It was a hot summer August day, driving back from Branson, after spending a week down at Kids Across America camp. Three boys were in the car, two were sleeping off the activities of the week, while another was awake, aware. Driving offers such an opportunity to think and process and I could not help but wonder what had been done in these three boys’ lives down at KAA. Three of the seven boys we took rang the bell at camp, meaning they made a decision to follow Jesus. In a rebuke to myself, I should have been more joyous about these commitments, but I am a realist when it comes to these types of moments. There is a lot to overcome for us in the world to follow Jesus, and I knew these boys’ journeys would be no different.
*John was one of those kids, and he was awake in the car. I had been really depressed in the weeks up to camp and I was genuinely refreshed by my time down there, however I needed to be reminded of God’s love for me still. In these moments, I listen to sermons and this time decided to listen to one on John 3:16. Knowing John was up, I was secretly hoping he would listen as well. He was one of the kids who rang the bell, and the one kid I wanted to reach more than all the others. He is one of those rare souls in the world who demands your attention when he walks into a room. His attitude alone would make practices an enjoyable or miserable experience. He is an influencer, and we had to reach him.
My plan worked, as the sermon played, he would often finish the preacher’s words, and I was genuinely amazed he had picked up so much in such a short amount of time. I had a lot of hope after hearing this, and prayed for continuing growth in his life. The summer ended as usual, and it was filled with more heartbreak about stories of what our boys were getting into. John was not immune.
It was a brisk April morning when Michael and I met with a social worker with the Central Division for the Kansas City Police Department. It was a difficult start to this year, after a lot of planning, praying, and hoping for a good year, one practice not one kid from the year before showed up.
Right after practice, Michael decided to open the team to other kids around the city with some tryouts, and we quickly filled our positions. Unfortunately, the shock of the original kids leaving never left me or Michael. It was just so sudden. It was this morning with the social worker that we heard what was going on with some of them.
One of our boys was being watched carefully by the KCPD for some pretty violent activity, and she was concerned about where he was heading. It was a tough conversation because we only wanted to believe the best about our kids, however the reality was starker than I wanted to believe. We showed a picture of our old team and she went through each kid saying what they had been involved in, and John was mentioned.
I walked away from Panera that morning sad, angry, depressed, hollow, wondering out loud to God, if any of the time and effort and money was worth it. At the time, I could not handle the answer so I had to walk away for the summer. Honestly, I did not want to relearn about the new kids we had, just to have the cycle repeat itself again. I did not want to spend more time to just feel loss.
Brrrr, brrrr, brrrr, my cell phone rings on Thanksgiving this year. It’s Michael. “Hey Coach Chris, how is your Thanksgiving?” “It’s pretty good,” I said. “Guess who I saw yesterday? John.” “That’s great,” I responded, knowing John is sitting in jail, awaiting trial. “John has gotten big, he is like 6’2 and ripped. He told me all he does is push-ups, pull-ups and read his Bible.” “That is puberty for you, and I am glad he is keeping himself occupied,” I said.
Michael went on to talk about all the tattoos that covered his arms, no doubt each one filled with some sort of meaning about his life. “So, get this Coach Chris, I ask him about this one new tattoo and it nearly brought tear to my eye when he said it. John said it was 4HG, Coach.”
Hours later, this brought a tear to my eye too. 4HG. It means “For His Glory.” It was what we said after every huddle and the end of every practice, to remind them, as well as ourselves we were not doing this for us, but for Him.
This was the thing I needed to hear. Maybe, just maybe, we have made an impact. Maybe it is all worth it. Maybe, just maybe, God is working. We are resolved to find out.
- Chris Guhl, Coach/Mentor