(*Steve Wasson, Chris Hancock and myself after serving a week with Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina. We were ‘legends’ in our own mind.)
Outside of high school, I got involved in the high school youth group at Faith Bible Church in Cincinnati and these relationships would have the power to turn my life around. I was a kid who was kind of private and independent and had become quite good at hiding the pain and anger that was witihin and only at times acted out on. I put on the front that I had it together and I didn’t want to be messed with. I grew up in and around church but to be honest, I didn’t buy any of it. If you asked me how I really felt about it, I’d tell you it was a joke. No one actually lived what they said they believed, it was purely lip service you do because you feel obligated. You look and act nice in church and then do and live however you want to outside of the pristine and clean walls. However, as an impressionable teenage boy, I was a mixture of pride/ego/testastrone and a heart/mind that was thirsting for something true. I played the part of going on missions trips and serving others in the name of Christ, getting involved in the leadership roles of youth group, while not sharing that I didn’t buy any of it. Rather, youth group gave me a place to belong and I found that refreshing for a kid that felt otherwise lost.
Part of my role in leadership within the youth group was being matched up with one of the youth leaders who would ‘disciple’ me. I had grown up to this point with little to no relationship with my Father so this was an interesting idea that someone who was a well respected member of the church would pay particular attention to me to help me develop as a young leader. I found it all curious and went along. The man’s name was Greg House and I’m not sure I could underestimate this statement, ‘his life changed mine’. He was the first person I ever met in or around church that lived exactly what he said he believed. I don’t mean he was perfect, it was just that his pursuit of Christ was also his actual life and that really messed me up. I suspect he knew about my double life, he was no dummy and often asked me spiritual questions that would haunt me when I tried to go to sleep at night. After a New Year’s even bender of a drinking night my junior year of high school, I went to meet with Greg and he asked me some very pointed questions that I tried to deny. I left his house and remember vividly that it was a pouring rain. This is where the story gets a bit mystical, I had the overwhelming feeling that God in the person of Christ was in the car with me. This was the beginning of many spiritual experiences throughout my life that would shape the person I am and the life I live. I felt an incredible amount of love that night from the presence of God in my life and all I can say is my heart changed. He became a Father to the fatherless and it was an offer I wanted to receive. It wasn’t about me anymore, I was caught up into a thirst for the things of God and his Kingdom. That was my conversion experience and to this day, I haven’t stopped that pursuit. My life became defined by my faith and ongoing spirituality of being a follower of Christ. Greg would pass away a few years later to brain cancer and I miss him greatly. I carry the legacy of his life in me and I’ve been able to travel the world and give away the same faith he impacted me with, for this I’m incredibly grateful.
To be active in this youth group at FBC led by the most ‘go getter’ youth pastor of all time, Keith Missel, meant that you would have numerous opportunities to go on short-term missions trips and these trips were formative to me. I learned about poverty first-hand, that the world was not my suburban bubble. I learned that when I was serving others, I felt incredlbly fulfilled and purposeful, that living the life of a spoiled American teenager really didn’t satisfy. I also received an evangelical foundation of the teachings of the Scriptures that have become what I would organize my life around. Keith was so passionate about his faith that it was infectious to the rest of us. He as well played a huge role in mentoring and shaping me at a time where I was vulnerable and an ‘open book’. It was also in this youth group that I would serve with in leadership roles a certain stud athlete named Nicki Long. I will share on this in a future blog, but it was predicted by Keith that Nicki and I would marry, and he was correct. Keith would have the honor of marrying us a couple years after high school.
I have 1,000 stories about my time at FBC. I’m thankful for a place to belong at a time when I needed it. I’m thankful that belonging led to my believing and a faith that would be the center of my life. I’m thankful to have had such rich experiences at a young age that opened my eyes and helped me see the poverty of our world and what grave need was all around us. I’m thankful for rich friendships with peers and leaders that last a lifetime. I’m thankful for inheriting a legacy of spiritual leadershp that propelled me to a life of the same everyday since. Though I pursue my faith differently today than they do at FBC, I’m thankful for this foundation. None of us come to where we are in a vacuum, we particpate in a received tradition. FBC is a formative part of that for me.