I’m old enough to be his father. He just turned 30, and will soon be a father of four. We come from two very different places, rural and city, yet we have found a common crazy; we love teens enough, to go to the hard places to reach them.
We met when he volunteered at a school in Brooklyn called Thomas Jefferson, known for violence and poor graduation rates. 10% of the kids walked across the stage, in five years! The first time I had him speak in the classroom, God spoke back at me. “You are looking at the future of the ministry in NYC,” He said. “Look how these young people lean forward as he speaks; they are seeing hope personified.” The next time we met he joined me to share Christ. It turned out to be with a tough acting Latino kid, and after about two minutes, the proud young man hung his head. Moses’ had told him about his foster care experiences. “That’s my story,” the young man whispered, as he wiped his eyes.
It didn’t take long before Moses took my job, and the day I handed him the baseball was the best moment in 12 years in that great city. Not because I was ‘done,’ but because Moses was ready. Just as a coach will hand the game ball to the next pitcher, I did that with Moses, in an emotional exchange. I told him “you will take this ministry much farther than I could have ever done.” And, he has.
We loved to share our faith together, and would often be mistaken for under cover cops. It always brought a laugh, but then why else would a white guy and a black dude be walking side by side on the toughest streets in Brooklyn? Training appointments were in the belly of Grand Central Station, more like mentoring times. I felt free to speak truth, and lavish grace, correct thinking, and applaud him. He was, and is, and seems to always be like a sponge, the first pre-requisite of great leadership.
In the years we ministered together, God knit our hearts in a way that doesn’t often happen when two people are a generation apart. He views me as a father figure, and I love him like a son. But there is another level of committed love that fuses us, and it’s the fire of a common vision, a common desire to bring the gospel’s transformative message to the streets, and into the classrooms. How many times we found ourselves embroiled with young men, whose persona, body language, and thug theology suggested that unless God intervened they would end up in prison, or worse. That’s not stereotype, it’s a fact of life. Yet, it happened all too often, that these acculturated young men, reared to never trust a soul, would stop and listen to our words, a simple message of Jesus, brought in terms they could believe.
Moses and I walked with many on their journey, picked up shards of shattered ego’s, when the winds got too fierce. And we laughed with the same, who on graduation day looked back to see how a simple decision to trust an odd pair’s delivery of a timeless hope, had in the end delivered them from a path of far too few options. When you get to see that repeatedly, get to stand with a man like Moses and celebrate the small wins, time and time again, hearts touch, and love sits concretely, despite the generation gap.
There is a kind of love, I don’t know it’s Greek equivalent, planted in the crease between men who believe together that God can deliver the toughest hearts out of the cross-fire. For us what remains is the memory of tireless afternoons in Bushwick, Brooklyn where seeds were sown, and lives remade. The biggest surprise was that God grew love between us, right along side the harvest.