Hilgermissen is a small town of 2,200 residents in Lower Saxony, Germany.
This town, which covers an area of 21 square miles, was formed in 1974 by consolidating eight smaller communities under one name. But if you’re ever in the area and hope to locate a certain address, good luck finding it. For among its 800 or so homes there are absolutely no street addresses. Oh, each of its houses is numbered. But none of the streets have names. All you have to work with is the name of the town and the house number—1 through 800. I’m not kidding. The people of the town wanted it to be that way. In fact, in a recent referendum 60% of Hilgermissen’s voters chose to keep the streets nameless. How do people find their way? They use landmarks to find each other’s residences. Of course, the people who live in Hilgermissen already know where everybody lives. They don’t need the street names.
It’s the outsiders who face the challenge of finding addresses. The visitors, the delivery trucks, and the emergency vehicles—they’re the ones who must navigate their way through the labyrinth to track down a house number. Oh, yes, the decision to omit street names from this town was purposeful. It ensures that Hilgermissen remains an exclusive huddle, difficult for outsiders to penetrate.
As I read about this crazy town it made me think back on my earliest days as an Army chaplain—and how I wished I had done things differently. The military is a highly specialized community that is tough on the newcomer. A raw recruit or a direct appointment officer knows nothing of military customs and courtesies. They don’t
have a clue on how to wear the various uniforms. Their understanding of rank, chain of command, staff sections, and the missions of each branch is nearly nonexistent. They’re like a visitor to Hilgermissen and badly need someone to help them navigate through the minefield. It’s very easy to get into trouble or become discouraged during this initial phase of military life.
Unfortunately, there are people in the military who are glad to watch such newbies stumble, crash, and burn. Maybe they believe it draws attention off their own mediocre performance. Or, perhaps they delight in other people’s misfortune.
Most likely, they’re simply too selfish to invest any of their personal time and effort into someone else. I should know. I’ve been guilty of not helping newcomers to the Army. At the time, I was just too selfish to share my time, friendship, and knowledge with those who needed it most. I suppose I even reasoned to myself, “I had to learn the hard way. Why should I make it easy for them?”
Let’s not be like that and let’s not be like the people of Hilgermissen, who are happy to make it hard for visitors and newcomers. Let’s lend a hand to those who may become leaders that will go further and shine brighter than we—if they can only survive that early adjustment phase. Fortunately, today the military has a strong sponsorship program which assigns a seasoned soldier, NCO, or officer to assist newcomers. If you happen to be saddled with this responsibility, please take it seriously and make the most of it. Your investment in other leaders may prove to be your greatest contribution to God and your profession. Hold the door open for the military’s future leaders.
Dear Father in heaven, take away my competitive attitude toward people whom I should be helping. Please make me a servant and a blessing to my fellow soldiers. Let this be my greatest contribution to Your kingdom – that I may help build tomorrow’s leaders and thereby participate in all the good they accomplish. Amen.