There are times when you see God working in someone else’s life and you feel so honored to be a part of it. This is one of those times. This is Joe’s story.
I volunteer every Wednesday at my church’s student ministry. I started out with the high school students and just recently I started serving with the middle school students. My second or third week in middle school ministry I met Joe. I happened to sit near him and his friends during service. All throughout the service that night, Joe and his friends were being loud, obnoxious, and downright rude. I asked all of them multiple times to quiet down but not one was responsive. Joe was the ringleader. He made it a point to act out when I was looking. He drew a picture of me on his notes that resembled a mix between medusa and a chimera. After four “put-your-phone-away’s” and 10 more “hey-pay-attention’s,” I pulled Joe out of the service to figure out what was up with him.
“Joe, what’s going on?” I asked, “I didn’t want to pull you out but I gotta know what’s going on.”
“Nothing,” He replied. He stood across from me with his arms crossed and looking at everything around the room but me. The next 3 minutes of conversation passed with me trying to figure out what was going on. Joe wouldn’t budge. “Alright then, we’ll go back in but you have to promise me you’ll make a better effort next week. Yes?”
“Sure,” he said and walked back into service. Nothing changed and service ended.
Later that night, while milling among the students during their hang out time, I bumped into Joe again. He was with his friend Moe and they looked about ready to blow. “Hey Joe what’s going on?” I asked hoping to diffuse whatever the situation was. “I’m looking for this black girl. She…” Joe explained to me what happened and used some pretty colorful language. Apparently while they were hanging out some girl came up to him, used her own set of Crayola colored words and ran off. Joe was out to look for the last word. The ironic thing is, not 10 minutes ago we just ended our series called Sticks and Stones. It was all about being careful about what we say to others and how our words have the power of life and death. “Yeah that’s definitely not cool, but you can’t go looking for her and say those things Joe. If you have a problem you should come to me or one of the ministry partners.” Joe was not having it. The entire time I was talking he was pacing and scanning the room. He would not look me in the eyes. He walked off without responding to me. I ended up calling one of the staff members to come and talk to Joe with me. By this time, I was slowly but surely getting annoyed and fed up with Joe. We sat Joe down and tried to talk to him but he was not having any of it.
“Joe…Joe…look at me. I’m on your side. I’m trying to figure out a way to help you. Look at me. Listen I know it been kind of a rough day…Hey could you look at me when I speak to you?” As our conversation went on, it became harder and harder. By the time our middle school pastor walked up I was ready to wash my hands and go home. I had given up. That night I left wondering why I switched to middle school service in the first place.
The next day I kept thinking about Joe and how I the next week would look like. Honestly I wasn’t sure how to react if I saw him next week. In perfect timing God reminded me why I was there in the first place. One of my classmates read this verse; “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12.) God reminded me that the only way I should respond to Joe was in love because I wasn’t fighting him. I prayed for Joe on my ride home from class and decided to treat him like he was my best friend.
Fast forward to next Wednesday, I walked into service with two girls who had only been there once before. We sat down near the front and as I turned around to find a pen there was Joe. “Joe! We gotta stop meeting like this.” I think he managed a head nod and I turned around. As worship started, Joe tapped me on the shoulder and asked to speak to me. We walked out of service and I had no idea what to expect. “So I just wanted to say I’m sorry for my attitude last week. I was disrespectful and I had a bad day in school because I had people bullying me. But I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” He looked me in the eye the whole time he was speaking for the first time ever. In the few seconds before I responded I could tell he was trying to gauge what my response would be. “Yeah we’re cool Joe,” I said. “That really means a lot but we’ve been cool since like last week.” We went back in the service and I saw a different Joe. He paid attention and even got his friends to settle down. After service let out, I went up to Joe and said, “I really respect you. You lead your friends tonight in the way you acted.”
As the night progressed Joe and Moe would come up to me and tell me something they found interesting and then go off to do their thing. As soon as whomever I was talking to would leave, Joe would come up to me and share about his life. We ended up talking about our phones, his hat collection, his new clothing design he made in art class, our favorite sports teams and basketball. If God hadn’t fixed my perspective the week before, the night would have been completely different. I am so thankful for Gods sovereignty and perfection. If it had been my decision Joe would have been just a fresh kid with a bad attitude. But God sees more and speaks into his potential and has a plan for him. I know it.
(All the names were changed in this story)
(All the names were changed in this story)