I recently read a feature story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about Johnnie Ashe. In 1967, 19 year-old Johnnie was about to wrap up his tour of duty in Vietnam. He approached his sergeant and asking to serve one more year. This was a year before the ill-fated Tet Offensive in which 16,800 men would be lost. Johnnie made his decision so his older brother Arthur, a lieutenant in the Army and a recent UCLA grad, could stay home in Richmond and focus on tennis. At that time the Army would not send two brothers from the same family into combat.
Johnnie is Arthur Ashe’s younger brother. Arthur Ashe, Richmond native son and tennis star, won the U. S. Open in 1968, the first black man to win a major tennis championship. He went on to win Wimbledon in 1975 and in 1992 became the first retired athlete to be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Who knows how history might have been different if Johnnie had not volunteered for extra duty.
Why does someone sacrifice a year of his life and risk his health, safety and life so his brother can play tennis and go on to become a sports legend? “Only someone who loves someone could do what Johnnie did,” said Will Jenkins who knew the Ashe brothers when they were children.
Sacrifice. It is a prominent theme in the biblical story. We follow Jesus and think of Him as the Lamb of God whose sacrificial death brings us life. We recall the stories of missionaries who sailed to Burma, India and Africa in the 19th century with their belongings packed in their caskets. And sacrifice describes the work of contemporary Asian believers and Middle Eastern Christians when they face persecution, imprisonment and even worse. We read in Acts 1:8 Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit gives Christians power to become witnesses. Then we recall that the NT word for witnesses translates into English as “martyrs.”
Sacrifice, of course, may characterize our discipleship in lots of ways that are not necessarily dangerous. There is sacrificial giving and there are sacrificial lifestyles. I thank God for those on the front lines who are carrying Good News to unreached peoples. In the season of America’s Thanksgiving let us remember Paul’s admonition to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your (our) spiritual worship.”
Rev. Richard L. HaneyExecutive Director