This is something I’ve been meaning to post for months. This first appeared in our church newsletter this past spring, and most recently at Disciples Today (subscription required).
The day that Ryan was baptized was an amazing one at church. It was the first baptism at a church service in a long time, and it was amazing to hear a lanky 17 year old African American kid, publicly share, with tears, how much his grandma meant to him and thank her for sending him to church.
The following was written by JB, the big brother in this powerful story. JB’s putting his faith into action is an inspiration to me.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.James 1:26-27
One goal of the BigBrother/Big Sisters program is for every “Lil” that is matched to learn to walk a better path of life into adulthood as a result of the impact impressed upon them by their “Big.” And, as I witnessed Ryan’s appreciation, devotion, and love for our great God grow, I changed my visions for him. My goals were no longer for him to stay out of trouble and be the first in his family to graduate from high school and matriculate into college same year. But, I felt that if he were to see me living the Christian life and love him as my neighbor; then perhaps he’d desire such a life too, and by choosing to do this, any of the goals outlined by BBBS would be surpassed.
Over the past 2 years, it’s been extremely gratifying to see my vision for Ryan’s life, become his own vision for his life because of our Incredible Father. And, I know that February 19, 2006 is a day that neither of us will forget.
God reminds us to look after widows and orphans. Ryan’s grandmother, Cassie, did just that by choosing to care for him almost from birth, since neither his mother nor father were able to. And, instead of having Ryan or his brother and sister go into state custody, Cassie fought for them and won. Yet, she knew that she could use some help.
After becoming a Christian (1995), I ceased my involvement in my fraternity, as a way of “cutting off” a lifestyle that fostered my own arrogance and pride – yet, the tenets of strengthening the African-American race were still well-rooted within me. One particular newsletter featured an article on the work my fraternity was doing with BBBS. I then took this as a sign that I should re-activate my membership and be apart of this cool mentoring program.
The Match & Activities
The social worker weighed my interests with Ryan’s, our talkative personalities, and looked at our addresses and realized that we were only a 5 minute drive from each other; and recommended that we become a “match.” I believe it was God’s hand working ultimately, though. I believe that God wanted Jesus to become Ryan’s Big Brother and that for that to happen, he’d wanted to use me, Courtney (my wife), the Teens, Cellinos, Rhodes, and the entire Columbus Church of Christ family.
Over the first few years, Ryan noticed how important worshiping God was to me. He also saw how Courtney and I never yelled, or cursed at each other. Conversely, I noticed that Ryan was not catching his local church bus anymore, so I asked his grandmother if he could come to our church for an outdoor service. She consented and he can probably still tell you this day what it was like over 5 years ago to have been hugged by strangers. But, now what’s cool is that he’s giving hugs and initiating conversations.
Ryan begins pursuing God
After I became a graduate student (again) and a father, and Ryan moved down the street our hang times seemed to become more. We’d talk, play basketball, I used to cut his hair, run errands for his grandmother, and some times Ryan would just randomly stop by. Over time, I felt more compelled to serve not just Ryan, but his family as well. This was reciprocated, because he now felt extremely comfortable around my family and friends.
Ryan began showing an interest in coming to church with us. He started making friends like Owen, Greg, and James. He felt that his friends at school were not genuine, but that the people at church loved him unconditionally. Ryan began to soak up God’s Word so much that he would often be able to describe key points in each sermon to us as Courtney and I would give him rides back to home. Ryan also began to attend the Teen activities that were planned.
I believe that the Teens and their activities helped Ryan feel and see the power of God’s love and helped him realize that he could one day stand up for God as a High School student. Seeing others change and get baptized made the ideal very tangible. He was having fun with kids his own age, as his grandmother wanted, but the type of fun he was having was fun as God intended it to be.
So, in January of last year, Ryan committed to learning and applying some of the principles associated with righteous living. Then this January, he began learning about Discipleship, told us that he wanted to become a true follower of Jesus’, and challenged Greg and I to be more vigilant in teaching him. Finally, there came February 19th. The day that “Lil’ Ryan” proclaimed before his grandmother, mother, and spiritual brothers and sisters that Jesus is Lord!!
To infinity and Beyond!
The bond that Ryan and I share had always been special, but now it’s eternal. Instead of just doing homework together and going on bike ride, now we’ll share our faith together and teach his friends and family that the only way to truly be on a better path in life is to be grateful for God’s love and make Jesus Lord of their lives, too.