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Stand-Up Guys: 50 Christian Men Who Changed the World

Stand-Up Guys: 50 Christian Men Who Changed the World

by Caroline Siegrist
Kate Etue


Learn More | Meet Caroline Siegrist | Meet Kate Etue

Eddie Aikau

1946–1978

Hawaii

When the sun rose over the ocean on the Kahului Harbor beach in Maui, you could often find Eddie Aikau wading out into the water with his surfboard. Being in the ocean was his passion, and he felt most alive when he was surfing the biggest waves Hawaii had to offer. Even the 30-footers weren 't too big for him.

Eddie grew up with a mindset to serve others—whether he was ministering as a church altar boy or being a great older brother to his siblings. Eddie wanted the best for others. Eventually Eddie became the first lifeguard at Waimea Beach in Hawaii. He was absolutely dedicated to his job, and ultimately, he rescued 500 people from drowning in the strong currents and powerful waves. Even more remarkable, not one person—not one—died while Eddie was on watch. No matter how rough the waters were, Eddie was always willing to risk his life to save someone who was drowning.

Eddie felt it was important to do whatever it took to save relationships too. During one competition, Australian surfer Rabbit Bartholomew made the Hawaiian surfing community angry by acting like he and his fellow surfers invented the sport. Things got really tense and broke out into a huge fist-fight and even death threats. But Eddie invited the Australian surfers to reconcile with the Hawaiian surfers, in a traditional ho 'oponopono—the Hawaiian custom of putting things right in a family meeting. They were able to come to an agreement about their competitive relationship.

In 1978, Eddie was invited to participate in an old-school Polynesian voyage on vintage rafts like the ancestors would have used. Once they were out at sea, the crew encountered treacherous water and the boat capsized. Of course, Eddie immediately offered to paddle for help. But while the Coast Guard was rescuing the other men, Eddie disappeared. He was never seen again.

Eddie 's gravestone reads, "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one 's life for one 's friends" (John 15:13), because he died just as he lived, risking his own life to save others.

  • Have you ever let fear keep you from helping others?
  • What brave thing could you do today to help fix a broken friendship?

José Andrés

Born 1969

Spain

José Andrés had just $50 in his pocket when he stepped off the plane from Barcelona, a 21-year-old in Manhattan on his own for the first time. He had a burning passion for sharing Spanish food with the people of New York. It didn 't take long for his enthusiasm to ignite the city and draw the attention of customers and restaurant owners.

Fast-forward twenty years, and José owns dozens of restaurants and is one of the most prominent chefs in the United States. He 's won prestigious awards for his unique creations and the way he shared his Spanish culture with American diners.

José enjoys making new and exciting meals for people in his restaurants, but he knows that all around the world there are families with hungry children. José remembered how Jesus multiplied only a few loaves and fish to feed thousands—maybe he could do something similar with his cooking skills. So, he formed a non-profit called World Central Kitchen, which mobilizes chefs to provide healthy, fresh meals to the survivors of natural disasters—kind of like Doctors without Borders, but for food.

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, José Andrés knew that 's where God wanted him to be. The whole island was hungry. People had no food, no power, and no shelter. His first day there, José and his team fed one thousand people. The day after that, they fed five thousand. Instead of eating pre-packed read-to-eat meals, the tired, scared hurricane survivors were able to enjoy hot chicken and rice prepared by a world-famous chef. As word began to spread around the island, more and more people came to eat his food.

Luckily, chefs are great at handling chaos. José and his team converted a nearby arena into a massive kitchen and started cooking even more food for people in need. Within a few weeks, the team was serving up almost 150,000 meals a day.

As an immigrant to the United States, José worked hard to achieve his dream of owning a restaurant. But now he says he believes the real American dream is working hard to help others, which is more important than any cooking award.

  • How can you use your skills to help others?
  • What do you think it means to be "successful"?

Saint Francis of Assisi

c. 1181–1226

Italy

Francis was the guy who everyone wanted at their party, and when he was young he wasn 't exactly a "saint." He was born into a wealthy family with every advantage in life. In addition to being rich, Francis was handsome, smart, and charming. If he lived today, he probably would have been an Instagram influencer.

As much as Francis loved the luxuries in his life, he felt a longing for something more. Thinking that maybe taking part in a high-stakes battle would scratch that itch, Francis decided to try at proving himself in the military. To be honest, he 'd tried once before and ended up in an enemy prison for a year. But this time, he decided to buy the finest armor and cloak money could buy. But the day after he rode off to join in the Crusades, God spoke to Francis, telling him to return home.

Ashamed, Francis rode back into town bearing the same shining armor—without a single scratch on it. Everyone ridiculed Francis for chickening out before he even got to the battlefield, but God had other plans for him.

Francis started hiding away in quiet places to pray. One day, when he was praying in a run-down church, he heard the voice of God telling him to "rebuild his church." Thinking God meant the physical church he was kneeling in, Francis went and sold some of his father 's silks to raise money for repairs. But his father found out and was furious.

It took Francis a lot of prayer and solitude to realize that maybe God wasn 't talking about that church in particular, but rather the whole Church, the family of believers living on earth. From there, Francis gave away everything he owned, right down to his beautiful clothes, and decided to live in the forest with the creatures he loved.

  • What do you want people to notice about you?
  • What might God be asking you to give up in your life?

Andrew van der Bijl

"Brother Andrew"

Born 1928

Netherlands

As his Volkswagen Beetle idled in place, Andrew could feel his blood pressure rising. His hands felt clammy on the steering wheel as he watched the officials at the border checkpoint order drivers to exit their vehicles and take out all their belongings. It was the 1950s in Communist Romania, and religious materials were strictly forbidden. Unfortunately, Andrew 's car was packed full of Bibles. He could be thrown into prison if even one of them was discovered.

As a poor child in the Netherlands, Andrew van der Bijl would have never expected he 'd become "God 's Smuggler," risking his freedom (and maybe even his life) to transport illegal Bibles to Christians inside communist countries. In fact, he wasn 't even raised in the church. His blacksmith father and invalid mother did the best they could, but Andrew first learned about Jesus when he read the Bible as he was healing from an injury.

But his passion for God 's Word had become an obsession.

Now, sitting in his car, Andrew knew that turning around would look very suspicious. His only option was to continue inching forward. There was no way he would make it through the inspection without the guards finding the Bibles stashed in his backseat.

Trembling with fear, Andrew prayed. God simply said, "Trust me." So instead of leaving them hidden, Andrew pulled a few of the Bibles out so they were clearly visible. He handed the guard his passport through the window, but the guard merely glanced at his passport and waved him through. Just like that.

From that moment on, Andrew knew that God was protecting him. It made him even bolder as he continued to smuggle illegal Bibles to parts of the world where people couldn 't get them—and places where people had never heard the name of Jesus—for the next 40 years.

Andrew proved that if you believe God 's got your back, there 's almost nothing you can 't do.

  • How has God helped you to be courageous?
  • Have you ever had to break the rules to follow God?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

1906–1945

Poland

Bombs squealed through the dark sky overhead, and the sound of warning sirens echoed off the buildings nearby. In the distance, bricks and pavement exploded through the night. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer simply tucked his head down and continued on his journey with increasing determination. There were Jewish people in this city to be saved, and it was up to him to save them.

Growing up, Dietrich went church, but his family didn 't make that big a deal about it in their everyday lives. So, when he decided to set aside his musical talent for a job studying the Bible, they were shocked.

This was at a time, however, when many pastors were preaching that God wanted Hitler in charge of Germany. To Bonhoeffer, this was the farthest thing from the truth. Not surprisingly, the German government banned Bonhoeffer from preaching publicly when he refused to support Hitler. He began an underground seminary where he trained pastors in secret instead. He taught them the idea that "comfortable Christianity" isn 't real faith. Faith requires action. Sometimes uncomfortable, even dangerous action.

Despite his best efforts to convince German Christians to fight against their political leader, Hitler 's power continued to rise—and Jewish people were captured, imprisoned, and killed. So, Bonhoeffer decided it was time to act.

He joined the German secret service so he could spy against them. He would travel all over Europe to church conferences, but instead of simply collecting information for the Germans, he would help Jews escape.

Eventually, a plot was hatched to assassinate Hitler. But Hitler survived. Furious that their leader had been attacked, the Nazis looked for anyone who had even the smallest connection to the plan. Bonhoeffer had already been imprisoned for his role in the resistance, but once he was connected to the assassination, his fate was sealed. On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was executed at dawn at Flossenbürg concentration camp—just two weeks before US soldiers stormed the camp and liberated its prisoners.

Today, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is remembered as one of the smartest, bravest men of faith during World War II.

  • Have you ever had to stand up to someone for what you believe?
  • What does "comfortable Christianity" look like to a kid your age?

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