You Are a Great Story
By Kate Berkey - June 6, 2017
Posted in Partnerships, Stories from NMC
When I visited the new Teen Challenge home, it was empty. The guys were with the residents of Miller’s Merry Manor, the official best name for a retirement home. But, even though the rooms were empty, I couldn’t miss the joy in the home as Andy Collins, director of Teen Challenge, gave me the grand tour. We stopped in the chapel, where I asked him for some of his favorite stories, of which I knew there were many. I narrowed it down for him—maybe a story from the last month. He immediately jumped into a story from last night.
“Evan is a great story,” Andy said. The phrase made me stop. Not, ‘Evan has a great story,’ or ‘Evan’s story is great,’ but “Evan is a great story.” What does it mean to be a great story?
I was so struck by the phrase that I almost missed Andy’s next sentences as he recounted the last few years. Evan moved me to tears—a boy abused, addicted, thrown into the streets of Elkhart and forgotten by the rest of the world at the age of 18. This great story began in great brokenness and pain.
Teen Challenge is the middle of the story. Many storytellers skip over the hard work of transformation because, in their excitement, they’re tripping over their words to tell the ending. Transformation is hard, painful and kind of boring. One former student walked away from Teen Challenge, even though he had ten years of prison hanging over his head if he left. He said, “Andy, this is harder than prison,” and ended up in jail rather than confront the hard parts of his past.
Evan was a few years homeless when, on a job site, he found himself working with guys from Teen Challenge. By the end of the day, Evan asked if he could pray for them. He wasn’t even sure who he was praying to, but something about this group of men compelled him to pray. Within the week, he went on a desperate journey to enroll himself in Teen Challenge.
At Teen Challenge, transformation involves going back to school. Everyone spends time taking scripture classes. “We had a guy leave yesterday morning,” Andy said. “He said, ‘I can’t do the whole holy-roller thing.’” Evan, however, was the first member to complete his GED during Teen Challenge in addition to the scripture school.
“Just last night I got to go to Evan’s graduation ceremony at Memorial High School,” Andy was pulling out his phone to show me videos—the red flag that reveals proud parents. As Evan went across the stage, the speakers on the smartphone maxed out, leaving a buzzing roar as evidence for Andy’s statement: “we all went.”
The measure of a great story is not the immensity of the sadness at its beginning, but the intensity of the liberation at its end. Being a story rather than having a story means that you claim all aspects of yourself: both the celebration and the sorrow. It is the knowledge that the two work together.
Teen Challenge is a great story. It’s a full blend of sorrow, transformation and celebration. Celebration, however, has this beautiful way of overwhelming sorrow. The celebration that I sensed as I walked through the halls was palpable, and faint echoes of joy radiated from the walls.
The staff have all been through Teen Challenge themselves and, through some twist of events, have come back home. Rick, who was making french fries and sloppy joes that smelled amazing, told me part of what made him a great story.
“If God’s not done with you,” Rick said, “He calls you back really fast.”
“Do you know what we call this room?” Andy asked. We were walking through an open, tall room with windows on several levels, complete with couches, a pool table and a ping-pong table. “We call this the Grand Hall,” a note of humor was in Andy’s voice. “So, I guess it’s a mini Grand Hall.”
NMC’s fingerprints are all over the new building. Their chapel stage is lined with the altars previously in our Worship Center, and our sound panels sit in the gym, ready to go on the walls. NMC men are part of the Barnabas Project, a mentorship program that connects mentors to the guys at Teen Challenge.
Nappanee Missionary Church, you are a great story.
“I have so many stories inside me. If only people knew…” Pastor Dave lamented to me as he recounted ministry after ministry that the body of NMC is supporting in unbelievable ways. From across the globe, into our neighborhoods and through the doors of our own building, NMC is a crucial part of the slow work necessary for transforming lives. For the month of June, we have the opportunity to hear stories of NMC’s fingerprints on the world. The work God’s doing within our walls is rippling out to the rest of the earth, and Evan is just one great story in which we played the role of a background character.
The celebration from the stories at Teen Challenge comes naturally out of Christ’s victory. We can rejoice without fear of boasting because the work of Jesus in and through NMC is so beautiful that not celebrating would be unnatural.
“Be encouraged. Your heart is writing a poem on the world and it’s being turned into a thousand songs.”