Last week, I had the privilege of reuniting with people I hadn’t seen in 31 years. They were the parents of the teenagers in the Texas church where I served as youth minister in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Our reunion took place in a little church where my wife and I had never been before.

When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw dozens of cars and a sign that said, “Welcome Pastor Fred.” We wondered if we had the right church. We sat in the car for a few seconds to contemplate whether or not to go inside. Since we’d come this far, we decided to go ahead and give it a try.

As we looked down the hallway, my wife whispered, “This isn’t the reunion; there are nothing but old folks here.” I had to agree. I didn’t recognize anyone either. At that point, I was trying to figure how we could offer our congratulations to “Pastor Fred” (whoever he was) and make our exit.

All at once, a whisper ran through the crowd. The people were trying to figure out who the old couple was who had just entered the room. What did they mean? I hadn’t seen another couple come in with us.

You guessed it. They were talking about my wife and me. Just then, I finally recognized someone else in the room. There sat our former minister of music. With a sigh of relief, I decided we must be in the right place after all. But that still didn’t explain the roomful of strangers.

In another five minutes, a wave of recognition rippled across the crowd and a joyous reunion began. When I served this church, I was in my early 20s. My wife and I were newly married with one child, and our second child was born while we were there. Back then, these parents were in their late 30s and early 40s. Now, 31 years later, I somehow expected them to look the same or at least similar to what I remembered. But time has a way of warping us all. And what I hadn’t realized was that I had changed as much as—or more than—they had. The youthful figure of a 20-something is nothing like the figure of a 50-something. No matter what we do, time catches up with us.

Another reunion happened the following night when I saw my former students, the children of the people I had almost failed to recognize the night before. But this time, I was better prepared. I recognized one young lady who entered the room as a girl I led to the Lord 30 years ago. Next, I saw a young man I had discipled, and they kept coming.

I was both embarrassed and blessed as these young people shared what a difference I had made in their lives and how God had used me to instill in them the desire to obey His Word. Some brought their children to hear their old youth pastor preach before he died.

In all, I celebrated two wonderful nights of reunion. I spent the first night in a roomful of elderly people. On the second, I was the elderly person. But both reunions were celebrations of what God had done.

People who work with youth seldom get to hear “Thank you for making a difference in my life” at the time it happens. They may have to wait 30 years before it comes back around, but it does come back.

I’ve never felt so honored or proud of a group of youth as I did that night. Yes, they’re now in their late 40s and early 50s, but for that one night, we returned to our old relationship. I was their youth pastor and they were the youth.

Being involved in the lives of children—whether as a parent or a youth minister—is like farming. First you break up the ground. Then you plant the seeds, water, fertilize and pull lots of weeds. But if you stay faithful to your task, one day you will see the crops grow and become fruitful.

Last Sunday, I saw the fruit of crops planted many years ago. And once again, I realized I am only a tool. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing’” (John 15:5).

Unless God does a work, nothing of lasting value remains. Lord, may You continue to use each one of us . . . until the day we celebrate the greatest reunion of all.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827)