Everyone was still on summer vacation a couple of weeks ago, but perhaps you remember hearing that televangelist Pat Robertson suggested the U.S. government take out Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Those comments received widespread media attention and condemnation right up until Robertson apologized two days later and the story died. Last year if you attended a football game at Michigan Stadium you probably saw people outside the stadium announcing that we were all destined for Hell. Chances are that when you heard those comments or saw those people you shrugged them off as the attention-seeking radicals that they are. To you, these people may represent your reason for not participating in organized religion. However, these people and their hate represent a minority of the faith-keeping people in this country, and today I’d like to tell you about a man who was an exemplary example of a public religious figure.
This person is my grandfather, Jim Russell, who passed away early last Wednesday morning at the age of 80. What he will be most remembered for began in 1964 when he started a small business forms company, RBF, out of his own home. Grandpa’s strong desire to run a business built on integrity, hard work and a customer-first approach became real and caused RBF to expand to five offices spread across Georgia, Indiana and Michigan. RBF also won numerous trade association awards, and in 1979 Grandpa was made the president of the National Trade Association.
All of this success allowed Grandpa to pursue his other passion: spreading the word of God. In particular, he felt that a Christian worldview was not represented in the secular media and in 1984 decided to offer financial incentives for people to present the word of the scriptures in secular publications. This idea was formed out of Grandpa’s belief that the pen is mightier than the sword and that encouraging people to actively present a biblical worldview would bring Christian ideas out of religious circles and into the mainstream.
So Grandpa started the Amy Writing Awards in 1984, offering a first prize of $10,000 — the largest prize in journalism. Additionally, he offered up 14 other prizes, bringing the total amount awarded each year to $34,000. Like everything Grandpa started, the awards only grew in their success, and today more than 1,000 entries are read and scored by judges before the $10,000 prize is given out at the annual Michigan Prayer Breakfast in Lansing, which the governor of Michigan regularly attends. The winners range from well-known media personalities like Cal Thomas to journalists just starting their careers. And the papers that the winning articles are written in range from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal to The Times of Munster, in Indiana. The range of winning topics is also different each year, ranging from political statements (a call to forgive the terrorists of Sept. 11) to a person’s difficult life story (Last year’s winner was a story about a woman born out of a rape.).
The Amy Foundation has continued Grandpa’s work by creating a church writing group that helps enable church members to reach out to their communities, as well as another $10,000 prize for pastors who develop ways to bring their congregations closer to God. The prizes awarded from the foundation are not the only examples of generosity that Grandpa passed on, as he contributed to various groups that seek to help people in need. In fact, his leadership in giving time and money was so strong that following his funeral one of our family friends decided to get on a plane and head south to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
If there is anything that comes from this column, I hope it’s that the media don’t always present the full story. Understandably, the media and the ratings they pursue are drawn more to stories of conflict and struggle than ones of kindness and goodwill. Next time Pat Robertson runs his mouth or someone condemns you to Hell, remember that most people devoted to God are ones of compassion, not condemnation.
Russell is a LSA sophomore, and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.