I must have marginalized it as eloquent rhetoric, this passionate declaration from Paul, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. . . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”1 I never doubted the apostle’s sincerity, but it seemed a tad aspirational to me, that is, until I met Tammy Jewell.
On most days, you can find Tammy actively searching troubled Columbus neighborhoods for women who are trafficked and in need of most basic care. Hers is not a passive quest, but an urgent one: “We go to the dollar store and to the free dental and medical clinics, because we often find them there,” she says. “We walk up and down Cleveland Avenue, we’ll go to a nearby Wendy’s, and we’ll find them sleeping on porches of boarded-up houses.” Tammy has also found clever ways to let these, the downtrodden, find her. “We’ll take our fishing poles to where the homeless fish, and we open up a cooler full of water bottles. They come over and strike up a conversation, ‘What are you girls doing?’” (Snagged another one!) Prayer meetings in the park attract people randomly; even gang members who won’t step inside a church may wander over to an outside gathering.
So, when Tammy finds society’s lost, what does she do for them? She gives them desperately-needed hygiene items and whatever else she has for them at the moment—energy bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and devotionals (“Our Daily Bread”). She tells them that God loves them and that they don’t have to live life this way. As they talk to one person, says Tammy, “One becomes two, three, five, seven.” Hope stirs, and trust spreads, even if just a little bit. She gives them her business card, so they know how to contact her for more hygiene items, more care, more hope, more love, more gospel.
What drives the Pauls and the Tammys among us to sacrifice the comforts and conveniences of this world and exhaust their moments and days for other people? I believe it is this: they have escaped brutal bonds of constraint and tasted a freedom so sweet that it cannot be hoarded, it must overflow. Paul’s tormentor had been the Law, which tantalized him with a righteousness it could never provide. Tammy was trapped as one “owned” and trafficked, tethered there by invisible chains of drug addiction. Yet in the sheer joy of liberation and truth, both returned to serve and to proclaim freedom to those still confined.
We have to wonder, who are the “all people” around us, the “as many as possible” for whom we, too, must become “all things”? They’re there, certainly, and probably easy to spot if we just remember what our life once was—our own struggles, our own moment of release, and our own gratitude for those who came and found us. Hmm …
Move over, Paul; make room, Tammy. You’ve got company.
[Click here to see how the apostle Paul lived and served among the Thessalonians in order to “win as many as possible” there.]
1 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22