Illustration: At the risk of dating myself, I want to share a story from the 1990s. I was a scout (19D) on active duty. I was in an infantry battalion, and in the one scout platoon. We fell under 1ID and were stationed in Vilseck, Germany. When the other cherries and I arrived, fresh from basic training and AIT at Ft. Knox, KY, we were briefed to the effect that we were arriving just in time to deploy. We in the scout platoon, and some of the mechanized infantry guys, headed to Bosnia for the next 14 months.
I saw more holes from blasts in the walls of Balkan homes and businesses than you can imagine. Fields had markers around them, alerting where to walk and where not to walk, because unexploded ordnance (UXO) littered the landscape. Denizens in the region who’d survived the atrocities didn’t have to tell you their stories; their missing limbs demonstrated them. Most structures were destroyed or at least damaged from mortars, rockets, small arms fire, grenades, or artillery.
Why do I revive those memories? Because they still matter to me. They shaped me. I remember my buddies from the scout platoon. I remember one of the best NCOs I’ve ever known, a guy I idolized when I was an E-4 and E-5, and starting out. His name was SSG Reynolds. He’d been Force RECON in the Marine Corps before he’d come over to the Army as a scout. He knew more about reconnaissance than anyone I have ever known. And he was the only guy I ever knew who liked working out in BDUs and boots. He could do pull-ups for what seemed like days. His upper body was literally V-shaped. He had about a 29” waist and his neck and shoulders and back were shaped like Herschel Walker’s. He was just an impressive man and NCO, the type of NCO whose influence you never shake and should not want to.
But it was not only his knowledge of reconnaissance or his physical fitness that most impressed me. He was a gifted teacher. He knew how to reach folks. He wasn’t just a mouthpiece, if that makes sense. He was one of those guys that we went to often. Why? To ask serious questions. And he listened. And then he would give thoughtful and wise counsel. He shared stories, too, of his wife and daughters. He had pictures of them above his cot in the GP Medium. (For the tour, we slept on green cots in a GP Medium, and we didn’t complain too much … except about the snoring of one guy whose cot was in the middle of tent. Well, that was my complaint, anyway. He sounded, literally, like a chainsaw with a bad mixture of fuel. It runs but it runs badly.)
He had a soft-spoken but strong way about him that you just trusted. He was the opposite of blustering. He was the embodiment of a quiet professional whose life was its own testimony. And he taught us a lot by his example. I think I’ve always measured NCOs, whether consciously or not, by the standard SSG Reynolds lived.
Biblical connection: Many people have perhaps some knowledge of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew. Listen to these oft-quoted words of Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14-16).
Like I said, I think many people have perhaps some knowledge of these words of Christ. But to whom was Jesus speaking in that immediate historical context? To those who believed the gospel message and lived lives characterized by obedience to it. He told them in just a few sentences earlier that they were blessed when others reviled and persecuted them, and when the scoffing world uttered all kinds of evil against them falsely (5:11). The apostles, we need to remember, suffered martyrs’ deaths. The apostle Paul, not one of the original twelve disciples, but a later apostle (Acts 9), was imprisoned and later beheaded under the Roman emperor Nero. Peter was crucified. John was exiled. Thomas was run through with a spear in Madras, India. James was sawn in two. This is not what you’re going to hear from Joel Osteen or the countless other peddlers of the “prosperity gospel.” If you have itching ears, don’t study history; just listen to smiling Joel who will sell you books telling us how wonderful we all are.
Encouragement: When I think back on SSG Reynolds and the way he poured into us young scouts, I still think of him with respect. He knew his stuff, you see. He lived it. His light shone. He didn’t boast; he didn’t seek the limelight. His mission field was us young soldiers. He made an impact by planting seeds in us. Very often, the soils in which he planted seed were not fertile then. Why? Because God tills the heart in his sovereign time. When that happens, though, the seed bears fruit. Sometimes it takes a long time to see. It’s seldom an overnight process. For most of us, I believe, it takes a lifetime.
SSG Reynolds taught with words but also by deeds. His expression aligned with his profession. In theological terminology, his orthodoxy (true belief) was seen via his orthopraxy (true practice). I love the way the apostle Peter puts it: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pt 2:15).
I have no idea where SSG Reynolds is now or if he is a believer. But I do know the impact one person can have. If you struggle sometimes and think, “Am I having any effect for good at all?” be encouraged. God often uses the individual who is faithful in the seemingly small and mundane things. Be faithful; trust the Lord; invest in those around you; and know that the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Gen 18:25).