I led Dwayne 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?"
At the time of this writing, Dwayne is 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 Dwayne 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 Dwayne. I can be there for Dwayne when it doesn't keep me from my first family (biological) or my work. I can teach Dwayne 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, Dwayne will become a godly husband and father...one step at a time.
Dwayne 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 Dwayne?
Update: In 2016, Dwayne Jones was murdered in Peoria, IL. He was 21. It had been about 2 years since we had been in regular contact.
At his funeral, I was given the opportunity to tell about the time I was preaching in a teen church service at El Vista Baptist Church and Dwayne interrupted me and asked - Do you mean I can call on Jesus as my Savior right now and He will save me? I stopped my message and shared with him how Christ died and rose again to pay the penalty for his sins. I reminded him that the Bible says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Dwayne bowed his head and prayed out loud asking Jesus to forgive his sins and save his soul. He was as sincere as could be. Later, he made his faith in Christ public and was baptized.
I didn't get to see him grow as much as I hoped I would, but I am confident God saved him that day. And today he is in the presence of his Savior. I look forward to seeing him again one day.
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.
I was his public school bus driver when he was in about 3rd grade. He came out to the bus and shook his fists and head and screamed "They told me I need therapy!" It seemed he never got along with anybody on the bus.
So, one Saturday I stopped by his house and asked his mother if I could take him to church. I thought we could help him. She very readily agreed. He loved church, even though he got in trouble a lot. Eventually, he trusted Christ as his Savior. He was still a very angry boy. His mother told me that he had been in foster care as a toddler and severely abused by the foster family. She even showed me pictures - my heart ached for Kent. Unfortunately, Kent's mom lost her 4 kids by 3 dads to the foster care system. Kent was in 7th grade. (She lost them due to the behavior of the men she allowed to stay in her home.)
Kent's dad isn't in his life. For a long time they had supervised monthly visits, usually at the agency's office. Now even those have ended.
Kent and his siblings were within a month of returning to their biological mom's home when she was killed in a car wreck. One of the hardest things I have ever done was meeting Kent when he got home from school, along with several case workers and counselors. I was the one who gave him the sad news that his mom had passed away...he just stared. My heart breaks for him again as I type...
When I drop Kent at his house (he now lives with an aunt) after church or after hanging out with me and my family, I tell him that I love him like a son. He usually says "ok" or see you later. So the other day I asked him if it bothered him that I told him I love him. I explained that it means I care about him, not that I "like" him. I was willing to use a different phrase, but I meant it the same way I say it to my 2 sons (who look at Kent like a big brother). He said it was ok for me to say it.
What's going on in his head? And why does he lie to me about one thing or another almost every time I talk with him? He is a freshman this year, but still watches "kid programs" on t.v. (thank God!) While walking through Walmart the other day, he asked me to buy him some "spy" stuff (ages 8 and up). Yet, he's been through more than a lot of adults.
I can pray for Kent. I can help Kent with his homework (when he admits he has some). I can love Kent, but I don't always know how it's going to turn out. The good news - I don't have to know. I just have to ask God to help me teach Kent his "next step" for this week. I have so much hope for Kent! He is a first-born and is great with my kids. He spent Christmas day at our house and he said it was awesome! Joy all over his face. But so many hurdles...
The above was written in January of 2012. Since then, my family and I have begun spending much more time with Kent. One evening I explained to him that nothing he could ever do would make me care about him less. He could do some things that would cause us not to be able to spend time together, but I promised to always care about him unconditionally. He has since begun saying "love you, too" when I tell him I love him, and he behaves more respectfully around me than ever!
In that same conversation, I asked him not to lie to me anymore. I tried to convince him that he did not have to lie for me to accept him. Even if he told me truth I did not want to hear, I would still care about him and be his friend. I meant what I said and he shook my hand and agreed to be honest with me. I'm not convinced he's been perfectly honest (habitual deceit is hard to quit!), but I can't think of one blatant lie he has told me for several months. He is growing!
Unfortunately, Kent has recently failed 9th grade (almost straight F's) even though he made honor roll in 8th grade. When I pressed him to explain what changed, he eventually confided that his father who promised to attend his 8th grade graduation did not show up. I asked why that bothered him since his dad never really was a part of his life and he said "I thought that was a pretty big deal and he could at least show up for that. I kept scanning the audience but I never saw him or my big [half] sister." (This is one reason Next Step does not intend to replace fathers, only stand in the gaps where they are absent. Fathers are powerful forces in their children's lives. Our ultimate desire is that they would love and train their own sons.)
After hearing this story, I promised to stand up for Kent at his High School graduation. The only that would prevent me from being present is whatever would keep me from my own son's graduation (death, hospitalization, etc.). I told him I would like to keep him accountable concerning his grades. I want to be able to be proud of him for the work he did to graduate. I have hope that he will improve next year. We've spent a few hours studying and doing homework together since that conversation, but it was too late to bring up this year's grades.
Last week, I asked Kent if I could point out to him when he was speaking or acting disrespectfully toward me. I affirmed that I didn't think he ever meant any disrespect but sometimes he came across that way. Because my sons look up to him and often imitate him, I told him I wanted permission to correct him when he said or did things I wouldn't want them to do. He agreed to listen when I corrected him, and the same day when I did call him on something he apologized immediately and corrected the wrong. I was very proud of him.
Kent calls me sometimes. He asks to go to church with us often. He frequently wants to come over to our house (and does). He tries to dress appropriately for church and special events (something I could never get him to do voluntarily when I was just his youth pastor!). I have great hope for him and I'm excited to see how God is going to work in his life. Kent has a long way to go before he is a mature Christian, good husband, good father, and contributing citizen, but he does keep taking the next step, and that's the key!
October 2, 2013
Kent came to live with us 5 weeks ago. His foster mom was unexpectedly incarcerated which created an urgent need for
him to be placed in a new home. We agreed to keep him temporarily while a permanent home with his half sister (father's
side) can be arranged. She is in the care of another foster family who is willing to bring Kent into their home. This
experience has been a joy and a challenge. For the first time in 2 years, Kent has gotten a grade above D or F on his
report card! He interacts well with our 3 kids under the age of 5, too. What God has in store we do not know, but His
plan for Kent is perfect.
Kent left our home after 2 months to join the foster family where his older half sister lived. That did not go well, and he moved two more times. We have stayed in contact with him and he continued to spend time with us often. We were there for him when he walked across the stage to get his GED at the Adult Education Center. He has spent Christmas with our family every year except the last two (he even comes along when we go to my parents or my in-laws house). His final two foster families still have a relationship with Kent and the last two years he spent Christmas with his closest foster mom. He recently said to me via Facebook that he always feels like a son around our family. He delivers pizza and lives on his own. We don't get together as much as we should, but he is still always welcome in our home.