The New York Yankees today (March 18, 2008) are playing another March spring training game. However, this is not the typical Grapefruit League spring training game. The Yankees have traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia to play an exhibition game against the Virginia Tech Hokies.
It is hard to believe that it has almost been a full year since tragedy hit that campus. In April 2007 a graduate student murdered 32 people while wounding 23 others. I know that it is easy to let numbers and news like that fly in one ear and out the other without thinking too much about it. We have become all too comfortable with tragedy like this. Unless we are personally affected, we often are not driven to heartbreak (me being the first to admit that). 32 families were destroyed that day. 32 moms and dads lost their son or daughter that day.
For today’s seven inning exhibition game, the New York Yankees are dressing a full squad. They have sent 28 players, the entire coaching staff, General Manager Brian Cashman, and Team President Randy Levine. Out of those 28 players, all the Yankees star players will be there, including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, among others. They didn’t send all the scrubs and bench players. They sent their stars. Their varsity. Their “A” team.
The New York Yankees are helping affirm something that God has been teaching me lately. They are a perfect example of the ministry of presence. The ministry of presence is simply being there for somebody who is experiencing tragedy. It isn’t fixing the tragedy or taking away the pain. The Steinbrenners and other executives at the Yankees could have simply thrown some money at the campus or worn a Virginia Tech hat in one of their games as a tribute. They could have had a special moment of silence at their other games. While all of those honor VT and are good expressions of support, it is not as comforting as being on campus, shaking hands with students, and hanging out with the players.
In the book of Job, Job goes through tragedy. He loses his family, his possessions, his wealth, his status, his health, and well, pretty much everything. Job is right in the middle of his tragedy when we meet three of his friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Now these three often get ripped for how they react to Job’s situation, but they also did something right that we can apply to our lives today.
Job 2:11-13 (NIV) says, “When Job’s three friends heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
What an amazing picture of the ministry of presence! They simply sat with him for seven days and nights without saying a word. They knew that in the middle of Job’s storm their words would not resinate like they normally would. Their actions of simply being there spoke loud enough. They cried with him, sat with him, grieved with him, and gave a very precious gift to him…their presence.
Whether you are a Yankees fan or not, you have to like and respect what they are doing simply because they didn’t have to do it. Will their presence at Virginia Tech fix their situation? No. But does their presence mean a lot? Absolutely.
Next time somebody you know is in the middle of a tragedy, remember the ministry of presence.
***This blog post was originally written on March 18, 2008. After reading through Job lately, it was time to bring this back up.