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Jon Stewart: advocate for veterans

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Jon Stewart with veterans who attended a job fair at the studio for 'The Daily Show' this month. (Credit: The New York Times/Todd Heisler)

In a recent New York Times article titled “Jon Stewart, Iraq War Critic, Runs a Program That Helps Veterans Enter TV,” Dave Philipps takes a look at the program started by a man that many might perceive to be an unlikely advocate for military veterans. After all, Jon Stewart, retiring host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, has been an outspoken critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that criticism of the wars has never lessened his respect for those that have fought in them. He has long been an advocate for the troops, visiting them in hospitals and even doing a comedy tour in Afghanistan in 2011.

So when American Corporate Partners asked him to mentor a veteran in 2013, he was more than happy to oblige. But as Sid Goodfriend, the Founder and Chairman of the ACP, noted, “Jon said he wanted to help, but wanted to do more than just drop his name.” So Stewart and his team developed “a five-week industry boot camp designed to bring young veterans into the television business.”

As Stewart describes, veterans are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to pursuing careers in television because they were serving their country when everyone else in the field was getting internships and developing connections that could lead to jobs. His program was designed to help close that gap. There are workshops with the Writers Guild of America and projects with industry producers and directors like Bruce Cohen and Judd Apatow. And when the five weeks are up, there is a career fair that has helped some of the participants land jobs in the industry. Two such veterans, Justine Cabulong and Nathan Witmer, have even been hired by the Daily Show.

So perhaps what should surprise us is not that Jon Stewart took the step to begin the program to help give those veterans a chance at pursuing a career in television but that more people haven’t followed his lead. However, as his time as host of the Daily Show comes to a close, Stewart is trying to change that. As he said in a recent interview, “This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea.” But he was also quick to note that this “isn’t charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn’t being tapped.” His hope is that more shows will develop similar programs in order to help bring veterans into the industry.

Stewart’s description of the program in that last paragraph is important. The veterans that participate are neither looking for handouts nor feel entitled to jobs. Rather, they are simply looking for a chance to contribute to the industry and make a career doing what they are passionate about. As someone in a position to help, Stewart is simply trying to give them that chance.

In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas are preaching and teaching in Antioch when Paul gets the itch to go and re-visit the other churches the two missionaries had started on their previous journey (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas agreed but wanted to take John Mark with them. John Mark had set out with them on a previous journey but when they reached Pamphylia, he had decided to go home rather than continue on. That didn’t sit well with Paul and so when Barnabas suggested that they take John Mark with them on this journey, he refused. After a heated debate, Barnabas left with John Mark and Paul continued on with Timothy and Silas.

While the soldiers attending the Daily Show’s television boot camp were not in need of help because of their past mistakes, they, like John Mark, needed someone to give them another chance at pursuing their dreams if they were to be realized. Barnabas, like Stewart, was in a position to help and every Christian is better off as a result. Early church tradition holds that the same John Mark that Paul dismissed would go on to study at the feet of Peter and write the Gospel of Mark. Even Paul would eventually come around, asking Timothy to bring John Mark because “he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).

In short, because Barnabas was willing to use the influence God had given him to help John Mark fulfill God’s purpose for his life, the early church gained a valuable minister and every Christian since has gained a unique and divinely inspired account of Christ’s ministry. On that fateful day when Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways, no one but God could have guessed what John Mark would become. But because Barnabas was faithful in using his influence for God’s glory, the kingdom has been eternally benefitted.

Can you think of a Barnabas in your life? If so, when was the last time you thanked that person for taking the time to be God’s advocate for you? Or perhaps God is calling you to be a Barnabas to someone else today. We have no way of knowing this side of heaven what the eternal significance of your faithfulness in fulfilling that call might be. But God knows, and if he has put someone on your heart to help, please don’t let anything keep you from doing so. All of us need an advocate sometimes. Will that person be you?

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