… and they couldn’t have been more polar opposites! I was speaking in a church in the City for my pastor friend who was on a short vacation. I have this deal with God that if I help pastors (by praying with them, give them a listening ear, and speak in their churches once in a while), God won’t make be one (a pastor, that is)! To be honest, I don’t know for sure that he has totally signed off on my deal, but I proceed as though he has! Anyway, back to the two guys…
David is 21 (I’ve known him since he was a baby), and he attends a ministry school in Redding, CA, having just returned from a missions trip to Thailand where they ministered mostly to trafficked women (girls really). I brought him with me to tell some stories of miracles that happened on the trip (healings, conversions, etc). I was teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, and I figured examples of them from real life light be more effective than my snappy definitions of each of the gifts. Wouldn’t you rather have an experience than a definition? Nevertheless, I’ve made up quite a few very cool definitions, which I snuck in between his stories. I think the congregation was more impressed with David’s testimonies of the gifts than with my superb teaching about them. Go figure. I’m not bringing him next time! Anyway…
He’s an amazing young follower of Jesus. He started leading worship at about 14 years old, and at 16 he became his church’s main worship leader! Though he describes his first attempts as “train wrecks,” you’ve got to admit it’s remarkable that such a young person could do such a thing. He grew up in a fantastic Christian home and was home schooled along with his three siblings. Home schooling seems to have worked, in my opinion, with a select few; and his family is one of those. His dad died in an accident that occurred while working on the church facility when David was a pre-teen. In fact, he was the one who found him laying on the floor of the church building after his fall from a high scaffold. Ray’s funeral was one of the most mind-blowing one I had ever seen. David’s older brother, Andrew, also a worship leader and young man of God, led worship – his siblings served as his worship team. Their dad had been an infectious worshipper and worship leader himself, who obviously bequeathed his passion to his entire family. I wept through the entire meeting, both for my loss of a dear friend, and for what was happening before my eyes as his kids lifted their praises to a faithful (and mysterious) God!
The other young man I brought to the church gathering yesterday, is Tad (not his real name). I met Tad the night before in the Haight-Ashbury at a ministry in which I participate there. (I’ve proposed the same deal with God about helping with ministries, i.e. help others so I don’t have to lead my own!) This ministry was started by an Armenian woman who came to San Francisco nearly ten years ago because she had a vision of “the Haight,” in which God spoke to her to represent him there. She still speaks very little English, but brings pizza and coffee every Saturday night, while she and her small team serve it and share Christ with the dozens of park dwellers and “travellers” who line up respectfully to get their piece. When I say “travellers” I’m not talking about people who fly or drive, but about young vagabonds who get from one coast to another by hopping trains, hitchhiking or walking. “Travellers” are not all drug addicts, though most smoke a prodigious amount of pot, nor are they all uneducated and socially stunted, though a high percentage of which could be described that way as well.
Tad, like many homeless youth (he’s 19 and has been on the road in one way or another since he was 15), didn’t finish high school and is sleeping in the park or in doorways. He told me he feels safer on the street than in the park because of the thugs who terrorize park dwellers at night. Tad was in line for pizza when I approached him for conversation. He’s as skinny as a rail, and sports a crust of grime – how could he be otherwise without a shower, laundry facilities, or somewhere besides his backpack to keep all his possessions? After the formalities, I asked him what he thought about Jesus. He told me he wasn’t at all sure there was a God, and then proceeded to tell me how he’d come to that hypothesis.
Before I hit some of the “low-lights” of his tragic story, here’s a quote from the Homeless Youth Alliance website so you’ll get a piece of the picture:
“Haight Ashbury has become an international destination for youth who come seeking refuge from abusive families, alienating foster care and group home situations, and juvenile justice system involvement. However, Haight Ashbury does not always provide the relief they’ve sought. These homeless young people encounter constant threats to both their physical and mental health.”
As Tad’s story unfolded, I confessed that I didn’t blame him for not believing in a good and all-powerful God. His dad is in prison for life for attempted murder (which he committed right in front of Tad) after years of gangbanging, wife-beating, and drug dealing (usually leaving all his drugs and paraphernalia on the kitchen table for Tad to use). He also almost killed Tad in a car chase (running from the police) with several pounds of dope in the trunk. When they finally ran into a tree, he fled the scene, leaving his young son behind who had been thrown from the car in the wreck. His grandfather had been shot, died in Tad’s arms. I could go on and on, but you get the gist. His life has been, as he said, “* ed,” from the beginning.
At the end of our conversation he said that he’d like to go to church sometime, so I invited him to the church I was speaking at the next day. We made plans to pick him up the next morning, and to my surprise he was actually there and on time (pretty uncharacteristic of street dwellers). I brought him some clean clothes in case he was self-conscious of his appearance, and we went off to church. He didn’t have any sort of radical conversion or anything, but he seemed to take it all in, and have a good experience for nearly his first time to be around “church people.”
My point you say? I guess I just thought the contrast between my two young friends, David and Tad was illustrative. By the way, a few minutes ago, while writing this Tad texted me to tell me he was “dope sick,” which means he’s got the shakes and is big-time nauseous from coming off whatever he’s been doing (I suspect heroin, though he told me he was not shooting anything these days). But here are these two young men, which God loves with all his heart. The knowledge of God was absent in the “home” of the one and yet teeming over in the other. Was God with Tad in the same way he was with David? I can’t say for sure. But I know that he knows about his “* ed” life, and, as I told him, God has been watching and waiting for any opening in order to gain access into his life and heart. He loves him as much as he loves and cares about David (or me, or even you). The why’s and wherefore’s are way above my pay grade. I’m only in sales, not in management in the kingdom. All I know is that it’s not only the David’s that should be attracting our attention, but the Tad’s as well. If God loves him like I think he does, then it’s our responsibility to love him too.