Thoughts and updates from the Director of Next Step
|Posted on 25 April, 2016 at 1:50||comments ()|
On a recent Friday night, I took a young man who is growing up without his dad, to a Peoria Rivermen hockey game. It turned out to be a pretty special night, but first let me tell you how God brought me and Brandon (the young man) to that point.
Brandon is in 7th grade and lives with his mom and younger sister in an apartment 17 miles from my house. I met Brandon at our church's Vacation Bible School two summers ago. On a follow up visit to his home, his mom told me that his dad lived in a distant state and was not very involved in his life.
Brandon's mother doesn't usually attend church, but she drops Brandon off for youth group most Wednesday nights. Though I am not involved in the youth group, I always try to look for Brandon and chat with him for a few minutes after church. I've earned the trust of his mom, too, by introducing my family to her and chatting with her occasionally when she comes to pick him up.
When a couple of free hockey game tickets were made available at my work recently, I immediately thought of Brandon. I'm sure it was the Lord who put him on my mind. When I asked Brandon's mom if I could take him, she was very grateful. And, Brandon's face was beaming.
After the game, everyone was invited to Section 2 where a talented guitarist named Phil led us in singing some songs like "It Is Well With My Soul." Then a former Rivermen player named Mark preached about God's love. He also told us there is a chapel service every Thursday when the Rivermen are home, and he introduced us to three of the players who have given their life to Christ. What an awesome experience this was for me and Brandon after an incredibly exciting game! (Score became tied with 16 seconds remaining then the Rivermen won in overtime.)
I had no idea it was "Faith and Family Night" when we showed up, but it was inspiring to see how God got us there on that particular night. It sparked great conversation with Brandon on the way home, too.
No doubt, there are young men (and adult men) like Brandon in your life. They may not fit his description exactly, but whether they realize it or not, they need a man who follows Christ to befriend, encourage, and invest in them.
We're all busy. We all have good reasons to leave the mentoring to someone else. But let me encourage you to:
Look up - God has probably placed someone nearby to whom you should minister. Look for him.
Speak up - Think of something encouraging to say, or ask questions that show you care.
Step up - Don't commit more to your "Brandon" than you can give, but don't keep from giving because you fear commitment. And then,
Watch God Show up - you never have to do His work alone! (Matthew 28:20)
|Posted on 1 December, 2013 at 7:00||comments ()|
Dear Friends of Next Step,
A man got a job as a woodcutter. He was very excited about his new work, and worked diligently every day cutting trees. However, even though he put in the same number of hours and worked just as hard each day he found himself cutting down fewer trees each day than he had the day before. After a week of diminishing results, he went to his boss to assure him he was working as hard as ever. His boss said, “Have you spent any time at all sharpening your axe?” He had been so busy chopping trees that he had allowed his axe to become dull.
For the past several months I have been working in the forest of fatherless guys with a dull axe. I am physically tired and spiritually drained. I have succumbed to the flesh on multiple occasions and sin has dominated some areas of my life. My axe is dull.
After seeking godly counsel, I have determined to significantly slow down in my work with Next Step. For a season, I do not intend to promote or further develop Next Step. Lord willing, this will be a time of spiritual “axe sharpening” and personal revival, as well as relationship strengthening in our family. I will continue to mentor the guys I have already established relationships with, but our meetings will be less often. This time may be could be called a Sabbatical, fulough, or simply a break.
We praise the Lord for what He has done through Next Step the last several weeks. For 2 months our family was privileged to care for 16-year-old “Kent” (read his story here) in our home. He was in need of an immediate placement when his foster parent became incarcerated. While he was with us we saw his attitude improve, his self-control increase, and his grades go from D’s and F’s to 2 A’s, 2 C’s, and just 1 D. He has now moved to a permanent foster home but we expect to continue to be involved in his life, Lord willing. It was precious to hear him pray with our family at night before bed – a practice I hope will stick with him!
We have continued to host monthly prayer meetings where our list of fatherless guys keeps growing. The youngest on the list is 8 months old and the oldest is 48. We appreciate Berea Baptist Church of Bartonville, IL and El Vista Baptist Church of Peoria, IL who have not failed to have members present at every one of these prayer meetings for over a year. What an encouragement! Even the pastors come!
On November 21, Kristina and I hosted our first Thank You Event for Personal Investors. It was awesome to hear two fatherless young men and the mother of one share how Next Step has had an impact in their lives! Trayvon is in 7th grade and his mother accompanied him to the Event. Devon, who just a few months ago was homeless has since graduated from high school and is living in his own apartment. During this event, we also asked our Personal Investors to consider witholding their fincancial support while we take this break.
If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts, we would love to hear from you. We’ll do our best to reply in a timely manner. Thank you so much for your support, interest, and prayers in this work. God bless you.
Standing in the Gap,
|Posted on 20 March, 2013 at 6:00||comments ()|
Last week, I worked 49 hours for Peoria Charter Coach and about 30 hours for or with fatherless young men. I'm not sure I have ever given that much time in a week to work, but the results were worth the sacrifice. (The PCC shift supervisor who works on my days off is on vacation for a couple of weeks.) In fact, I even had a "26 Hour Day" on Friday. After working 3rd shift, I went to bed Friday morning. I got up at 3 PM and remained awake until 5:30 the next evening! But God's grace was sufficient and He rewarded my effort to accomplish everything He wanted me to do that "day."
On that Saturday (March 16) the Lord sent 17 men from 5 different churches to El Vista Baptist Church in Peoria, Illinois to be trained to "Stand in the gap for fatherless guys." It was our first Next Step Mentor Training and it was a smashing success. I was grateful for the testimonies, ideas, and comments the men in attendance provided during the sessions. Their feedback after the training was helpful and encouraging as well. God truly helped us that day, and I genuinely appreciate the prayers offered by many who are reading this post.
Next Step is steadily moving forward. Where are we going? Our destination is a ministry that motivates and equips churches to effectively reach the fatherless. Before we aggessively begin the motivating part (contacting churches and sharing our burden) we want to be ready to equip. I truly believe God is going to do something great through this work. Many have commented that this is a needed ministry. Once the tools are available for them to use, I will challenge those who believe in the need for this work to get involved! Already, the Lord has allowed us to preach in over 20 churches many of which allowed us to present our burden.
May God raise up stable, godly men to stand in the gap. My role is motivate and equip. I cannot mentor every fatherless young man, but together you and I can make a difference!
Standing in the Gap,
|Posted on 25 January, 2013 at 7:15||comments ()|
It may appear as though this website is not updated very often - and this is true. It is my hope that eventually our website will become a powerful resource for guys growing up without fathers and for those who care about them. However, at this time the website serves primarily as an introduction to Next Step and a place to gain more information than is printed in one of our brochures. It also provides a way for people to apply for our services or contact us.
For those interested in more frequent updates on Next Step and thoughts from me, the founder and director, please visit our facebook page. You do not have to be a facebook user (or abuser!) to view the information on our facebook page. Simply click the following link or type the address in your browser. You will not have to open an account to view the page, but you will need one to post comments. http://www.facebook.com/nextstep.hope
In case you're wondering... Next Step is growing slowly, but surely. I have been blessed to have been promoted to 3rd shift supervisor at Peoria Charter Coach. This has given me wonderful flexibility during the day time and allows me to spend time almost every week one-on-one with three fatherless young men. We have continued to host monthly prayer meetings and look forward to training our first group of mentors in February of this year (2013).
Please remember to pray for fatherless boys and men and for me and my family as we seek to follow the Lord's direction in this ministry. I will update this blog from time to time, but since our facebook audience is much larger than our website's audience you'll find the most current posts on facebook.
Standing in the Gap,
|Posted on 1 August, 2012 at 19:15||comments ()|
God has chosen to meet some of our financial needs by allowing me to drive for Peoria Charter Coach. A coworker of mine who heard about Next Step asked if we could help his great nephew. I only promised to add him to our prayer list, but ended up taking the 16 year old young man out to lunch and was privileged to lead him to Christ!
He grew up without a father in his home and himself has fathered 2 children (one still on the way) by 2 different girls. Only the grace of God and perhaps a loving, godly mentor will prevent the cycle of fatherlessness from continuing in this young man's children's lives. I have hope because we serve a mighty and gracious God!
I am thankful that God has provided a Treasurer for Next Step. Jim Rassi has begun auditing and overseeing the use of financial gifts. He is a man of integrity with a passion for reaching young people. His experience working with church finances is an added blessing. He is an answer to our specific prayer request about a treasurer and we're grateful to have him on board!
Since February when we started keeping track (of most of them), God has allowed me to invest well over 550 hours in this ministry. What did I do during those hours? The majority the time has been spent with young men. I've had them to our house for dinner, taken them to revival meetings, gone out to breakfast and lunch, begun working through a book called Talks My Father Never Had with Me (by Harold Davis), even getting "high" - when we visited the Peoria Heights Water Tower (pictured above)!
Time has also been spent developing this website, writing letters and thank you notes, meeting with men who have more wisdom than I, preparing messages for churches where I've been invited to speak, and reading books relevant to this ministry. This only averages to about 21.5 hours/week, but that doesn't tell the whole story. From February to June I would spend up to 50 hours in a week working on this ministry. Since the end of June I have been driving a motorcoach (as mentioned above) and my time given to Next Step has been 8-10 hours each week.
God is faithful and this ministry will grow in His time as I follow Him with my whole heart. Unfortunately, the heart is deceitful and desparately wicked. Pray that God helps me stay right so Next Step will grow right! It's been a joy to see Him at work so far.
Finally, let me praise God for bringing us up to 5 Personal Investors so far with 2 more committed to begin investing soon. Also grateful for 2 churches, both who have begun supporting our family and 1 supporting NS as well.
Standing in the gap,
|Posted on 9 May, 2012 at 18:00||comments ()|
Dear Pastors and Leaders in Ministry,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and in good spirits.
In my experience in ministry (20+years volunteer, 10 years full-time), I have discovered that most of our churches do not have a strategy for truly reaching fatherless young men. We touch their lives through bus ministries and youth programs, but very few of us can point to anyone in our church who “made it” if they did not have a father leading them at home. Not surprisingly, the fatherless young men who do grow up to live for God without fail had someone in their church who took them under their wing and made an intentional, personal investment in them. Sadly, most of us do not have a strategy to make sure this happens. Until now.
Next Step is a tool, a strategy that churches can use to be intentional about discipling fatherless young men. Our bus ministries are full of kids whose dads are absent. Our Christian schools often have students whose fathers do not participate in their lives. Our congregations abound with single moms. Our communities are saturated with “fatherless” young men. And yet so many of these young men grow up without ever connecting to a godly role model. God is the “father of the fatherless,” yet our track record (at least mine) in leading fatherless young men to follow God into adulthood is awful.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit [to care for, to look after] the fatherless and the widow…” If we look honestly at our ministries, how many of us can say we are truly caring for the fatherless? We may be caring for their ride to church or perhaps for some of their physical needs, but we need men to stand in the gap for absent fathers and consistently demonstrate the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father in these young men’s lives. These boys need role models to demonstrate what it is to be a good husband and father! They need godly people praying for them, too.
To put it bluntly, we’ve started working on this, and the need is greater than our resources. At this point I have no regular income, but I do have a strategy in mind to receive one through 100 individual “investors.” (Click here for details.) While waiting for God to provide these supporters, we are dependent on gifts from His people and part time work as a substitute teacher to make ends meet. It is expedient to write at this time as the school year is coming to an end. Though we have had no regular income since August of 2011, God has allowed us to remain debt-free except our house and we are current on all of our regular bills. Praise God!
Obviously, we need financial support, but our greatest needs are the power, wisdom, and favor of God. As you know, no great work for God has ever succeeded apart from the prayers of God’s people. Part of the strategy of Next Step is to conduct prayer meetings to specifically pray for our growing list of fatherless young men. We pray for God to provide for their needs, extend grace in their lives, connect them to godly role models, etc. We pray for laborers to minister to fatherless young men, as well. (Click here for NS Prayer Meeting dates.)
Of course, we need growing, godly men to mentor boys, too! So, what’s your “next step” after reading this letter? I do not know, but would you please take a moment to ask the Lord about it. Here are some things to consider that would be a blessing to us, and thereby to fatherless young men.
• Allow me to come preach in your church to cast a vision for truly reaching the fatherless or just come and spend 10 minutes in a service presenting Next Step
• Announce or Host a Next Step Prayer Meeting
• Consider supporting Next Step (the work) on a monthly basis
• Consider helping me enlist men to become 1 of 100 Personal Investors
• Consider sending a one time gift of support for my family
• Consider allowing me to do a “mentor training” in your church or even help you set up a mentoring ministry.
• Begin praying for us!
A brief example of the young men I am working with is "Kent." I met him when I was his public school bus driver (4th grade). I invited him to ride the bus to El Vista, which he did. He got saved, baptized and rode the bus often. In 7th grade his mother died suddenly in a car wreck. His father has only ever had monthly supervised visits with him. In 8th grade, he made honor roll. This year he is in 9th grade and making straight “F’s.” We spend a lot of time together and I asked him what changed in his grades. He said that his father promised to show up for his 8th grade graduation but did not and he was hurt and angry. I told him that to the best of my ability I would be present to cheer him on for high school graduation. (Click here to read "Kent's" story.)
I’ve also told him he can do nothing that will make me care about him less (I learned this from God). Amazingly, he has responded to me better now as a mentor than he ever did when I was his youth pastor. This is just one example of the many young men I am working with. And, the measure of success will not be how well he turns out but how well I fulfill my responsibility to “stand in the gap” for his absent father.
Another benefit of a ministry like Next Step is that it will get fathers thinking about how they are rearing their sons. The young men whose dads do not intentionally train them to know and follow God are often the ones who drop out of church, have children out of wedlock, and fail to lead their families in the way of the Lord. Dad may have been physically present, but not intentional about personally equipping and motivating his son to become a good Christian, husband, father, and citizen. The message of intentionally mentoring and unconditionally loving will impact the lives of young men whose fathers are present as well as those whose fathers are not.
I would love to hear from you, pastor friend. I cannot do this great work alone. Please, would you sincerely seek the Lord about whether you should get involved in this ministry in some way.
May God bless you and your work.
Standing in the gap,
|Posted on 9 April, 2012 at 1:50||comments ()|
This week at Next Step: If you don't have time to read it all, just read the highlights marked with an *.
*Took my son and a new NS boy to the riverfront, Bass Pro, and lunch. He's an intelligent, helpful 5th grader and God has a great future planned for him. His biological dad lives out of state and he has no father figure living with him. Glad his mom found us on facebook. Going to have to start recruiting and training men to be mentors - my personal group is almost too big to keep up with.
*Spoke with a divorced mom at a church we attended who says she's been dropping hints for men to spend time with her son, but no one has really picked up on it yet. She was a little discouraged by this but was very happy (began smiling!) when I asked to include her son on our NS prayer list and begin working to find him a mentor. And, I hung out with him this week, too. He's a good guy in a new high school. I've got hope for his future!
One evening this week I took 3 NS guys to a revival meeting in Danvers, IL. I was afraid they wouldn't really want to go to church, but hanging out with each other and hanging out with me and stopping for ice cream on the way home may have helped. I wonder if any of their fathers ever took them to an "extra church service?" They paid attention and we talked about the message on the way home...a little. Mostly we joked and stuff ourselves with the free junk food the church sent us home with. I picked up and dropped off the boys strategically so I could spend some time talking one on one with 2 of them.
One of my NS guys called me this week. He had punched a whole in the door because he was angry about spilling bleach on his shoes. He asked if I could buy him a new pair (I bought him the ones he spilled on). I've got to be honest - I'm no expert on how to be an excellent mentor who stands in the gap for an absentee father. So, I told him what I think my dad would have said. I'm paying you to read a book - finish reading it and you can use the money to buy a new pair. Still trying to figure out how to help him get over his anger issues. For now, I'm just committed to caring about him whether he is angry or self-controlled. Pray for him...and the people around him!
*I was thrilled when a student for whom I have been praying gave me a call this week. I had known him as a grade school student and recently ran into him while volunteering at Manual. He has grown up without a father in his home, attended some of the churches I am friends with, and he knows the Lord (but sometimes struggles with how God fits into his life). He also has serious, yet understandable anger issues. I had been praying for him even though he missed a couple of my attempts to take him to lunch. But this week he called me! We went to lunch, I helped him get his driver's license replaced, and we had prayer together. He hopes to be a state trooper after going to college. Please pray for "Samson." He is strong and intelligent and "likeable." I get the impression he is a leader. Think of how God could bless and use this young man, and pray for him, please. If he lives for the Lord, he'll make an AWESOME NS mentor one day.
I also spent a great deal of time reading, studying, and praying.
*I am very concerned about choosing the right board...I guess I'm a perfectionist. I keep thinking I don't want to make a mistake. Maybe I should just start asking people who I think would make a good team and let God work out the details. Aside from my personal ministry, NS as an organization is at a stand still until this matter is cared for.
I joined Big Brother Big Sisters as a volunteer this week. 2 reasons: 1- There is a young man on their waiting list who I met at Manual. I hope to become his Big Brother since his mom has already agreed to him having one. 2 - I wanted to learn from the "professional mentors." Just reading their list of potential problems in mentoring (in the volunteer manual) has already been a real help to me. Makes me realize that some of the experiences I've had are normal.
I took Thursday off to celebrate my sweet Luke's 4th birthday. My wife does a great job making birthdays special at our house.
*I know that my work is different than most people's work, but I am confident it is what God has given me to do. Each week I act as though I have an employer and will be receiving a paycheck. I document my activity every day in a log book and average 40+ hours each week. And, I love my job!
*My family and I have been trusting God to meet our needs, and He has consistently done so. It has been humbling to literally get on my knees and ask Him to take care of us. I didn't do that too much when I had a regular paycheck coming.
This experience has also increased my faith and given me numerous opportunities to see God's grace through the generosity of people who love Him. A couple of weeks ago I was handed an envelope with my name on it and $1,000 cash inside. The gift was anonymous, but I'm confident it came from someone who loves the Lord. At a Rivermen game I attended with a NS guy, someone asked how my ministry was going and how I was personally supported. I said, we're like missionaries - we're going to have to raise support. The person handed me $50. Of course, we tithed on God's provision, but we were also able to pass on a portion of God's provision to some friends who needed it. I love God's economy! (Also, I'm glad I'm married to a beautiful woman who is not stingy! She insists that we tithe and gladly agrees to share even more of our income.)
God has not only provided through gifts, but also through opportunities to earn money at just the right times. I was asked to substitute teach for 6 weeks at one point when we needed funds. This kept me from being able to work on NS like I wanted to, but it became obvious that God wanted me teaching at that time.
*Without a regular income, it is difficult to create a budget, but even this forces us to pray about every expense. So far, as we have sought God's wisdom and tried not to be frivolous in our spending, we have continued to live as well as we ever did with a paycheck, and God has enabled us to remain debt-free except the mortgage!
*Wow! I sure didn't mean to turn this post into all that! If you've read this much, God bless you! And thanks!
*Since I did end up talking about finances, let me mention an awesome opportunity to become 1 of 100 Personal Investors. You would DIRECTLY impact the lives of countless fatherless young men if God led you to participate in this unique opportunity. Click 100 Investors in the menu for more info.
|Posted on 11 February, 2012 at 11:05||comments ()|
Here's a new idea to help us reach fatherless young men...
I am looking forward to developing Next Step, but between part time work and creating this non-profit, learning to build a website, etc., I feel like I am drifting from the real work...spending time with the fatherless.
So, here's an idea that probably didn't come from Satan...host some prayer meetings in churches that will direct people to pray for Next Step, I'll take 5-10 minutes to present the work during a regular church service (with the pastor's permission, of course) and then we'll announce a 1 hour prayer meeting that will be held on site at a future time (perhaps that evening or a different day).
This allows me to discover who is interested in helping the fatherless, but more importantly it is the right way to get this ministry going.
Pastors and leaders, contact us if you would be willing to help fatherless young men in this way.
|Posted on 11 February, 2012 at 10:00||comments ()|
God cares about guys who don't have a dad around. Here's what He has to say about it:
Psalm 82:3,4 - Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
2 Timothy 2:2 - And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
James 1:26,27 - If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.