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Editor’s Journal: Scene and heard at Falls Creek

For the uninitiated, summer camp at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center is a place where ideas of the Gospel and missions and Jesus and the church seemingly and almost effortlessly flow from the lips of people who seem to appear (at least on the surface) quite perfect. Seldom do you find someone who is not well versed in the Bible and ready to quickly recite Bible verses memorized in hopes that a convert will soon appear.

My desire last week was to somehow peer just beneath the surface of some of the young people who attended the camp hoping to discover a bit of the real world these thousands of people who walked around one of the most famous places in Southern Baptist life inhabited for one week. It was hard to do. When asked what they were doing at Falls Creek, most of the young people I approached replied with answers such as: “I want to worship God; I want to grow in my relationship with God; I want to be a better Christian.”

The interview I was looking for happened for me rather unexpectedly.  I was taking my children with me into each area of the missions village. This was a place with carefully built buildings representing places where Oklahoma Baptists have mission outreach: Mexico, Wales,  Washington, D.C., East Asia, Native American tribes  and, of course, the state of Oklahoma itself. Wales was symbolized by a castle; Washington, D.C. by the Washington Monument; and the little house where I stood with my children revealed some statistics that were shocking. Oklahoma ranks number one in drug abuse for people between the ages of 12-17. I wondered to myself if any of those people might be at Falls Creek and how I could find them.

My children and I walked out of the little house and three young men approached me. As we were walking down the hill, one asked me in a rather gruff voice, “What is all this stuff?” I answered in a proud tone, “This is a representation where Oklahoma Baptist congregations are reaching out to the world with the Gospel.” He didn’t seem impressed. “So,” he asked, “anything really happening?” I was taken by surprise. I thought to myself, “Young man, do you not realize the ground on which you are standing is the very same place B.B McKinney once stood?” (The Southern Baptist geek comes out in me from time to time.)

Thankfully, I simply asked his name. I will call him Tom (not his real name for reasons which will become obvious). Tom and I entered into a brief conversation as the others walked off and my children ran around the little village. It became apparent to me that he was one of the statistics posted on the wall of that little house. He had experimented with drugs and was still doing so. In fact, he couldn’t stop. He didn’t quite “get” our “prayer cards” and “the Gospel” and “all this excitement about a man who lived thousands of years ago.”

This young man obviously lived in a violent home—not physically abusive from what I could gather—but a place where life was, in some ways, a living nightmare. His stepfather drank alcohol—a lot. His mother had become quite hardened from what I could ascertain. They had money problems, and he worked after school quite a bit at a local fast food restaurant (and it wasn’t Chick-Fil-A) where the social influences were not good for him. He wasn’t a very good student. He admitted he hated school, and that for him, the best part about showing up for class was getting something to make life a little easier—namely some illegal drugs.

Tom’s life was, quite frankly, a world that is far too common in the modern day. Yet, as he admitted, the church just didn’t seem to address the issues he faced, and they didn’t seem to like him or his family very much. Let’s face it—to do so would require some serious and long-term investment of time and energy. Many modern youth ministers or pastors (by their own admission) are clueless when it comes to helping many young people with their very serious problems.

Addiction is a world that the modern church seldom inhabits, and at times, it is excruciatingly obvious that we do not know what we are talking about when we meet up with someone like Tom.  We’ve got the talking points memorized, but we do not have the skill or ability to help someone like him. Nor should we—entirely. Tom requires help from some medical professionals to be sure, but Tom needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ in more ways than simply sharing the facts of the Gospel. Tom needs some Christians to get into his life and stay there for a while. I was thankful for those who brought him to Falls Creek.

He wouldn’t tell me what church brought him to Falls Creek for fear that I might look him up or tell his youth pastor. I tried to see his nametag, but he skillfully had removed it from sight at some point during the conversation. And just to make sure I wasn’t being played for a fool, I asked him a few questions about why he had come to Falls Creek.

Some of the answers weren’t all that spiritual. One, in particular, however, haunts me.

“I wanted to see if the church had anything that could really help me,” Tom said. Again, my first response was to quickly provide a quick theology lesson and gospel presentation. That is right and good, but Tom wasn’t going to let me go there. He lives in a world where truth must be able to do more than impress others with an abundance of Bible knowledge.  Truth needs to change lives, and that is what I prayed might happen to him during his week at Falls Creek.

For those like me who often must be shaken awake to the realities of our fallen and radically broken world, I remain thankful for people like Tom who will not settle for anything less than a real-world answer for real-world problems. Who knows? Perhaps Tom did more for me than I did for him. I continue to pray for all those like Tom who might be in attendance at Falls Creek. What is more distressing to me is all those like Tom who have not attended, and probably will never attend Falls Creek.

The seriousness of our ministry context demands that we mobilize like never before to radically give our lives in service to those very people like Tom who come to the church and wonder if Christians have anything to say that is more real than the substances with which they abuse their bodies.

The great need of the hour is for churches to get beyond the “Baptist bubble” and pierce the darkness with the Gospel of Jesus, Who still heals by the power of His Word. The Church has been invested with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and its reality is the only hope of the world.  And Tom (or others like him) if you are reading this, I trust you are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and your church is standing by your side every step of the way.

So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

Author: Douglas Baker

View more articles by Douglas Baker.

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  • http://www.jfokc.com Ryan Abernathy

    Doug-
    Thanks for sharing this story. I spent most of my time in student ministry working with kids like Tom. As a pastor, many of the adults I come into contact with are like him as well. My prayer is that more “church people” will have encounters like yours, handle them the way you handled this one, and walk away broken for the sin besets our communities and our world.

    Ryan

  • Gary Capshaw

    We can encounter people like that every day, if we’ll just get out there among them.

    Too often, we sit patiently in church waiting for them to come to us. We’re ready, willing and able to offer them hope and the plan of salvation once they walk through the door, but they’ve got to get to us first.

    Why? Because people like Tom, of all ages, are typically hanging out in places good Baptist’s aren’t supposed to go. Like bars. Like dance halls. Like street corners where the pushers ply their trade. Like the parking lots of all night convenience stores and fast food joints at 2 AM. Like casinos and bingo halls. Places where we won’t go for fear that someone will see us and think we’ve backslidden!

    Which is more important to us? Our reputation or the souls of people like Tom?

    Scripture tells us that we’re not supposed to separate ourselves from the world, but to be in it, though not OF it, where we can be salt and light to people like Tom. Sadly, though we don’t live in a Christian commune, we HAVE insulated ourselves from the rest of the world by only doing “churchy” things with the church crowd. Yes, that includes organized mission trips. It’s safe, it’s comfortable and it’s easy, but it’s not taking the Gospel to where it needs to go.

    To do that, we’ve got to get out there and mingle with the sinners and let them know we’re sinners too, just like them, but our sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. And, I think we’ve got to be willing to let our failures show and quit trying to hide the fact that we’re as beset by temptations as are people like Tom and just as subject to failure. We aren’t any more perfect than Tom and certainly not perfect enough to point a judgmental finger at him and say, “You need to stop sinning,” which is our usual response when we meet someone like him.

    Doug, I’m SO glad you didn’t do that or Tom might have been lost forever. Nothing turns the lost away as fast or as completely as the perception of hypocrisy and even the most vile and evil person knows there hasn’t been a perfect Christian within the past 2000 years.

  • Gary Capshaw

    Here’s how some churches in New York City are reaching out to people like Tom:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/nyregion/17homeless.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

  • Shane Kennedy

    Great article I deal with kids in my youth group all the time just like tom its so sad to get to know all these kids on a prsonal level and get to know there situations at home it breaks my heart.The hurtful truth of the article was when Douglas said that Tom would not settle for anything less than real world anwser for real wold problems and people like Tom who come to church and wonder if christians have anything to say that is more real than the substance with which they abuse thier bodies.That is so very true and introducing them to Jesus is the anwser, but the hard part is getting them to bye in to the relationship part I think we as a church have let these kids who have problems like this down for fear of them affecting others kids in church and fear of the unknown we have to do a better job at embracing and loving these kids. If you can just find a way to challenge them to give there relationship with christ a chance and to give of there self and actively pursue him then its such a blessing to see that light finally come on when they get it.

  • Jennifer

    I read your story and can understand Tom so very well. If you are looking for other young
    people just like him just go to any school and ask for the throw-away kids you’ll find Tom
    most churches try to discourage the tom’s and their families from coming maybe out of fear
    not knowing how to relate to drug addiction? I don’t know but I know they are the very kids and
    families that God wants us to be on fire about witnessing to and showing them God is real and
    his love is one you can trust, sometimes it seems like good church people like to ignore the
    drug addicited families that come to church every now and then. Shame on us, we should
    go to the basketball courts and get to know the kids their. Their are so many hurting young
    people using drugs just to feel something, that we chrisitans need to get out of our comfortable
    pews and go share God’s word with them like they were our son’s or daughters.
    Thank you for writing your article.

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