A Heart for Men and A Calling to Shepherd

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Stops Along the Way 2: My guardian angel

It has been a few months since my last SAW post, and while the Lord had introduced me to a number of new Christian brothers and sisters at the terminal, there hasn’t been a lot to report on. Seeing as it was the last week of school, and I was preparing to leave for my summer driving position with a local coach company, I admit I’d sort of lost my focus on those “divine appointments” I should have kept asking for. Guess God was about to override my lack of faithfulness with a bucket-load of His own, in the form of a young man named Javon [name fictitious].

As a relatively new driver in the system, I and the standby drivers were given routes at the school none of the tenured drivers bid for. It is one in the district all of us trainees were continually warned about as one where the students chewed up and spit out bus drivers. Therefore, the new and standby drivers got the short straw. It is commonplace for drivers at this school to request bus assistants, who ride along with them to help with student management so they can focus on their driving. As time passed, I noticed three reactions most drivers had to coping with the challenges these students presented. They would keep assistants with them as often as possible [but you don’t get them all the time because there’s not enough to go around], they would write kids up and get them suspended from their busses, or they would just give in and let the kids go crazy [which isn’t safe].

I came to view all three of these methods as defeats for me. They all indicated a lack of care for the kids, and an attitude of just wanting to get through the day with the least amount of hassle then go home. The Spirit kept on reminding me why I took this job in the first place: to make a difference in kid’s lives. If that was what I was here to do, then those ways were all, to some extent, cop-outs. Determined to not go there, I have worked hard at learning the names of the kids on my bus, talking to them individually about behavior issues, and reinforcing any hint of positive change I witnessed in them. To this point I have not had a single student suspended at my request, and at the same time I have not let the inmates rule the jailhouse.

However, much as I didn’t want to have to the end of the year was approaching, and with it the kids were becoming increasingly difficult to control. It was starting to affect my driving, as I was spending more time looking in my rearview than watching the road. Enter Javon: a young, muscular, lean [ahem, all the things I’m not these days] black man who was assigned to me upon my request for an assistant. I’ll never forget the first day he came on the bus. Very familiar with the crowd he would be playing to, he wore black pants, a black t-shirt that fit tightly over his muscular torso, and a black and red baseball cap swiveled slightly to one side. He stood in the back of the bus as the students boarded, arms folded and eyes staring at them like a cross between Triple X, the Terminator, and the guy on the bottles of Janitor in a Drum. The word “intimidating” didn’t quite cover it. I remember thinking all he needed was an ammo belt strung across his chest, and an M-16, and voila: Rambo! Regardless of how he looked to them, to me he looked like God’s guardian angel. I’ll never forget the looks in the eyes of the kids as they entered the bus, no doubt anticipating another day at the circus on the ride home. Their eyes got as big as saucers, as they paused in the stairwell and took in the fearsome view they beheld standing in the back of the bus, like a Praying Mantis ready to strike. I couldn’t help but do a few internal fist-pumps, and chuckle.

As Javon and I worked together over the first week, I came to see a side of him that very much belied his fearsome appearance. He was gentle, kind, extremely intelligent, and cared deeply about the kids. He had a unique ability to keep them under control, but not through using the intimidation he could have easily employed. As with the drivers, most assistants didn’t seem to care much about their charges, and looked at their positions as “just jobs.” Not Javon. There was something very different about this young man.

Then one day we were talking about a young woman on my route, and I commented she was one of my bigger challenges. I had established a “three strikes and you’re out” rule with the kids, and she only had one left. I had tried to talk to her, but met with the proverbial brick wall. Then Javon asked me a question that did one of those “dividing joints and marrow (Heb. 4:12)” things God loves to do to me. “Do you know her background,” he asked? I said I did not, now feeling a bit convicted about that whole wanting to make a difference stuff. “She’s a foster kid,” he said, no doubt bounced from home to home and never knowing much love, or what it meant to have true parents. A bit convicted steamrolled into one of those “day and night Your hand is heavy upon me (Ps 32:4)” moments. Enter God’s not so gentle voice asking, “So one more time, why did I send you here?”

As Javon and I got to know each other, I became more and more impressed with him. It led me one afternoon to ask him, ala Billy Joel, “Man, what are you doin’ here?” He replied, “I’m a youth minister. Here’s where the kids are who need me, so here I am. What an opportunity to make a difference in these lives!” Hmmm, where had I heard that one before? Divine appointment home run! 450 footer over the Green Monster! I told him his reason and my reason for taking this job were the same, and I shared with him some of the stories I posted in my first SAW article. He said, “Mike, I see it in you and these kids. I go out with a lot of drivers on these routes, and few of them even care to get to know the kid’s names. You may not think so, but your kids are really very good compared to the rest, and it’s obvious you care about them and they know it.”

I got to thinking the special needs kids I originally wanted to drive for get a lot of love from most drivers, assistants, and parents. But who is going to love on these “whole” kids who are anything but healed inside? All I’d heard from instructors, to other drivers, to assistants was how awful they were. Then I heard the Spirit say to mine, “Team up and help them.” So I blurted out, without really thinking about it [nawwww…really?], “Javon, what say next year we go to our supervisors as a team, ask for the toughest route they have, and minister to these kids together? We could start by calling their parents to get to know them and see how we can help their kids, learn all their names, attend some of their activities, and really show them the love of Christ?” A big smile broke out across Javon’s face, and those intelligent eyes sparkled. “We can talk about that,” he said. And so we will.

Who knows what God will do with all of this? All I know is Jesus is working everywhere: at our offices, our schools, our homes, and at all Stops Along the WAY. We just need to be willing to tag along when He says, “Follow Me,” watch, participate, and marvel at what He does. Oh well, until that next divine appointment!

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