I am originally from Farmington, Missouri, but now I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Illinois, my first call was to Walcamp Outdoor Ministries in northern Illinois, and then I got a call to Holy Cross Lutheran Church eleven years ago. I actually got a call to Holy Cross and Bethlehem Lutheran on the same exact Sunday. Our senior pastor at Holy Cross–God used him to say some specific words. He said, “Jeffery, our congregation is a group of messed up, sick people who get together every Sunday and live under the grace of the cross,” and that sentence just really hit me. And the Holy Spirit said, “You belong here.”
Many years ago, I started doing the Gathering News for an annual volunteer event, and so that gained some traction at the time. Then we started doing it for the National Youth Gathering. We did it in New Orleans six years ago, in San Antonio three years ago, and now I’m one of the emcees.
Let me tell you a quick story, we were at a restaurant the other day, and we walked in, and there was a waitress there. She had the words “fried chicken” tattooed on her forearm. And my wife looked at her and said, “There’s got to be a story about that,” and so, you know, I’m an outgoing guy, so I like meeting new people. So I walked over to this young lady, and I said, “Tell me the story, what’s the deal with ‘fried chicken’ on your arm?” And she said, “Ah! I’m glad you asked.” She said, “I was in a motorcycle accident, and I was about to run into a van, and I was sure I was going to die. And the very last thing that ran through my mind was, “I’m never going to get to eat fried chicken again, because I’m about to die!”
Her name was Audrey, so then I started calling her Fried Chicken Audrey and I said, “You know what Audrey, causes me to think of a question. If I was about to die, what would I want the last thing to be on my mind?” And she says, “Well I know, right? Cause mine was fried chicken.” I said, “Yeah!” I said, “I think mine would be Jesus. I just want Jesus to be the final thing on my mind before I die, because I know I would get to go to heaven and be with him.”
She was totally uncomfortable with that answer. And so she changed the subject right away. But then I had a chance to back around to her again, and I told her that I was thankful that she survived and that if she wanted to know more about Jesus, let me know, and I look forward to hopefully seeing her in heaven someday. So that’s been a cool experience in New Orleans so far… Fried Chicken Audrey.
I’m a big fan of the wrestle, and so, if there are teenagers who are wrestling with their faith right now or struggling with their relationship with Jesus, I’m a huge fan of that.
And I think that is a beautiful place for teenagers to be. I think a lot of folks will come in and tell them, “Well you need to get your act together, or start reading your Bible more, and start praying more,” and that’s all good. I mean prayer and study of Scripture is good, but do you ever notice how when there is tension on a muscle, it gets stronger? And so if teenagers start thinking about their wrestle with God, about the tension, allow that time to wrestle with God, and ask Him hard questions and let Him answer you with answers that you may or you may not be comfortable with, and just struggle with each other for a while. I really think that when you find yourself on the other end of that struggle, your faith will be stronger than it has ever been before, and that’s all because God used that struggle to strengthen you.
Photo credit: Matt LaVere, 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering Media Team
These Exclusive Stories do not necessarily reflect the teachings of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They are the reflections and thoughts of participants at the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering as they wrestle with what it means to be a child of God. Please continue to pray for these participants as they grow in faith.