Why do you do this?
I mean really…why Youth Ministry?
I think for all of us who are in Youth Ministry there was a time when we never would have considered doing what we do now. We would have chosen to run from teens like everyone else seems to do. Yet, in each of our lives, God has used events, circumstances, and people to bring us to where we are now. To call us to these crazy, fun, difficult, loving, amazing, and needy teens we serve.
Today I thought I would share my story of what led me to this place…
April 14, 1997 was a normal Sunday evening. The local evening news could be overheard as my grandmother sat and watched it in the living room next door just as she did each night before going to bed. I was a Junior in High School and looking forward to the prom that was a couple of weeks away and the summer vacation that would soon follow it. Story after story the news anchors went on with the normal small town “big” news stories until one caught my attention. It was a car accident. In a small town like the one I grew up in, it was not uncommon to recognize those involved in accidents. This one however was unrecognizable and the story quickly seemed rather insignificant so I decided to head off to bed for the night.
The following morning as I walked into class, late as usual, it was immediately apparent that something was terribly wrong. The room was eerily quiet and the teacher was not teaching. Everyone seemed to sit stunned and paralyzed. Within moments of taking my seat, David, who sat beside me, informed me that my best friend had been killed in a car accident the night before. Along with my best friend there were three others in the car that I knew well and played baseball with. Those three were at the hospital, one of them in critical condition and seemed unlikely to make it. In shock and somewhat disbelief we left school and headed straight to the hospital to wait, pray for, and support those there as well as we could.
The events of that night and the days that followed have unquestionably had more of an impact on my life and ministry than any other single event outside of the gracious salvation I received from the Lord as a child. How does a sixteen year old process the death of another so young? The emotions of my heart swung like the pendulum of the grandfather clock that hung in my grandparents den. I found myself moving from heartbroken at the loss of my friend to bitter and angry at God for taking him from me. Yet the haunting reality I tried to ignore was that deep within me, it was guilt that I was wrecked with inside.
I had known Brad since Freshman year. We met while playing on the baseball team for the High School. He played short stop, and I played left field. We seemed to hit it off right away despite him being two years older than me. My home life was a war zone filled with explosive outbursts and attacks from a hot-headed Step Father. Rather than go home in the evenings, I would spend them hanging out with Brad, mostly playing the arcade games at the local Wal-Mart in town.
I had literally spent almost every day over the last three years with Brad at some point. Now faced with the death of my best friend, I was immediately also faced with the painful reality that in those three years I had never had one meaningful conversation with Brad around the gospel. Feeling guilt and shame for never sharing with him, I turned my anger and blame towards God for taking Brad so young. As a result, my heart become increasingly hard and I simply walked away from the faith that had been such an important part of my life as a child.
The summer following Brad’s death found me spending significant time at the cemetery trying to make sense of what had happened and deeply apologizing for neglecting to share the hope I had with someone I had considered to be my best friend. Over those three months God began to ever so slowly and quietly turn my bitterness into brokenness. In the background of my stubbornness God was taking what was painful and beginning to turn it for my good.
The following year God continued to till up the soil of my heart. Out of brokenness He began to heal and restore my heart. He continued to turn my affection and attention towards Him. It was almost without my even recognizing God at work in my life that I found myself in the closest and deepest walk with Jesus I had ever known or experienced. From that God called me to ministry leadership and ultimately led me to Student Ministry.
God has so deeply used the impact that event had on my life during those years to cement in my heart a passion for teens. He has led me to a place I never would have followed. Quietly, patently, and peacefully He has led me. It was ultimately the kindness of the Lord that led me to repentance, just as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:4. He never-ending pursuit of me has made all the difference in my life.
It has been some time since that Sunday night in April. I still dearly miss Brad. I can honestly say though, that I do not believe I would be where I am today without the events that occurred that night. I truly feel that I can give testimony to the reality of Romans 8:28 in my life. God has worked this terrible, painful event out for good. He has done it for His glory, and I am all the more grateful.