I know that preachers strive to "turn a phrase," but I would imagine that it is much more difficult to "coin a phrase," knowing that it will be used by masses of people. I learned a phrase coined by Natalie Warne, "anonymous extraordinaries." I am not sure if it will ever catch on, but it has promise. I have never met Natalie Warne, but I did hear her story.
At the age of eighteen, she made a decision to intern with the organization, Invisible Children. This organization works to bring peace and to heal the longest conflict in Africa. In the late eighties, a rebel movement emerged in Uganda that has continued for twenty-five years. The leader of the rebel movement, Joseph Kony, abducts children and forces them to fight. These are the invisible children that touched the heart of Natalie Warne.
In her internship with this organization, she helped plan an event in Chicago designed to raise awareness for this cause. The goal of the event was to gain the attention of a local celebrity, who might in turn use his or her voice to raise broader awareness. In Chicago, the celebrity was Oprah Winfrey, and Natalie's group was able to get the recognition they desired. They were featured on her television show.
The impressive part of Natalie's story is not that she succeeded, but that she turned the spotlight onto everyone else, which as it turns out is where it always belongs. She shined the spotlight on the work of the people behind the scenes, who spent countless hours making the goal a reality. It was not really extraordinary that they were featured on television; it was extraordinary that so many people spent such time and energy on behalf of others. She was thankful for all of the "anonymous extraordinaries" who had worked so hard.
Behind every good action and every recognizable leader are always countless "anonymous extraordinaries." They are anonymous, but extraordinary because they work for such good in this world. They are extraordinary, but anonymous because they are never recognized. We pass them every day, driving down the road and walking down the street. We work with them and live in the same neighborhoods. We even go to church with them.
We sit in church with "anonymous extraordinaries." Knowing that they are there might change the way we see people at church. They are anonymous, but extraordinary because they embody the goodness of God, and they are extraordinary, but anonymous because we do not see it. We share hymnals with them in worship and shake their hands every week.
When we are in search of guidance, as we answer our calling as people of faith, we would do well to look for the "anonymous extraordinaries" around us. We sit in church with people who serve the least of these with such dignity and respect, but they are never recognized. We share a Sunday school class with people who give more to others than they keep for themselves. We pass the peace with people who mentor and guide the lives of young people, making an impact that cannot be quantified. We walk with people in the hallways of the church, who have a quiet spirit of prayer, for they begin each day in silence, listening for the Spirit of God. We would do well to learn their stories and learn how to tell their stories in subtle, appropriate ways.
These "anonymous extraordinaries" are people of all ages and in all churches. We will not see them every Sunday, but if we begin to look and to listen, we will find them wherever we worship on Sunday. I do not know if the phrase will ever become popular with the masses, but I do know that the church houses many "anonymous extraordinaries" that shape the life of each congregation, impacting the world with the grace of God.
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