Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It's A God Thing

dc Talk- Michael, Toby & Kevin
 In my career as a youth pastor it seemed that at every stop along the way there was a moment, early on in my time at a church, that set the tone and opened the door for special relationships and bigger things to come.  At New Garden Friends Meeting in the late 70's it was a trip to Myrtle Beach and the I've Got This story.  At Springfield Friends Meeting in 1987 it was The Super Bowl Surprise.  At FUMC-Kissimmee in 1994 it was our Mountain Top Mission Trip, also known as The Best Worst Week Ever.  Even the Union Church of Hinsdale had a moment- April Fools Day on our mission trip to Dungannon, VA in 2000.  Each of these stories describe what I call a God Thing; an unplanned happening that allowed my relationships with the students I served to move to a new level.  In October of 2001, God had such a moment planned for the youth of Wesley Memorial UMC.  This is that story.

Pastor Jerry Sweat came through on his promise to get us a 15 passenger van within a couple of weeks of my arrival at WMUMC.  It was very used and pretty beat up, but after some repairs and a new paint job it was ready to go.  We decided to break it in by going to a concert in Lakeland (about an hour away) to see a lot of bands we didn't know much about- and dc Talk.  The concert was at Carpenter's Home Church (kind of a pretentious name, huh? Jesus' home is now defunct...), a 10,000 seat building and home to many of the great concerts we saw during my Kissimmee days.  I was already well aware that we were in the final days of dc Talk as a group.  In fact, the day before the concert I learned that Kevin Max Smith, one third of the trio, would not be in Lakeland.  Even so, a dozen of us (I was the only adult) headed out for an adventure.

I remember very few details about the actual concert.  I do remember that it went on forever.  Band after band took the stage and rocked the place, but I have no memory of who those bands were.  We we ready to see what Toby and Michael would do to wrap the show- and we were not disappointed.  They each did solo stuff, and then they did a set of dc Talk classics, finishing with Jesus Freak.  It was awesome.  By the time we left the church it was well past 11 PM, so I had all the students call their parents and tell them that I would just deliver them to their homes.  I scored big points with the parents for that offer.  More importantly, the ride home turned out to be the best part of the night.

As we travelled we talked about the recent history of the youth ministry at Wesley.  We talked about music.  We talked about relationships.  We stopped for Slurpees to wake everyone up, and we talked some more.  As we arrived back in northwest Hillsborough county, each of them began to help me map out a route to get everyone home.  I had only been in Tampa about 2 weeks; I didn't know where anyone lived or how to get anywhere.  My students gave me a guided tour of the area and discovered where their friends lived.  We stopped at beat up old homes and in gated communities.  It was quite an education.  By the time I got back to my house it was well almost 2 AM.

The next day at church I was no longer just the new guy.  I had built relationships with a small group, and they were telling everyone they knew that I was OK- maybe even cool.  I had stayed out late with them and bought them Slurpees.  And I knew every dc Talk song.  God had used the van, the concert and the trip home to accelerate the community building process in ways I could have never accomplished on my own.  Just a few weeks in and I was so psyched.  But we were all about to be sucker punched in a way we could not have imagined.  That story next Monday...

Because of Jesus,

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