Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cheers of Hope

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 11 Aug 2010

"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7, NIV)

Greet each other with a holy Cheer.

MAIN POINT: How do we bring hope to the marginalized? By shining a ray of hope to light up the bruised wick of the weak, the needy among us, and the spiritually trapped in our neighbourhood. Cheering starts the ball rolling.

Football is one of the most popular sports in North America. It rakes in millions for organizers and players. It stirs up emotions. It unites supporters to cheer for their teams. It raises temperatures. It captures attention. Cheering and jeering are commonly practiced in football culture. In November 2008, such a way of cheering and jeering gets turned on its head. It gives us a new paradigm of how cheering and hope coalesces to become one act.

A) The Game
The historical statistics are lopsided. Faith Christian High School (FCHS) in Texas is a well-funded and prestigious private school. Gainesville on the other hand is a public-funded and generally shunned state school. FCHS has won 7 games out of 9 so far, while their opponents from Gainesville State School have lost all 8 of their previous games. Lose one more game and they will hit another depressing record.

The current state of things is not encouraging as far as Gainesville is concerned. While FCHS has more than 70 supporters, Gainesville has about 12 who mostly carried guns. Why? This is because the team of 14 players from Gainesville are prisoners of a maximum-security correctional facility. With good behaviour and track record, they get the privilege of playing football, as well as a chance to break the boring routine while they are incarcerated. Pit one well-equipped, highly trained and motivated team against a team that appears almost the complete opposite. You do not have to guess where the odds are as far as winning is concerned. One does not need to know who will win, only the winning margin.

B) The Plan
Kris Hogan, who coaches FCHS knows about this. He has other plans besides winning. He knows football is more than a game. He wants to do something for his youthful opponents, even though he is not their coach. Instead of going it alone, he enlists the help of FCHS parents, teachers, staff, students and players to go along with him. He invites the huge support base of FCHS to break ranks and for just one night, cheer the team from Gainesville called 'Tornadoes.' Amazingly, more than 200 people eagerly volunteered in this novel idea.

Imagine the surprise when the ‘Tornadoes’ run toward the pitch with screaming fans cheering not others but them! As they play, each Tornado player hears their names being called. The cheerleading team from FCHS cheers the Tornadoes throughout the game. Despite the feisty support, the visiting team lost to the favourite 14-33. But their hearts have already been won over with tears in their eyes. At the end of the game, every player from both teams hugged each other, and a Tornado player volunteered to pray. They have become not mere opponents but friends of hope. Eyes that used to instil fear in others have become like taps that drip tears of utter joy and hope.

That is not all. As each Tornado player walks to the bus, they receive a pack that contains hamburgers, juice, fries, candy, a Bible as well as personal notes of inspiration and encouragement.

“Way to Go!”
“You can do it!”
“You’ve done great!”

The cheers that started inside the football field continues outside in the parking lot where the Tornado team bus is waiting. I am certain the spark of hope that began in that game is continuing to burn in the memories of every player on that field that day.

C) Cheers of Hope
If a group of high school students can bring such inspiration to a cluster of convicts, what about us? FCHS has demonstrated that it is possible to cheer for both the home team and the away team. Isn’t it possible then to cheer our own team as well as our neighbour’s team? It is possible. As far as hope is concerned, there is no such thing as discrimination. We can greet one another with a holy cheer.

The opposite of cheering is jeering. Cheering builds the team up while jeering boos the team down. Cheering lifts up spirits, while jeering talks down any potential. Cheering inculcates hope. Jeering demolishes any promise. Cheering seeks to strengthen while jeering seeks to destroy.

A Christian may ask: “If I do not jeer, does it matter if I simply mind my own business even if I do not cheer?

I think it matters. It matters when we are simply pew warmers. It matters when we are passive consumers of Church programs thinking that as long as we do not jeer or complain, we do not need to encourage or to say anything positive. In fact, sometimes the mantra ‘silence is golden’ is a deadly phrase as far as Christian fellowship is concerned. Better a friend who speaks honest words that are negative than one who flatters falsely with positive words. Jeering and 'not-cheering' are not very different.

A Church that grows with passive members is like an obese man filled with junk food. The high calories make one’s stomach feels full but the body is never satisfied. Likewise, a Church that grows with consumerist-minded attendees feed on Church programs but never really feel spiritually satisfied. This can be changed. Cheerleaders can be agents of hope.

D) Cheerleaders Needed
We need cheer-leaders in the Church. We need active members to cheer up the hearts of people bogged down by personal problems and concerns. We need faithful labourers to help carry the exceptional burdens of the weak instead of the predictable burdens of the week. Not all burdens are the same. Some are manageable. Others are not. The problem is when we become so fixated on the routine issues of life, that we miss out on the unique matters of faith. This can prevent us from cheering.

Students from FCHS could have won by a larger margin, instead of the respectable 33-14 scoreline. Instead, by shifting away from their routine program of winning games, they turn toward the unique program of winning hearts.

What about us? What about those of us who are regularly way laid by the worries of this world, about what to wear, where to eat, what to drink, and how to make more money? Sometimes I think some Church-goers are perennial whiners. They complain so much about the quality of Church music that they forget the sacrifices made by the worship team members. They make small comments to belittle the preacher’s sermon, oblivious to the many hours spent preparing for it. They shake their heads about the length of the program despite the best efforts of the Sunday stewards. When we jeer the Church like that, are we not jeering Christ as well?

E) How We Can Cheer
Of course improvements can always be made. That is besides the point. The point is, what is our default mode when it comes to imperfections in the Church? Is it a complaint or a restraint of unhelpful comments? Is it a constructive feedback or a destructive one? Even if it is a critique, is it done in the spirit of grace, of correcting the truth in love? Why not make our default mode a mode of CHEER? Cheering in the Church looks like:
  • Affirming the usher with thanks, as we enter the Church;
  • Appreciating the pastor or preacher by acknowledging his work at the sermon;
  • Acknowledging the work of all responsible for putting together the Sunday service;
  • Applauding the worship team for their work of service, even if they are not as well conducted;
  • Aspiring to be a participating member instead of a passive consumer;
  • Adoring the privilege of being able to come together as a Body of Christ.

Christian people, cheer up! In spite of flaws, cheer the Church up. Let the knowledge and grace of the love of God cheer our hearts up with hope. FCHS has done their part to cheer a group of convicts to continue their positive recovery. Surely, we as a Church can do our part to cheer our congregational members.

May God raise many more cheer-leaders from amongst us. We need them, and we need them quick. Will you be one today? Greet each other with a holy cheer. Do it not just this week, but every week.


Thought: "Simply because we do not run across goal lines, slam dunk basketballs, or hit home runs, doesn't mean we can't change the score." (Anonymous)

"A good cheerleader is not measured by the height of her jumps but by the span of her spirit." (Anonymous)


note: You can watch the inspiring video of FCHS vs the Tornadoes here.

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