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Encouraging Others Can Change Their Lives

Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman writes:

One of my goals is to inspire everyone I meet to become a better person. You’d be surprised how a few words of encouragement can revolutionize the way a person thinks about himself. A man by the name of Carl Hempe gave a thirty-minute speech in 1965 that changed how I viewed myself and inspired me to excellence. Before I tell you what he said, you first need to understand a bit about Carl’s background.

Carl Hempe’s father, Frederick, was a high-ranking German officer, who was captured by American troops during World War I. Fredrick was brought to the United States and placed in a prisoner of war camp in New York. After the war, he was so impressed by America that he immigrated to the United States. He became an American citizen, got married, and started a family.

When World War II broke out, Frederick’s son, Carl, joined the United States Army and served under General George Patton. Ironically, the son of the former German officer was fighting as an American against Adolf Hitler’s regime. Despite his German heritage, Carl’s allegiance was to the United States.

In 1965, I joined the Job Corps to receive training for a vocation. Most of the teenagers in the Corps had come off the streets and were searching to find our identity. Carl came to the center to give us some words of encouragement. He explained that his father had fought for Germany but later left his country so he could become an American citizen. Then Carl looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re getting into trouble because people are calling you names. You’re an American. That’s your name, and don’t ever forget it!”

I had been called a lot of things, but no one had ever called me an American before. In the 1960’s, many people were protesting against our country, and for a while, it seemed that national pride was at an all-time low. But Carl’s words penetrated my heart, and for the first time in my life, I felt proud to be an American.

Three years later, I represented the United States as a boxer in the 1968 Olympics. Many American athletes had boycotted the games to make a political statement, and tension filled the air. But I never forgot that speech I heard while in the Job Corps.

My heavyweight match for the gold medal was against a representative from America’s most ominous enemy at that time, Russia. I defeated the Russian boxer, and achieved my greatest dream in that season of my life—winning an Olympic gold medal. After the fight, I did something that startled the viewers who watched on their television sets. Instead of protesting, I walked around the ring, waving a small American flag for the entire world to see. I proudly waved the flag when it wasn’t popular to do so, because Carl Hempe told me, “You’re an American . . . and don’t ever forget it!”

Years later, in May 2006, I spoke at a high school graduation in Nacogdoches, Texas. As I had done so many times over the last forty years, I shared how Carl Hempe’s speech had changed my life. After the ceremony, a newspaper reporter interviewed me and wrote a story about Carl that was eventually posted on the Internet.

Someone read the article, and informed the eighty-five-year old Carl Hempe how much his speech had impacted my life. He had no idea that his talk to a small group of teenagers in 1965 would be repeated again and again to thousands of people all over the world. It wasn’t until forty years later that he heard about his harvest, from the seed he planted in a troubled teenager.

(George Foreman, God in My Corner, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007, 113-115.)


Jump Starting a Battery

The Greek word translated "encourage" literally means "to come alongside." My car had a dead battery, so I asked a friend to help jump-start it. He pulled his car alongside mine and used jumper cables to transfer power from his battery to mine. He connected the good battery in his car to my depleted battery. The energy flowed into my weak battery until it could function on its own. When we encourage one another, we are doing something similar to jump-starting a battery. We "come alongside" the person who has a weak spiritual battery, and when we speak encouraging words, the power flows into the person and builds up him or her. Speaking words of edification literally gives grace to the person who hears them. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Eph. 4:29) --Kent Crockett (Kent's Sermon Illustrations)

Acknowledge those who help

As a high school basketball coach, John Wooden created a "thank you" rule for his players. Every time a player scored, he was required to acknowledge the person on the team who had assisted.  Some of the players thought this rule would take too much time away from the game.  However, Wooden explained to his team that a simple gesture like a nod, a thumbs-up, or a wink would take them less than a second.
Wooden believed that if you didn't show your appreciation to others, they would have no way of knowing their contributions were recognized. And without recognition, people start to pull back--both from performing and from cooperating with others. Encouragement is a key element of teamwork and success. --Bits & Pieces, August 2007

Home Field Advantage

I heard a college coach say, "It's tough to win on the road, and everyone knows that." They are the same teams, so what's the difference? The audience. It's called the "Home Field Advantage." The majority of people in the seats cheer for the home team, which inspires them. The lack of vocal approval for the opponent can take away the visiting team's motivation. Odds-makers add as many as 7 points to the home team, simply because of their fans' encouragement. We can gain the "Home Field Advantage" by each other every day. Hebrews 3:13 says, ”Encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called today.” --Kent Crockett (Kent's Sermon Illustrations,

Cross Reference:

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again