What Rosa Parks,Steve McQueen and Billy Graham can teach us today.
It was 1994, and I had just published a book with a major Christian publisher. This was a first for me, and I suddenly found myself on a bus tour with some very well-known authors, speakers and leaders. One of them was Rosa Parks.
I was eager to meet her, and she was very gracious to take the time to talk with me. I was especially impressed with her very strong faith in Christ. She wrote in one of her books, “Quiet Strength,” “As a child, I learned from the Bible to trust in God and not be afraid. … I am thankful to my mother, grandfather, and grandmother for bringing me closer to God by making the Bible a part of my life early on.” That is what gave Rosa Parks the courage to make a stand.
Talking with her that day made me stop and think about the power of one. It made me think of how one person can make a difference. The song “One” by Harry Nilsson became famous in 1969 with its opening lyrics: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” But that all depends. With God, one is a majority.
One Christian making a stand in a given situation can change everything around her or him. I once heard it said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.” One godly man or woman in the darkest situation can make a dramatic difference.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13 NIV). A little salt goes a long way.
A little light goes a long way, too, like when someone pulls out a cell phone in a movie theater. Every eye goes to it. In the same way, one person can make all the difference.
Esther was a beautiful young woman who found herself as the queen of Persia at a strategic time in the history of the Jewish people. A plot was hatched for them all to be exterminated, and she was oblivious to this. Her uncle, Mordecai, brought it to her attention and said, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NIV).
Most of us have heard of Billy Graham. But have we heard of Henrietta Mears? In 1928 she felt called by God to teach a Sunday school class at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Under her direction, her class grew from 400 to 4,000 people. She went on to found Gospel Light Publishing and the Forest Home Christian Conference Center. What is interesting about the life of Henrietta Mears is the fact that more than 400 young people entered full-time Christian service as a result of her influence, including Billy Graham.
Then there was Sammy Mason, a stunt pilot and a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He was a flight instructor at the Santa Paula Airport in Santa Paula, California, and one day a man approached him and said he had bought an antique Stearman biplane and wanted to learn to fly. This man’s name was Steve McQueen. At the time, Steve McQueen was at the height of his acting career. He had conquered auto racing and motocross. And he also had been searching for the meaning and purpose of life.
McQueen was raised by an alcoholic mother who had little to no time for him. Also he never knew his biological father. He spent time at the Boys Republic in Chino Hills because his parents, especially his mother, wanted nothing to do with him. He lived a crazy life. He ascended to the top of the hill in the world of Hollywood and was making millions of dollars. He had everything a person could want. But something was missing, and he was about to find it when Sammy Mason became his flight instructor.
Sammy Mason was a man’s man, a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, and Steve McQueen admired him. He was different. He had a sense of peace. And when McQueen asked him about it, he told him about his faith in Jesus Christ. When McQueen asked if he could attend church with him, they ended up at the Ventura Missionary Church in Ventura, California, where Pastor Leonard DeWitt preached the gospel. After a few weeks had passed, McQueen told the pastor that he wanted to talk with him. DeWitt had an extended conversation that resulted in Steve McQueen’s committing his life to Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’re in a place where you don’t necessarily want to be. You don’t know why you’re in the setting you’re in right now. Why did you end up in that neighborhood with those neighbors? Why did you end up in that classroom with that teacher? Why did you end up in that workplace with that boss or those coworkers? Did it ever occur to you that God put you right where you are for a reason?
You may be trying to get out of that place, but who knows if God hasn’t put you where you are for such a time as this? It has been said that character is not made in crisis; it is revealed.
Maybe you’re not a Billy Graham, but you could be a Henrietta Mears. Maybe you’re not a Steve McQueen, but you could be a Sammy Mason. A little light goes a long way. It’s the power of one. We all have a part to play. We all have something to do. We all have a sphere of influence. One life can make a difference.