I Want to Thank the People Who Made This Possible

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Are you facing an incredible challenge and you see no end in sight? Tim Elmore tells a story about ordinary volunteers who made a huge difference during a challenging time.

You and I have both groaned about the dilemmas around us:

  • It feels like our country has no more values or morals anymore.
  • I wish we could do something about the AIDS virus.
  • We need to find a way to get clean water to Africa.
  • Someone needs to figure out a way to mentor at-risk kids.

It’s easy to get lost in the problems our world faces. Sometimes they’re in our own backyard. Often, we feel overwhelmed by them, and it paralyzes us from doing anything. That is, except to whine about them. We feel so small and powerless.

Recently, I was reminded of a very important reality:

A single, simple, small action step taken by ordinary people can mean everything.

Case in point: the Battle of Dunkirk. As a kid, you probably learned about this battle from World War II. War tacticians believe it saved the morale of the Allied forces. The Germans had pushed the Allied soldiers into a corner. The Nazis had twice as many troops. There was no chance of escape and if Germany had wiped out the British army—England wouldn’t have the troops necessary to defend their own country as Germany invaded. It was a bleak moment for the free world.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his admirals assumed they’d lose the lion’s share of their troops, so they planned an evacuation of Northern France called: “Operation Dynamo.” Although they expected great loss, they hoped to save 45,000 soldiers before German interference ended the operation. It would be all they’d have left to defend themselves from the forthcoming German aggression.

That’s when a miracle happened. “Operation Dynamo” kept working night after night. Tens of thousands of soldiers continued to be saved from under the noses of the Nazis. But how? What enabled England to rescue so many men?

  • Was it the Royal Air Force and her fierce warplanes?
  • Was it the bombs they dropped upon the Germans?
  • Was it the incredible military training the Allies had?

While these were important, it was something else that no one had expected. It was a powerful secret weapon that surprised everyone, including Churchill.

Volunteers.

Seven hundred little ships got involved, mostly fishing boats led by fishermen, pleasure crafts led by farmers, and small commercial vessels led by civilian business owners. These were ordinary people with no training or preparation for battle. The war just got personal. What did these common everyday people possess? Passion. What they lacked in equipment and training, they made up for in passion. Lots of passion. They were relentless moving back and forth across the English channel.

All told, 332,226 men were rescued from Dunkirk—including English, French, Belgian, Dutch and Polish troops. About eight times as much as they had hoped for. As a result, England had the manpower to fight the Germans who soon attacked their island. This battle and evacuation may have saved the war for the Allies.

May I ask you a question? Any wars going on in your life? Are you facing an incredible challenge at work and you see no end in sight? Is it your budget? Is your team? How about a lack of resources at your disposal? 

May I suggest your greatest ally may just be some ordinary people you never assumed you could count on? Like the volunteers at Dunkirk, what if you enlisted folks to help meet the needs in front of you.

  • How about volunteers who could mentor your at-risk kids?
  • How about volunteers who could stuff envelopes for that mailing?
  • How about volunteers who get the word out about your outreach event?
  • How about volunteers who donate money or time for your looming project?

Years from now, when we look back on our life, we’ll certainly talk with admiration about the public leaders who impacted our organization. We’re all grateful for the Winston Churchill’s in our lives. I wonder, however, if we’ll remember the “nobody” whose fishing boat saved our necks when we had our own Dunkirk.

What can we do to empower volunteers?

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