It was Memorial Day in 1921 that the exhumation of four World War I unknown soldiers took place from a cemetery in France. Sargent Edward F, Younger, decorated for his valor and recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal, selected the third casket from the left and decorated it with a spray of white roses. This casket was transported to the United States for interment at the Arlington National Cemetery where it stands on top of a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. and is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inscribed on the back of the tomb are the words:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God
I won’t place myself in the same position of worth as those that have given their lives for this country, but I do understand the feeling of being unknown. Countless people carry out the duties of their lives with a similar lack of recognition. Musicians who labor for small gigs or small crowds, teachers who lack appreciation for their work, or employees who feel underemployed are among those that feel as though they are the unknown in their area of expertise and giftedness. For me, the feeling of being unknown comes with the territory of the career path which God called me into, the sports and recreation ministry.
For example, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, in one form or another, when I was going to get into a “real” ministry. I felt like a child again where people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s a question that many sports and recreation ministers deal with regardless of his or her age. I may be a bit sensitive, but I always got the idea that sports and recreation ministries didn’t warrant the same amount of respect or value as other ministries from certain people in the church.
There are those that were sports and recreation ministers at one time that are now in different ministry positions in the local church. Others I’m aware of have entered business venues, became professors in universities, or have joined in some parachurch ministry. Some would view this as upward mobility, or in other words, climbing the career ladder. While this may be the way the world would see the situation, it doesn’t minimize the impact a sports and recreation ministry has in God’s Kingdom. Nor does it mean that sports and recreation ministry is a stepping stone position.
I was conducting a recreation staff meeting at Germantown Baptist, and the notion came out about some of these kinds of feelings. I attempted to use the phrase, “the redheaded stepchild at the family reunion,” which means "being neglected, mistreated, or unwanted." I felt as though the efforts of my ministry team made us the redheaded stepchild, or in other words the ministry that didn’t measure up to the others in effectiveness. Unfortunately, my tongue often works quicker than my brain, and the statement came out, “Well, I guess we’re the step-headed red child.”
Carla, one of my staff members, drew a cartoon figure with his head being three steps going from a high forehead down to the back of the skull. It might have been better for me to remain unknown in that case.
I also got this “unknown” feeling when it came time for budget discussions or priority of calendar dates. Other ministries were “important,” and sports and recreation seemed to be second in importance. After all, as it would be pointed out, it’s just fun and games, right? I know other sports and recreation ministers that have similar feelings of anonymity. In many churches, this great ministry and outreach program is seen as entertainment only. People don’t recognize the value the ministry provides the church and the world. It’s as though we become “the other guys” in the ministry scheme of things.
Well, there is hope found for us unknowns in the story of Easter. Two people that were instrumental in the last week of Jesus being on Earth in human form do not have their names given in the story. They are the “unknowns” of the Easter story.
I wrote about one of them, the owner of the upper room (Luke 22:7-12), in my second book, Holiday Biblical Characters: Finding My Stories in the Stories of Christmas and Easter, inspired by my good friend, Chris Teague, Administrator at Grace Bible Church in Oxford, Mississippi. In the chapter, Upper Room Owner: Behind-The-Scenes Kind of Guy, it states:
“The man seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I would see him before and after the church services around the lobby, where I drank coffee while either waiting on the service to begin or meeting with people after the service was over.
This man would be introduced with the other elders in the church, but I would never see him up in front of the people… He seemed to be in the middle of everything but never in the front of anything."
The other “unknown” hero was the owner of the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem (Luke 19:30-34). Here we have two people that were instrumental in the story of crucifixion and resurrection that has changed the world, and yet we have no idea who they are.
Jesus gives a message to those that work for God in anonymity, which you'll find in Matthew in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 NLT)
Perhaps those that minister in silence, like myself, should relish the fact that we play a part of a story in someone’s life. To quote Holiday Biblical Characters again, “It must take an amazing heart to be able to do something and keep the ego in check. It’s easy to work when praise is readily and humanly available. It’s something else entirely when the only praise one receives is from God.”
So, organize those sports leagues and plan those craft classes. Assemble the tournaments and seminars. Create opportunities for fitness and wellness for the people of your community. Sing for the nursing home residents. Teach with the knowledge that you are helping the next generation be better than we are. Work for your employer as if you were working for God. The work you do is making a difference, one life at a time.
So, like the Unknown Soldier, rest in the fact that your work may be "known but to God," and that’s not all that bad of a place to be known.
 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (n.d.), Retrieved March 12, 2019, from http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/Tomb-of-the-Unknown-Soldier
 Red-headed stepchild. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-red2.htm
 Waddell, D. (2015). Holiday Biblical Characters: Finding My stories in the stories of Christmas and Easter. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. P. 293
 Waddell, D. (2015). Holiday Biblical Characters: Finding My stories in the stories of Christmas and Easter. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan. P. 299
Professor David Waddell currently teaches at Ole Miss and is CSRM's Executive Director. He had a long tenure as a SR&F Outreach Minister at a local church in Memphis, Tennessee and has authored three books. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
His books can be ordered at: https://csrm.z2systems.com/np/clients/csrm/giftstore.jsp