Tuesday, July 17, 2007
I'm terrible at Good-byes. They usually make me cry.
Sunday night was no exception. My Youth Pastor said good-bye to our church, having resigned his position.
I sat in the good-bye service, in my "I survived the 'Pastor Terry Years'" t-shirt, and wondered if I could join the ranks of people lining up along the wall to say nice things about him.
One of my best friends growing up, Josh, stood up and he said what dozens of others said about him later: Pastor Terry reached out to the weird ones, the outcasts, the kids who would fall through the cracks in any other youth group. The thing is, that doesn't mean he let the "normal" ones fall through, either. But then, who's normal?
The group of junior high leaders went up as one group, and they passed the mike around. Zach "Cuch" Cuchna, one of my little brother's good friends, took the mike, shook his head, and walked out. Immediately, six others pounced on him, drew him back, and forced the mike into his hands. "Thanks."
Though that doesn't mean much to anyone who will read this, Zach spent a lot of time at my house. The fact that he went up at all is something. We are talking about the most-shy person I have ever met in my life. The night before, playing Monkey Tag, I heard him speak more than I ever had before: and he said maybe 4 sentences in the two hours I was there. The fact that he went up at all says just how much of an impact Pastor Terry made in his life.
Jeff, a guy who graduated a year ahead of me (one of the two in that class - Josh was the other), took the mike and said to the crowd in general, while Zach cowered in the back, "You don't know what it took to get him up here. And then, to Pastor T, he said, 'It's because of you that I'm up here at all. You showed me that God doesn't choose just the normal people, the outgoing people, the people others would choose. You didn't let me slip through the cracks like I wanted. And when I left, hating people, especially Christians my age, you continued to challenge me, to care about me, to pray for me. It's only because of the way God used you in my life that I can work with Junior Highers now. I know who God is, and it's because of the years of prayer, Bible studies, time and love that you poured into me. Thank you for not doing what the world would have done and tossed me out."
But the thing that made me happiest was the number of Junior Highers who stepped forward and said, "I haven't know you a long time. I'm new to the youth group (or to the church), and you welcomed me by name." Or "I'd never been to this church before, but the first time I came in, I saw this strange man with glasses and a bald head who invited me in. And then, the next week, you welcomed me by name... you cared enough about me to remember me."
To me, Pastor Terry was a second father. And his wife is a second mother. I always know I can expect a welcome, just like the kids know that.
I didn't join the ranks of people who said nice things. I wrote cards. Every time I thought about making my way forward, I burst into tears. I read, once, that you can maybe remember one message, but you can remember three to five people who have influenced you. My youth pastor influenced the lives of dozens of people, dozens of kids, just as he was called to do.
As told to me and a small group of other students one day, during a Bible study:
"I knew I had the call one night after I had a dream. There were dozens of people, walking towards a cliff, with flames pouring out of it. I kept trying to get them to turn around. 'Stop! You're heading towards Hell!' I cried. They couldn't hear me. I tried blocking them. They walked around me. Finally I started grabbing them, and turning them in the other direction. Each person I grabbed was a child, or a teen: a junior high, high school, or college student. I turned them in the other direction, and I knew, even before waking, that God had called me to work with students. And that he would do the rest."