How often do we walk out of the doors of a church filled with excitement, tingling with a feel-good energy that surely could change the world—if we could just find the right outlet? I mean surely all those sermons, articles and radio programs on encouraging one another—investing ourselves into one another—must have some sort of practical application, right? In fact, the opportunities to make a difference in the life of one person—or even an impact worldwide—are all around us. So it is with four young people: Genna Griffith, Heather Jakeman, Robert Johnson and Charlie Mechling, otherwise known as New Vision.
New Vision is the newest USO show troupe, assembled by the United Service Organizations. If many of us saw the letters USO, we wouldn’t know what order to put them in. But as soon as someone mentions the name of Bob Hope, we can add it up. He was on our television sets every year as we grew up, entertaining us while bringing “a touch of home” to soldiers overseas. And in this same spirit, New Vision is entertaining and inspiring the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. Think of them as professional encouragers. They perform at various events for the U.S. military and also at events sponsored by companies and organizations, such as the AARP.
New Vision performs a variety of music from Top 40 to patriotic hymns. But entertainment is really just a small part of it. “Personally I don’t think our job is singing—that’s part of it—but our job is bringing something to those people … bringing them a piece of home,” Jakeman said. “And that’s really what the job is about, much less than the performing aspect of it. That’s just the vehicle with which we bring them that slice of home.”
Johnson, who served in the military prior to joining the USO, is able to reflect back on what the experience was like for him to be on the receiving end. “I’d like to think that if anyone in the United States had the opportunity to go over and spend time with a troop at the base, who had just come off maneuvers … that they wouldn’t bombard them with all kinds of questions of politics … that it’s more of, can you just make the guy smile, can you get him to just be happy for a moment?—’cause he’s going to have more than enough to deal with.” And as often is the case when you give of yourself, you begin to realize that the receiving end is really at both sides.
It’s practical to recognize that encouragement is needed everywhere—at the home next door, within the church walls and in front of enemy lines. It is not just an opportunity, but I would dare say a commandment, to follow through. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father,” Jesus says in Matthew 25, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” It is at the very heart of the Gospel, and in the support of U.S. troops, it is also the heart of the USO.
Eternal reward lies in how we treat our neighbor. James refers to true Christianity as “caring for widows and orphans.” The truth is that a widow or orphan could be anyone who is lonely or away from home. It could be someone who is looked down upon because of his or her perceived politics. How we care for them is the measure by which we will be judged by God. But if we truly esteem others higher than ourselves and love our neighbors, then encouragement should be a natural extension of our faith. And although some members of the USO and New Vision do use that career as an outlet to exercise their faith, it is also a practical method of expressing gratitude for any red-blooded American.
For over 62 years, the USO has been providing services and support for our troops and their families—everything from entertainment to day care, from phone cards to stamped envelopes. But bringing a “touch of home” is really what it’s all about. Jesus said, “There is no greater love than for one to lay his life down for his friends.” While U.S. troops are willing to do this in the literal sense, then isn’t laying down our lives in servitude—putting the needs of others before ourselves—the least we can do? If we cherish our freedom, how much do we truly owe those men and women who put their lives on the line every day to ensure it?
[Mike Rinaldi is a student of theology and ethics at Fresno Pacific University. In addition to being involved in a number of ministries, he spends his spare time playing guitar and trying to figure out women … really.]
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