Volunteer Power

Recently all America was caught up in the televised Volunteer Summit conference in Philadelphia, where dozens of celebrities exhorted Americans to get out there and help take care of America’s children. Well, I’m all for their message—and I’m happy the elites are discovering volunteerism. But I wonder if Americans will roll up their sleeves and hit the streets because some celebrity tells them to—and if they do, for how long? But let me tell you how the volunteer problem is really solved. I was in Richmond, Virginia just a few days before the summit and met with an old friend named Henry Jordan. Henry has been a Prison Fellowship volunteer since the ministry began. Twenty years ago Henry met up with Eric, a kid in the inner city who had become involved with a gang. All of Eric’s buddies were being shot or stabbed, and that appeared to be Eric’s future as well. It wasn’t long before Eric was arrested for a gang-related activity. Henry—a white man—began mentoring this African-American teenager. He invited Eric to church and to his home for Sunday dinners. I saw Henry recently at a Prison Fellowship banquet in Richmond. Eric was right there with him. That inner-city kid is now a tall, handsome man. He’s a Christian, and he’s just about the only person in his family who is not in jail. Eric looked me square in the eye and said, "Jesus Christ and Henry Jordan saved my life." Eric is working, contributing to society, and paying taxes. And he still regularly spends Sunday afternoons at Henry’s home. I looked for another old friend at the same banquet-James Massey. But he wasn’t there. It seemed that was his night to be at the prison, and that was more important than the banquet. Now, if celebrities like Colin Powell and Brooke Shields can inspire people to do what these volunteers do, we’ll have the volunteer problem licked. But history teaches that the only "celebrity" who can inspire people to go into society’s worst hell holes, year after year, is Jesus Christ. Until recent decades, social welfare in America was largely the responsibility of Christian volunteers who were moved by their faith. Then, in the sixties the Great Society made social welfare the government’s task. The war on poverty, paid for by our tax dollars, would solve these problems forever-or so our politicians told us. Billions of dollars later, the problem is worse than ever. The reason is simple: It comes down to whywe help each other. As I saw in Philadelphia, the secular world has to resort to bribing college students to "volunteer" through programs like Americorps—a government program that costs $25,000 per volunteer. Or they have to force high school kids to "volunteer" in their communities—or they won’t be allowed to graduate. This is hardly volunteerism. When everybody from presidents to movie stars are exhorting Americans to get out there and help people, we ought to offer our friends a little history lesson about real volunteerism in America. And we ought to tell them about people like Henry Jordan, who spent years helping transform the life of one inner-city teenager. People like this remind us that nothing—and no one—equals the power of Jesus Christ to inspire people to love their neighbors.  


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary