Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hall of Fame: Travis Aiken

Future HOF member Justin Overstreet gives Travis a lift!
Some of you may be a bit confused about what it means to be inducted into my Youth Group Hall of Fame.  It would be easy to assume that the students who make such a prestigious list were the absolute cream of the crop, the teenagers who really "got it" and did great things in Jesus' name.  And many of my inductees fit that description. But what gets you into my personal HOF is the relationship we had with one another.  These are the students who I wish could have been a part of every group I ever led, because they brought something special and amazing to the table.  It's been a long time since the last induction, but the time has come to add my first Wesley Memorial UMC student to the roll.  And that person is Travis Aiken.

Travis was one of the guys I met during my interview process with WMUMC, and I remember him so well.  He was wearing a t-shirt, baggy jeans with chains on them and had a colored hair dye in his shaggy do (red or blue I think?).  He looked pretty radical, but I could tell from his questions and body-language that the youth group was important to him.  Over the next 4 years we would share some incredible moments together.  There were lots of highs and a couple of crash landings.  Want to know about life with Travis?  Here are a few stories...
  • We were stopped at a gas station on our way to Myrtle Beach in 2002 when Travis revealed to me one of his goals in life.  He wanted to "moon" someone in all 50 states.  And a nun.  He then informed me that while I was pumping gas he had crossed Georgia off the list...
  • We shared a floor in a small room on our mission trip to Spartanburg, SC in 2003.  Late one night we wrote a song together.  I have no memory of what it was about or what any of the lyrics were, but I do know we called it Toxic Penguin.  Travis and I shared a strange sense of humor.
  • He called me one day to tell me he needed my help breaking up with his girlfriend, who was also a member of the youth group. They had already broken up once, and he was afraid she would leave the group if it happened again.  While he was on his way over, she called and told me the exact same story.  She was afraid he would quit.  Bottom line was they both wanted to break-up.  Easiest counselling session ever- and our friendship continued to grow.
  • We had some of the deepest spiritual conversations I have ever had with a student- in part because Travis never felt obligated to agree with me.  I always wanted our youth to find their own faith, not just parrot back what I believed.  Travis struggled with his faith- and it was real.
  • Travis in action.
  • I cannot count the number of hours we spent together at Lee Garden's Chinese Restaurant, eating from the buffet and talking about life.  Travis was somewhat of a tortured soul; a true artist at heart.  He always felt he could come to me with anything, and I was so thankful for that.  Even when things got bad for him at the church (because of a girl), our relationship stayed strong.
I could go on, but the point is this: Student Ministry, to me, is all about sharing life together.  The good and the bad.  And in the midst of sharing real life, you get a chance to share the real Jesus.  Travis and I got to do just that.  He was always there to help me when I needed his leadership.  He was deeply loved by the other youth, and they would always follow his lead.  He traveled with us to New York, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach and more, and anytime he wasn't with us I wished he was.  

Hall of Fame youth group careers are not always an indicator of how life will go after graduation.  Travis has not had an easy life, and with my issues he and I (like most of the students from the WMUMC years) are out of touch right now.  But I know his heart, and it's a good one.  And I know this- if you gave me a list of the hundreds of former students I have led over the nearly 30 years I spent in youth ministry and told me to pick some names to start a group, I would always pick Travis.  To me, that just screams Hall of Fame. Welcome aboard, Travis.  If I could remember any of Toxic Penguin I'd sing it to you...

Because of Jesus,


  1. Good pick. Wish I knew him better.
    Keep the posts coming!!!

    Zach Wehr

  2. Thanks Zach! Cannot tell you how much it means to me to know you are reading along. You and your friends are just about ready to make your first appearances in my story. :)

  3. Hahaha sounds great! I try to read everyday but lately school has been getting the better of me. But hey, if you keep writing I'll keep reading.

  4. Anonymous3/23/2011

    I think every girl who ever attended Graceland had a crush on Travis. He was always so sweet. Good choice, CJ!

  5. Anonymous3/23/2011

    WOOO TRAVIS! I remember some pretty crazy things lol.... putting staples into a leather strap and whipping him with it... upon his request... >.>... i swear. i believe there were ping pong paddle spankins as well. LOL ah trav, grats! Lovwe you carl!


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