The story of swimmer Eric Moussambani is nothing short of remarkable. The 22-year-old from Equatorial Guinea competed in the 100 meter freestyle swimming event at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. Here’s what’s remarkable — he had only learned
to swim the past January before the Olympics that summer of 2000! By special invitation from the International Olympic Committee, under a special program that permitted poor countries to participate even when their athletes didn’t achieve normal standards,
Moussambani entered the 100 meter men’s freestyle. After the two other swimmers in the heat were disqualified due to false starts, Moussambani found himself swimming alone in lane 5. The first 50 meters went well, but into the final 50 meters he tired. He virtually
stopped and flailed in the water, trying to stay afloat. Some feared he was drowning. Mousammbani later told reporters, “It was then I stated to hear the crowd screaming and shouting, encouraging me to ‘Go, go, go!’ It gave me the strength to finish, and when I
touched the wall I said to myself, ‘Oh, I’ve done it.’ ” After the race he told a reporter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. It was their cheering that kept me going.” There’s more to Moussambani’s story, but not space to tell it. Suffice it to say he finished his Olympic race because of the great power of encouragement and went home and did great things.
There are times in life when the strongest among us needs encouragement to keep us from drowning. Not drowning in a pool of water, but in a pool of fatigue and stress and strain. Dealing with people and problems and pressures, at home and work and
even at church, has a way of wearing us down and tiring us out. We feel like we’re “dead in the water” and find it hard to keep going. Nobody is beyond the need of a big dose of encouragement at times. Think about the apostle Paul. If we think of him as a spiritual Superman beyond the need for encouragement, we are wrong! As he pens the book of 2 Timothy he is suffering for the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8, 12), viewed as an “evil-doer” and is “in chains” (2:9). Some who once supported him have deserted him (1:15). A brother in Christ named Demas has forsaken him (4:10). Another individual, Alexander, caused the apostle much harm (4:14). Besides all that, he is expecting imminent execution, for he metaphorically says “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (4:6). He may have been cold, asking Timothy to bring his coat (4:13). Time is short, and he urges Timothy to come as quickly as he can (4:9, 21). It is against this backdrop that we read the words recorded in 2 Timothy 1:16-18 about a man named Onesiphorus, mentioned in the Bible only here and at 4:19. Paul prays mercy on the household of Onesiphorus,” adding that “he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.” The Greek word translated “refreshed” means to cool off; to bring much needed relief, causing someone to recover a state of encouragement after a time of anxiety or trouble.” Wow! – the apostle Paul needed an Onesiphorus to spur him on, and sometimes you and I need one, too! The Bible often directs us to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 English Standard Version). Sometimes we need an Onesiphorus, and sometimes we need to be an Onesiphorus! God help the church to be a crowd that encourages one another to “go, go, go” until we finish the race!