Filling the gap is what great leaders do. No matter how far, how wide, or how deep…they fill it. Those who lack the necessary leadership ignore the gap, run from it, and/or consider it someone else’s responsibility.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak at a fundraising event for Murphy-Harpst, hosted by the Due West United Methodist Church. Murphy-Harpst is an amazing organization located in Cedartown, Georgia who provides housing, therapeutic, recreational, and educational programs for abused and neglected young people.
The invitation to speak came from a friend who attends a men’s group I am in. A few months prior to the event, he and another gentleman coordinating it asked me to go tour the facility. It was there, that I became educated on what Murphy-Harpst was and its namesake.
Sarah Murphy was an African-American Woman who graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. In the early 1930’s, she and her husband “Shug” converted their home to an orphanage and took in children who had lost their parents. Their motto was, “We’ll make room.” Upon her death, the National Women’s Division of the Methodist Church took over operation of her home.
Ethel Harpst was appointed by the Methodist Church to serve the poor Mill Village of Cedartown. She educated children and cared for those who were sick. In 1924, she established the Harpst Home to take care of orphaned children.
In 1984, the church merged the two facility’s efforts. Two dreams, becoming one. Now, children who are facing the worst of circumstances are provided with the resources to overcome those circumstances.
Filling the Gap
Due to the outbreaks of typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and influenza coupled with the Great Depression and World War II, many children during the 1930’s and 1940’s were left orphaned. Both of these women saw a gap, and they were determined to fill it. They refused for the gap to widen.
What can we learn from the two extraordinary women and their service to the community? Here are three leadership lessons from my journey in learning more about Sarah Murphy and Ethel Harpst.
Be Burdened by the Gap
I firmly believe that every great cause starts with a burden. Both women were burdened by the fact that children had lost their parents. Were they the only ones that saw the need in the community? Certainly not. They were the most burdened by it.
What burdens you as a leader? Everyone has the ability to see the gap, but most lack the willingness to be burdened by it. If only for a moment we could let the fog of busyness settle, we can see clearly the needs of others. We must look past our ability to see it and be more willing to be burdened by it.
Set Into the Gap
Neither of these women had the resources to deal with their burdens, but they stepped in anyways. Mrs. Murphy converted her home to an orphanage. Mrs. Harpst exhausted efforts to generate the resources necessary to provide the Harpst facility. Both women gave of their time, talents, and their treasure. They weren’t just burdened by the gap, they stepped into it.
It is one thing for us as leaders to be burdened by the gap, it is another to step into the gap. Being burdened is an element of recognition, stepping in initiates action. Whether it is a cause, people, or project that burdens us, it requires forward progress. When we step in, we are one step closer to filling the gap.
Continue to Fill The Gap
Until their deaths, Sarah and Ethel not only filled the gap, but continued to fill it. Once people step into the gap, the hardest thing to do is committing to fill the gap long term. Great causes are sometimes short-lived because people and organizations lack the persistence and tenacity to continue to fill it. These two women pursued the gap until they couldn’t physically give anymore.
Sustainability is a big part of great leadership. Anyone can arrive on the scene and quickly address a gap, but not everyone can continue to fill it. It requires a level of deep commitment that few have to remain in the gap. Great leaders are willing to fill the gap to the point of exhaustion. Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.
$84 Million! Scott Fuller, the Vice-President of Advancement for Murphy-Harpst, shared this number with the audience prior to me speaking. That is the amount of money that the State of Georgia spends annually placing children in hotel rooms when their parents can no longer legally care for them. THAT is a burden.
I shared a quote during my comments that has been credited to many, it reads “Children are the living messages that we send to a time and place we will not see.” I am personally grateful that the leadership at Murphy-Harpst has continued to carry the living message of Sarah and Ethel to a time and place they never saw.
Today’s leadership at Murphy-Harpst is already working on the raising the necessary’s funds to expand their locations throughout the State to address this crisis. They are attempting to fill the ever-widening gap.
Every great cause starts with a burden. Every. Single. One. Be a Sarah. Be an Ethel. Fill the gap.