“We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). That’s the first Bible verse I ever memorized. I was 6 years old, and it would be a while before I took on John 3:16 or other passages. Like many boys my age, we became acquainted with this portion of 2 Corinthians 5:20 because it was the Royal Ambassadors motto. For some reason our group never got into saying the Royal Ambassadors pledge. Maybe our leader and parents thought the whole “keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body” part was just too high a bar for us to clear at the time.
Today, family and friends will gather at Reevesville Baptist Church to give thanks to God for Dennis McAlhaney. As my RAs leader beginning 39 years ago, he demonstrated to a bunch of energetic boys what it meant to be one of Christ’s ambassadors.
We did a lot together. Mr. Dennis taught us about missions and carrying the message of Christ. Most lessons were about being kind and helpful. One Christmas, he even talked us into singing for the church program. We took a trip to The Citadel for RA day and we watched Stump Mitchell run all over Newberry. Sometimes we would complete craft projects at home and bring them on Wednesdays for some show-and-tell.
Ask, however, any of my colleagues from Royal Ambassadors days what they remember most about the experience and, to a man, they will tell you about the track meets. Every year Mr. Dennis helped us get ready for the Screven Baptist Association’s RA track meet. We practiced events, especially the relay. Our parents got involved and even organized a conditioning program where we learned to stretch and do some distance running. We’d travel down to Baptist College and win the track meet, then celebrate the victory at Hardee’s in Summerville (remember when that was a treat?). The next morning we all had to be back at church where Mr. Dennis would stand us up in front of the congregation to present us to them as their champions.
It strikes me how many of those images are fitting metaphors helping define what it means to be one of Christ’s ambassadors. As Christians, we need our coaches: the leaders, teachers, preachers and parents who help us learn about faith in Jesus Christ and show it to us through their actions. We didn’t know it as kids practicing a relay race, but now a more important baton has been placed in our hands which we are required to hand off to the next generation. Faith, hope and love are meant to be shared. Winning as a team certainly speaks to how much we need each other in this life together. When we follow Jesus Christ, it certainly will stretch us and it will require perseverance, but we will grow, and the Bible tells us that because of Christ, we are “more than conquerors”.
No, we didn’t cover all of that during lesson time on Wednesday nights, although somehow at the end of the year we had earned our pins and patches. Mostly, we were anxious to be turned loose to go outside and run. Hmm… now there’s another good metaphor for you.
Throughout all that activity, though, the constant we can agree on was that Mr. Dennis was there for us. Here was one ambassador for Christ who invested his time, talent, patience and love in the lives of children. Jesus would have said he was doing good Kingdom work. We had no idea that we were gaining a lifelong friend much less being introduced to an Eternal Friend.
Thank you, God, for Mr. Dennis, from “all the boys”, he certainly helped turn us loose to go out and “run in such a way that you might win”.