Step off the Sidewalk

Step off the Sidewalk

Desmond Tutu is a South African Anglican pastor and theologian known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. He was the Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996. In both cases he was the first black man to hold the position.

When asked by the BBC to identify the defining moment in his life, Desmond Tutu spoke of the day he and his mother were walking down the street. Tutu was nine years old. A tall white man dressed in a black suit came towards them. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. But this day, before a young Tutu and his mother could step off the sidewalk the white man stepped off the sidewalk and, as they passed, he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her!

The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was bitterly opposed to apartheid. It changed Tutu’s life. When his mother told him that Trevor Huddleston had stepped off the sidewalk because he was a "man of God," Tutu found his calling. “When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God” said Tutu.

Huddleston later became a mentor to Desmond Tutu and his commitment to the equality of all human beings due to their creation in God’s image became a key driver in Tutu’s opposition to apartheid.

What a beautiful story about a terrible situation and how, during great difficulty, one small act of kindness can change not just a day but a lifetime. It makes me wonder how many acts I have missed in a day that could have changed someone’s life.

Hebrews 10:24 reminds us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

What would it look like if followers of Jesus, instead of practicing random acts of kindness, began to practice intentional acts of kindness. We would begin to look for ways to be kind to those around us – to offer a smile to the store clerk, to offer an arm to an elderly neighbor, to hold the door for a harried shopper, to tell a small child, “Thank you” when they hold the door for you. What would it look like if our words and our deeds matched?

What if followers of Jesus practiced intentional acts of kindness?

Just as Trevor Huddleston took the time to honor a young woman and her young son and thus inspire the work of Desmond Tutu, so could our acts and our words of kindness inspire a world of Desmond Tutus or Mother Teresas, or Louis Pasteurs or Neil Armstrongs or … and the list goes on.

In what ways can you “step off the sidewalk” in your home, office or church this week? Are you willing to take one sidestep to change someone’s life forever and, perhaps, the future of your town, state, church, nation for the better?

Step off the sidewalk today!

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Karen McGuire

Karen McGuire came to Lead Like Jesus in February 2004 following the first Lead Like Jesus Celebration in Birmingham, Alabama, in November 2003, where she served as the volunteer coordinator. She comes with vast experience in local church ministry and denominational work and has been instrumental in the formation of several successful nonprofit ventures, including two churches, a seminary, a medical missions organization, and a welfare-to-work program. Karen served on several church staffs, held many volunteer positions in her local church, and is a Bible study teacher and seminar and retreat leader. She has one son and two young adult granddaughters.