More than ten years ago, Pastor Dennis McCoy began a beautiful ministry at our church; a bus ministry for inner city kids in Barberton. Among the children who faithfully hopped on the bus each Sunday morning was Michael--a skinny, quiet, earnest little fellow whose reverence in church never seemed to match his family situation. We didn't know much about that situation, other than that his father was an alcoholic, not frequently in the home... his mother was an alcoholic too, and--we later learned--a drug addict. Time passed, and a lot of changes occured in our church, including a new pastor. Michael grew, vertically in particular. Taller and skinnier, he still faithfully traipsed to church each Sunday and, on the verge of teenage years now, his interest in God began to grow. It began to change him from a child to a young man. Already prematurely "adult" because of the man he had to be in the home (his father in-and-out of prison, sometimes abusive, now living with another woman), his mature leadership in his home began to draw his mother to church more frequently. Oh, she used to appear for Christmas pageants or special events, but now she began attending regularly.
And one day, Jesus found her, huddling miserably at the bottom of the pit she had dug herself into. He reached down, grabbed her outstretched hands, and pulled her out of the drug addiction, out of the alcoholism, out of the hopelessness. Jan's entire countenance changed! Her face was radiant. Her spirit was ALIVE. Her heart was set free and she wanted to tell the world about it...and she did! Co-workers, family members, random strangers.... and Michael's dad.
But Michael's dad, Mike, was still in prison; literally and figuratively. He had told Jan that he wasn't going to make a choice to follow God unless he was willing to give himself completely to that decision. As it was, the chains still bound him in a vicious cycle of homelessness, abusive habits, alcoholism, and prison. One day, back in prison, he asked for a Bible. And he began to read it. Longing filled his heart and he realized that he, too, had had enough. He surrendered. And suddenly, still in prison, his heart was set free! When he was released, we were amazed by the change in him. His face was radiant; his manner was kind and humble. Mike's desire was to repair the relationship with Jan and become the father he'd never been to Michael. He, too, began to tell the world about what had happened to him. Parol officers, family, and old friends. He can sometimes be found quietly weeding the church grounds or manicuring the flower beds without telling a soul what he's doing. He's been given so much by God, and he's looking for ways to give back.
Soon his nephew, Bobby, saw the change in his uncle. He couldn't believe that the angry, fighting, drunken man he had once known was this gentle, kind, joyful stranger. Bobby realized that something was missing from his own life. He realized that the drugs and alcohol had stripped him from everything that was once important to him, and he couldn't save himself from it no matter how hard he tried. He began to attend church with his uncle. And a few months ago, he too prayed for salvation from his chains. He's begun bringing his family members to church, and his daughter in particular-aware of the change in her dad- is eager to know more about God.
A couple weeks ago, we held a baptism in a public park. Curious onlookers watched and a few unconcerned ducks and geese floated past as a family (finally a family!)-- mother, father, and son-- entered the water. In this public setting for all the world to see, they symbolically left their old life at the murky bottom of the lake, and rose with shouts of victory and hands upraised in glorious praise to the Savior Who had delivered them from the depths of sin!
A quiet, skinny kid had led them to this place... and the faithfulness of numerous believers had facilitated it. Pastor McCoy had planted, countless faithful believers had watered, and here we were seeing the fruit. And already, that fruit is bearing more fruit. Those of you who had a part in this beautiful day, rejoice to see the pictures below!!!
Last Sunday in church, Jan stood up front and sang with tears in her eyes,
"My chains are gone... I've been set free...My God, my Savior, has ransomed me! And like a flood His mercy reigns... unending love; amazing grace."
I wish you could have seen her.
She was radiant.
These are the things our Great God offers to us!