Antwan's Story (not his real name)

I led Antwan to Christ during "teen church" at El Vista.  He was 14 and rode the bus to church.  When I met him, he had experience smoking, stealing, being locked up, committing fornication - once with a girl who's name he didn't know, and he had a very short fuse.  Some kids respect "church people," but he even had trouble with that. 

I told him I didn't know how I could help him, but I would always be his friend.  He moved away, but I stayed in contact with him, even driving 2 hours to visit him a couple times/year.  He has since fathered a daughter, moved back to Peoria, been suspended from high school and is currently on probation.   I recently asked him if he knew his dad and his reply was, "What do you mean?  Do I know his name, or what he looks like?"   

Antwan is now 17 years old and tells me he loves me, unashamedly hugs me, NEVER disrespects me, and listens when I speak to him.  His countenance lights up when I tell him I believe he is a good man, but has weaknesses to overcome, and that God has a great future in store for him.  He grins when I tell him I believe He will be a good father to his daughter. 

Honestly, I don't know how to motivate him to even finish school.  He wants a job so I took him to fill out applications - some of them were like a foreign language to him.  I hoped that would help him see the importance of finishing high school.  His mom is afraid to put him back in school because if he gets in another fight, which he likely would, he'll have to go back to jail for violating probation - again.

I love Antwan and have decided to treat him as I would my own son in any given situation.  I don't always know what to do, but the other day his mom called and said their furnace was down and could I possibly bring them some blankets or a space heater.  My first thought was "how can I get out of this," but then the Lord reminded me that if Antwan was my son, I would be sure he was warm, whether or not I believed his mother and even if I was inconvenienced.

I can pray for Antwan.  I can be there for Antwan when it doesn't keep me from my first family (biological) or my work.  I can teach Antwan to take the next step.  I don't have to figure out how he will get out of the tough situations he is in.  I just need to help him discover the "next step" he needs to work on this week.  By God's grace, Antwan will become a godly husband and step at a time. 

Antwan knows I am starting Next Step and enthusiastically gave me permission to share his story.

Would you take a moment to ask God to provide for, protect, and guide Antwan?



Michael's Story (He's already taken his last step.)

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.

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