That's his real name. I met him when he was 3 or 4. I was in high school and he lived on my church bus route. I stayed in touch with his family all the way through college. He lived with his Auntie Beverly (who had taken him in at birth so he called her mom).
When Beverly was around 50 years old, she bought a house - first time she had lived anywhere but the projects she told me. When I returned to Peoria to be the youth pastor, I believe Michael was in 6th grade. Beverly told me she was worried about Michael and wanted me to spend some time with him. I promised to do so.
It was a couple weeks later and I was returning from a trip on a Saturday evening. I felt bad that I hadn't seen Michael since the conversation with his mom, so I headed to their house even though it was after dark. There were cars parked up and down the street and lots of people I didn't recognize in the house. Beverly had passed away earlier in the week and they had just had her funeral. I was devastated - take your breath away devastated.
I followed Michael as he bounced from relative to relative's house. I really wanted to adopt him, but I was young and single and no one with authority knew me well enough for me to even be considered. Eventually, he moved to Chicago to live with some of his family and I lost touch. Until one day in 2009 when he stopped by El Vista Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. Michael said he wanted to let me know he was doing well, had graduated from high school, and was planning to go to college. He even had a job, he said. He said he just wanted to say thank you for all I (and El Vista) had done for him. We exchanged phone numbers and he said he would be going back to Chicago in a few days. I was so excited for him.
Apparently, he didn't go back to Chicago. Why I never called him, I do not know. I still have his number in my phone. I sure wish I had pursued renewing our relationship because on December 26, 2010 I saw Michael's picture on the evening news. He had been murdered, without any known motive, in Peoria at the age of 20.
I believe Michael is in Heaven. Because while I couldn't "save his life" or see him grow up to be a good husband and father, I had the privilege of telling him about Jesus when he was a young boy. He put his faith in Christ for his salvation. I don't know how much his faith grew - there were lots of thorns choking it out. But, he did take that first step, praise God! I'm looking forward to seeing him in Heaven.