In July, 2007, I led a Senior High mission trip to the first ever National Special Olympic Games in Ames, Iowa. Upon arrival we received our assignments for the week: announcers and referees for the volleyball competition; assistants in swimming, bowling, and weight lifting; and even party helpers in Olympic Town. But it was our first assignment that left us puzzled: Opening Ceremonies, Human Arrows.
Speculation arose around what a Human Arrow might be. One youth, or maybe it was one of those silly adults, suggested that it was similar to a Human Cannonball and we’d be shot across the stadium. Sadly, it was nothing quite that exciting, but important all the same. We were to point the way for the athletes as they walked through the event center on what would be called the Parade of Nations in the Global Olympics. Positioned all along the route, we stood and smiled, high-fived, and gently guided them along the way.
This image of being a human arrow has stuck with me. In our lives of ministry we are often called to be human arrows, especially those who work with children and youth. We may not have the flashy “We Buy Gold” signs dancing on street corners or a “This Way to Jesus” sign to wave in their faces, but we do still point the way. John the Baptist is the premier example of a human arrow. He knew he was the messenger for God, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” He preached and he baptized, but he declared to all that “he who is mightier than I is coming” and he pointed them on to Jesus.
The business of being human arrows goes by many names: discipling, mentoring, spiritual friendship, and an old-fashioned word – witnessing. Arrows may take the form of leading a class, volunteering on a mission trip, staying up all night at a lock-in, cheering someone on at a game, or attending a High School production of Brigadoon. Human arrowing (the verb) may also be as simple as a smile, or saying “Hi” and calling a kid by name when you see them; recognizing and reminding them that they are a child of God.
I thought about other directional assistance techniques and have come to the conclusion that human arrows are the superior choice when it comes to pointing someone towards the holy things in life. While we humans aren’t always as accurate as a GPS, we have the ability to walk alongside someone when a wrong turn is made. We can also demonstrate the steps to be taken, explain the dangers along the way, and point out landmarks and places of rest. And though we try to point towards God, we can’t define the precise route to be taken. Some exploration is always required.
At the National Special Olympics, we human arrows found that not all the athletes wanted to go where they needed to be at a specific time. They sometimes wanted to go with another delegation, head off to say “Hi” to their friends and families, or simply stop and sit when they tired of going up and down the stairs throughout the arena. Grace and persistence often was the manner in which we all proceeded in the scheduled course.
In ministry, we human arrows may also find our assignment quite frustrating. People often don’t want to go where we want to send them. We may find ourselves wishing we could be more like bullet trains, rushing them to the doors of the church. Or like bulldozers, ever-so-gently shoving them into God’s presence. We know the destination; why do people make it so difficult at times! Instead of frustration, however, we can breathe a sigh of relief that God has a better way than ours. As always, in the life of faith, we are not in charge. And like John the Baptist, we are not called to be the Messiah; we are called to point others toward him.
The work of arrows is never ending. Imagine a path around the world and back again. How many arrows would it take to get you home? Now imagine how many it takes to keep us all on the path to God.
Human arrows are not like human cannonballs. We don’t look like shooting stars across the heavens. In fact, we look pretty ordinary, but God uses us all in extraordinary ways. The role of being an inspiring leader is one we all have at different times in our lives. The visual of arrow helps each of us embrace that role at those times we invite others to find their way.
Rev. Debra Juarez
Sacred Stones Ministries