Wes was a typical, awkward sixth grade boy when I first met him and he belonged to another church. I had been asked by a mother in our church to help lead a home Bible study for sixth grade boys before school at 7:00 am on Tuesdays. Working with elementary kids was not really part of my job responsibilities as a youth minister; little did I know that this was going to be one of the best discipleship relationships that I have ever known. Through this Bible study, I was able to start hanging out with Wes and his friends. We had a lot of fun during those days. We would watch part of “SportsCenter” on TV, have a quick devotional, and then I would take a few of the guys to the store for candy before school. Most of these guys started coming to our church when they hit middle school. Wes was one of them.
Wes quickly became part of our youth group at our church during his middle school years, even though he was not a church member. These boys were great, but they were also very rambunctious. It was almost a weekly occurrence that I had to go apologize for their Sunday night shenanigans on Monday mornings to my administrative pastor. Sometimes I would find basketballs they left in the sanctuary. They would go all over the church playing hide and go seek. Sometimes they would even climb on the church roof and even throw rocks at unsuspecting church ladies.
Wes went with us on a trip down to Florida as a freshman in high school. His parents were going through a divorce at the time. I was so glad that he was going with us, but I was still a little concerned about he and his buddies . I will never forget one night that we took the group out to dinner at a restaurant called the Blue Dolphin. I remember, because the restaurant had this huge neon sign shaped like a blue dolphin above the awning at the entrance. It was a big landmark in the area. We were finishing our meal when Wes and some of his friends asked to go hang out in the parking lot while they waited for us. All of a sudden, many of the guys came running in to tell me to come outside and see Wes. Something had happened. I went outside and saw Wes, and he looked as white as a ghost. He and his friends had been innocently bouncing rocks off the awning as a game. When Wes took his turn, his rock bounced accidentally off the awning onto the neon blue dolphin! It shattered the glass; what used to be a massive lit up neon blue dolphin was now in pieces. My stomach dropped. I could not believe he did that. I was embarrassed, and humiliated that now I had to go tell the restaurant owner that we broke his sign. This time, the rock throwing was going to cost someone thousands of dollars to fix. As a young youth pastor, I thought this might cost me my job. This incident happened almost twenty years ago and I don’t remember everything that was said, but I do remember this: I remember putting my arm around Wes and saying, “Wes, do not worry about this. We will figure something out. Don’t let this ruin your trip. Don’t let this stop you from coming to church.” I then called the administrative pastor and “took my medicine.” I apologized for the yet another rock incident and somehow it got worked out.
Wes continued in our church, and it was my honor to be in his life through his high school years. I later moved to another town and another ministry. Wes went to college to be an architect and he even played college football. Wes could have done many things, but God moved him into youth ministry and even on to seminary. When Wes graduated from seminary, he was presented his degree at our old church. When he accepted his diploma, he told the story of the blue dolphin. He said that he was sure that we were never going to let him go on another trip or even come back to that church. Now he has been the youth minister of that very same church for over 10 years. His life, ministry and family have literally affected thousands of teenagers.
He is now finishing his Doctorate of Ministry Degree. His doctoral thesis is so cerebral; I cannot make heads or tails of it. I am wowed by the impact that he has had on the ministry world. The increase that the kingdom of God has had through Wes was well worth a few broken pieces of a neon sign. Every time I see a blue dolphin, it reminds me of the importance of loving people. Even if those people throw rocks.
Invest in the few, change the world.