly just to gain more attention for themselves, let’s remember that there are so many other Christians earnestly serving behind the scenes with little motive but to help others and to do what God would have them to do.
So for all of you out there who are steadfastly serving people and serving the Lord with little to no fanfare….. thank you.
Be encouraged and stay the course. You are much appreciated. If I could do a big media feature story on you, I would. But then again….. maybe you’re better off without it.