The year was 1993. I was in high school. I was living in a one bedroom apartment with my mom. My bed was in the dinning room. I worked. My mom worked. We just were getting by. One night, my mom came home from work and said that there was a new church starting that had a Wednesday night Bible study and a meal. That meant we could save some money and have a free meal. I went. And I stayed.
That night I met Edie. A man of faith. A man that took time to joke and laugh with a young screwed up kid in high school who was struggling. I started coming back to the church Sunday after Sunday and coming to each of the Wednesday night Bible studies. I met Bob. I met Doyle. Each one took time and invested in me. They took time to talk with me. They took time to listen to me.
Then there was Pastor Greg. Young at the time (though I didn’t realize it then, but now I’m older than he was then when I was younger). Greg walked me through some hard times. He baptized me June 1994. Soon he left to take another church. Then Pastor Merle came. Merle took time to teach me how to drive. That was also the first time I heard a pastor cuss.
Each Saturday morning I woke up at 6 and walked or rode my bike about 3 miles to the Bible study in Bob’s house. Bob, Doyle, Merle, and Edie were there. I listened. I learned. One Friday I received a call from Pastor Merle. He wasn’t going to be there that Saturday morning and asked if I would lead the Study. I was going to community college. Bob, Doyle, and Edie were wiser than I. They were more experienced than I in their knowledge of the Bible. But I took up the task. Pastor Merle trusted in me. It changed me. It gave me confidence.
When I went away to Calvin College in 1998 they all said their goodbyes. They shed tears. They didn’t know what they had given me. They didn’t know what they had instilled in me. Over the course of those 5 years, I grew. I learned. My faith grew. My faith deepened. I became stronger in my self confidence. Yes, I was still a pompous little brat who thought he knew everything, but they trusted in me. And they sent me off.
They didn’t know it, they didn’t plan it, but they mentored me. They helped me in the development of my faith. They helped me understand who I was in Jesus. They helped me grow as a human being.
To this day, I treasure my Saturday morning’s I had at the men’s Bible study. I spent other times with other people from church each Sunday afternoon after church at the local Starbucks (at the time, we were a small town with only one, count it one, Starbucks). I learned from Paul and Dave and Keith. But they were friends. They walked with me. Encouraged me. Laughed with me. But Bob, Edie, Doyle, and Pastor Merle invested in me as if I were a vital part of the kingdom of God. They didn’t plan it nor did they know exactly what they were doing.
In 2008 Doyle was on his way home early from work to make his daughter’s favorite meal for her birthday. He took the commuter train. It crashed. Doyle didn’t make it. When I learned of that, I cried. I’m tearing up now as I write this. A man who invested so much in me was no longer around. I hadn’t seen him since 2003. Yet his teachings were part of me. In 2012, as I was in my hometown for my grandmother’s funeral, his widow Claudia found me at the new Starbucks (by that time, it was now a three Starbucks town). I cried. It all was fresh. I told her how much Doyle meant to me. What he did for me. We both cried.
Just last week I received a phone call out of the blue from Pastor Merle, now retired. He was in the area and wanted to have lunch. As I sat across the table from him and his wife, I just smiled. It was like old times, save he wasn’t trying to teach me to drive nor cussing.
Faith formation is so important. Helping others grow into who they can be is so important. It isn’t something we can plan, it isn’t something that we will know the end result to. It takes time. It takes effort both formally and informally. Over time, as you invest in the lives of others, you help them grow. You help them grow in confidence, in knowledge and understanding of who they are in Jesus.
Take time. Take time to be with others. Take time to walk with others through life’s narrow way. Take time to be with others. Take time. Be present. It isn’t something you really can plan and it isn’t something you really know what will happen in the end. But it is the formation of someone’s faith, the growth in their lives, and the fruit that is shown over years of cultivating and work in someone’s life.