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FIRST-PERSON: Blessed are the merciful

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–James Kennedy was a mentally disabled young black man in South Carolina who didn’t have much going for him.

Although he kept to himself and didn’t bother anyone, he was an easy target. Kids picked on him and adults kept their distance.

But one day Kennedy — better known as “Radio” — was fortunate enough to meet Harold Jones, a high school football coach. Full of kindness and compassion, Jones befriended Radio and made him part of the football team.

Under Jones’s care, Radio flourished. He became a welcome part of the high school and a beloved member of the community. Some didn’t appreciate what Jones was doing, but he knew it was right and he wasn’t going to back down. And although not all the students at the school were crazy about Radio to begin with, he gradually won them over with his loving heart and unconditional acceptance.

Now made famous on the big screen, the true story of Jones and his love for Radio is heartwarming. The word “hero” gets bandied about regularly in sports. While many athletes and sports figures don’t deserve that label, Jones certainly does.

As I watched this inspirational story unfold, I thought about someone closer to home. I thought about my friend Chuck, who is one of my heroes.

Like Jones, Chuck has done something truly remarkable, something not many people would be willing to do. He has sacrificed a lot for someone very similar to Radio.

Tommy is a mentally disabled young man who was pretty much a social outcast. First, Tommy likes to talk … a lot … and then some more. Sometimes you can’t get him to stop. He’ll talk about basketball and football for hours. At times, he can be downright annoying.

Tommy also had a wretched home life. He didn’t have a warm place to sleep. He didn’t take showers, and he didn’t brush his teeth, sometimes for weeks at a time. That alone made it difficult to be around him.

But Chuck saw past all that. Chuck saw that even with his disability, Tommy wasn’t meeting his potential. And while others would show small acts of kindness toward Tommy, Chuck went all out. He welcomed Tommy into his home permanently. He has taught Tommy about basic hygiene and social graces, and in only a few months’ time the changes in Tommy are noticeable.

People like Radio and Tommy are constant reminders that human life is precious. Although not as fortunate as most people, they are infinitely valuable in God’s eyes — and obviously, in the eyes of people like Chuck.

Treating the less fortunate with mercy is not always the easiest thing to do. Our lives are busy and resources are limited. We can find lots of excuses not to do what Chuck has done.

But I’d venture a guess that Chuck would resonate with one of the most memorable lines in the movie. Jones was talking about everything that Radio had accomplished, and everything he had come to mean to people in the community. While he was so busy trying to teach Radio, it was really Radio who was teaching him, Jones said.

The world needs more people like Jones, and like my friend Chuck. I wish I were more like them.
Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BP Sports, online at www.bpsports.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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