I first met Jason on twitter. We've never met in real life, but he's stepped in multiple times for Russ & me. Last spring, as we prepared to leave for Africa, one of the kids asked me if we had any spare tennis shoes. After asking him a few questions, I realized he only had his sport shoes - the shoes he wore during baseball games - and the wannabe crocs he wore consistently. Russ turned to twitter for help. Sending out a request for any spare shoes men may have lying around, we never expected someone in South Dakota to answer the call. We certainly never anticipated him mailing them. But, he did. It was just another example for us of this incredible community we have - willing to jump in and help at a moment's notice. The story he shares with you today speaks of his heart for others, and how it echoes the heart of our Savior. On a Thursday summer evening, we discovered one of our own from our church had gone missing. Police were notified, friends were called, prayers were prayed, and concern had settled in.
As soon as we received the call, my family and I hopped into our mini-van to search for her, or at the very least, get leads. We went to known hangouts, but our search turned up empty and left us frustrated. We later discovered there was a shooting in one spot we were at just hours before. Searching for someone who’s missing can lead you into dangerous places.
To top it off, my eight-year-old daughter was heartbroken as she was coming to grips with the reality that someone she cares about was missing. We talked and tried to comfort her, but she struggled to understand. As a dad, sometimes I wonder if I expose my children to too much. Maybe. There’s much they don’t know about, and I want them to enjoy being kids, but for better or worse, moments like this leave a mark. I just pray that they become powerful learning experiences and not indelible scars.
Later, I partnered with someone else and approached a large group of people which turned out to be a hornet's nest. They were a gang and weren’t too thrilled we were stepping into their zone. Threats were made, names were called, but in the middle of it all, a handful of tender-hearted members acknowledged if someone they loved were missing, they would search relentlessly too. They took the flyer and said they’d keep an eye out.
We drove around some more and found another crew of teens in a random parking lot. They were mostly a party crowd who hid their drinks when they saw my mini-van approach. As I stepped out of the van and into their conglomerate, the stench of weed was obvious and the group of thirty kids or so were instantly defensive. I reassured them I was not there to bust them but rather, I needed their help finding a missing girl. A few dudes put their hands in their pocket leading me to believe they were ready to pounce if need be, but others seemed concerned when they recognized our missing girl from the photo.
They asked if I was her dad. I replied, “No. I’m her pastor and friend and just want to return her home safely.” Bewildered, someone piped up, “A pastor? What kind of church goes out looking for someone who’s missing?”
Apparently, the notion of a church stepping into the middle of a mess was unusual.
Perhaps they’re right. They were cordial as we departed, and promised to call if they ran into her throughout the evening. They never did. But I can’t help but wonder if some perceptions were changed in the process.
We stepped into other hairy situations that made me feel uncomfortable yet made me think of Jesus. About how he stepped into a mess to rescue me. About how he is a God who pursues- as evidenced in his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Jesus said he came “to seek and save that which was lost.” In Luke 15, we see a God who leaves the found to search for the lost. We see his passion to pursue his people. This is the beauty of amazing grace.
A few days later, police found our missing girl walking along the side of a road. It turns out she had runaway, but was making her way home.
When we got the news, relief set in, followed by joy. She was okay.
The next day, my friends threw a BBQ to celebrate her return. They wanted to model God’s grace found in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ve always said we wanted to be a church with grace on tap and my friends understood this was a moment to display it.
There’s still a long road of healing ahead, but my prayer is that God will use this situation for good.
It's what he does.