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Mitch’s Great Surprise

May 23, 2014

I was in the front of our church, sweeping the sidewalk.  The Tuesday afternoon sun was warm on my back, and I knew that we were in for some extremely hot Tennessee summer days ahead.  I was a youth pastor in my second year of ministry at this church, and as I shoved the pushbroom through the silt and gravel that had built up from an earlier rain, I reflected over the past week’s Bible study.  Our teens were especially interested in talking about reaching out into the community in various ways such as door-to-door invitations and a summer festival.  The teen group was growing in number, but more importantly, in enthusiasm.  Over the course of a month we had seen our little collection of a dozen teens now reach forty in number, and each week saw visitors walk in.

1dI was lost in my thoughts and was openly startled when I looked up and saw two young boys only a few feet away from me.  They had walked along the highway and had come across the side of our wide parking lot.  I recognized them as Robby and Mitch, both from the previous week’s youth meeting where they had come for the first time.  Both were thin boys, dressed in T-shirts and faded jeans with shoes that were ragged.  Robby was the taller of the two, with a shock of light brown hair that puffed up in the front.  Mitch’s hair was reminiscent of the Beatle haircut of the sixties but a bit more ragged; it has been a while since he had a haircut. They approached me slowly and shyly, with Mitch keeping his eyes on the ground in front of them.

I leaned on the broom.  “Well, hey, guys.  Robby and Mitch, what brings you down here today?  How far did you walk?”

Robby nodded towards the highway.  “Only about a mile away.  I live back in that group of houses, over there across that hill.”  He cleared his throat and blinked.  Something was on his mind, but he was hesitant to share it.  Mitch started kicking and scuffling his foot on the curb.

“W-we liked last week, here at the church with you and all,” said Robby.  “But I wanted to ask you about … a-about him.”  He nodded toward Mitch, who still didn’t look up.

“Yes?  What is it you need to know?” I asked.

Robby gulped.  “We wanted to know if you allow people to come who don’t have any parents.”

I was confused.  “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

Robby pointed to Mitch.  “He don’t have no parents.”

Mitch broke out sobbing.

My heart ached.  I don’t know why, but somehow these two boys had imagined that there was some sort of a limitation on admittance into the youth group.  They were so concerned that they had trudged along a highway up to our property to personally ask me if Mitch “qualified” to come to our gatherings.

“Of course you can come, Mitch, anytime you want to,” I said, putting the broom aside.  These boys were looking for understanding and acceptance.  I was thinking quickly for the right words to say.  “Both of you are always welcome, anytime.  Look, I come from a broken home myself, so I know what it’s like.  Say … I was looking for some fellows to help me get things together each week here at the church – you know, games and campfires and such.  Could you guys help me through this summer?”

Both boys looked up and nodded vigorously.

“Then let’s go grab some food at McDonald’s and talk about this.” And the three of us jumped in the car.

That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Robby and Mitch were practically adopted by my wife Jill, and it was many a day where the boys were coming over for dinner or just helping me cut the lawn.  Mitch lost his shyness and became an enthusiastic member, finding Christ as his Savior that summer.  Mitch became a leader within our group and within the year I assigned him speaking duties in front of the youth group.  The kids loved him and he was a vibrant and caring member of our church.

I found out that his mom walked out on his family for another man.  His father had run afoul of the law on numerous occasions and had been in jail for years.  “I wish he’d see how Jesus can change his heart,” Mitch would often comment.  “But I never get to see him to be able to talk to him.  He’ll be locked away for years and years.”

I only saw Mitch’s mom once, out in the parking lot during the week of Christmas.  She was with her boyfriend, and they pulled up quickly in the parking lot and motioned for Mitch to hop in the pickup truck’s cab with them.  His mom hurriedly gave him a Mason jar full of quarters for his Christmas present and left.  He wasn’t with them for more than ten minutes.  He held up well as he walked toward the building, but we could see the pain in his face.  Our church family embraced him as one through the years, caring for him in ways too numerous to count here and now.

My, how Mitch blossomed.

Four years passed.

The month of May rolled around.  It was Mitch’s senior year and he was about to graduate from the local public high school, so I was having him give the Bible lesson on a Wednesday night as a final charge for the younger teens.  I was outside of our church building, looking to welcome any visitors as my young group staff ran some icebreakers and opening games before our Bible study.

A thin, bearded man shuffled up to me in the parking lot.  He was wearing an ill-fitting three-piece suit that seemed almost a decade out of date.  His face was worn and haggard, and his glasses kept sliding down his nose.

“How are you doing, sir?” I said, shaking his hand.

“Ah,” he responded.  “Times have been hard.  I’ve been through a lot these past years.”  He looked around.  “I think I’m on the wrong part of your church property, but I ain’t sure.  I guess I’m lost.”

“Are you looking for the adult Bible study class?” I asked.

“No, sir,” he replied.  “I wanna know where the teens are meetin’.”

I was confused.  “But … I mean, the age…”

He smiled slightly.  “My son’s in that meetin’ and I want to see him.”  He grinned wider.  “In fact, I want to surprise him.”

Something went off in my brain.  “Are you…?”

“I’m Mitch’s dad,” he said. “An’ I’ve been in prison many a year, but I got an early release.  He doesn’t know I’m gonna be here.  I hear he’s doing good and I want to see for myself.”  He gave me a conspiratorial look.  “Can you sneak me in, unnoticed?”

I smiled and nodded.  “Let’s do it.”

I slipped him in the back door as the meeting progressed.  I would have given anything to see the look on Mitch’s face, but I got a tap on the shoulder.

A church worker leaned over and whispered to me.  “Pastor needs to see you.  We have a plumbing problem.”  Reluctantly I left the room.  I wasn’t able to get back until after the teen meeting.  But here’s what I heard:

Mitch started giving his Bible message.

Mitch saw his dad.

Both started sobbing aloud and embraced while the rest of the teen group surrounded them.

Mitch was able to compose himself and finish his Bible sermon.

Mitch’s dad sat up with a start.  This was a new message…

Mitch’s father came to Christ that night.

Led by his own son.

I came upon a weeping group of teens who were cheering and laughing.  Mitch’s dad was in the midst of them, clinging to his son.  I shook his hand vigorously.  “This is quite a night for both of you,” I said, laughing.

Mitch nodded.  “Never would I have expected this to happen.  The Lord works miracles, doesn’t He?”

Mitch’s dad raised a finger to the sky.  “I’ve had a life I am not proud of, to be sure.  But things will be different from now on.”

As I finish up this happy story I thought I’d share another joyous note:  Mitch is an active youth pastor, serving faithfully at his North Carolina church for over a decade now.  He and his wife have raised some awesome Godly children.

I can’t stop smiling as I type this.

Some stories are incredibly enjoyable.  This, my friends, is one of them.

 

 

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I want to remind you about a fine Christian resource for you to review.  Barb Hyde – a dear friend of the Zockoll family – runs the Mustard Seed Resources online Christian bookstore.  You’ll find a wide range of top-level books as well as some great discounts.  Please peruse and find some great summer reading that could impact you for life:

https://www.facebook.com/mustardseedresources

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