Updated: Dec 20, 2020
By: Jake Rogers
Inside the JDC (Juvenile Detention Center) today I got to meet with a kid who I remember having in my group at Outdoor Outreach Camp for most of his middle school years. This is his first time in JDC. I remember him well. He was always well behaved and respectful, which might be part of the reason I struggle to recall many specific memories of him. I did, however, have no trouble finding old camp pictures that had been taken of us together.
I’m still trying to process his story. My heart breaks for him. Knowing him from years ago, remembering the sweet, lighthearted, mostly innocent kid he was, it must really get to me. Just how much, I do not know.
Whenever someone’s story has this strong of an impact on me, I’ve learned to ask myself, why? I have been able to come up with two possible reasons: The first reason is his story. It could have been mine. This could have been your story–far more likely than you might think. Yes, his choices and decisions played an important part. But take away being in the wrong place at the wrong time, his life may look no different than any other teenager’s, filled with instant gratification, insecurity, and mild stupidity.
I do not know why God allowed him to experience this tragedy and yet, prevented this from becoming a part of my own story. But we both agreed, God is using this experience to open his eyes and to reveal Himself in ways he’s never before experienced. This young man has grown closer to God in recent days, more than he ever has; he is praying more than ever before. He is hearing from God daily and finding reassurance that God is hearing his prayers through The Jesus Calling devotional. He is learning how unworthy he is of God’s forgiveness, and yet how much greater God’s love is for him.
The second reason is, the sense of sorrow and raw emotion that cries out from within him. It was not easy to miss, even though his affect was rather flat. There was a real genuineness to his words, accompanied by a deep hurt and sorrow that could be seen in his eyes. The only time tears began to well up in his eyes was when he read Psalm 62,
“5Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.6He alone is my rock and my salvation.7My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.8O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.”
Honestly, I think he may still have been in a little bit of shock and disbelief. He recently went through a very traumatic event, one that will affect him for the rest of his life. From my past experiences working with those who suffer from PTSD, I know that they often have difficulty describing these symptoms. He did not have to search for many words for me to understand what he was trying to communicate.
Along with his deep emotion, was a willingness to be transparent and vulnerable. I have great respect for those that are able to be open and honest like him. In many ways I envy it, but at the same time, I know that this level of raw openness rarely comes without a lot of pain and desperation, pushing it up from deep below. This is the level of desperation we need to have when we go before God.
There is something amazing about witnessing someone who is in such a painful and terrifying situation, yet is able to express gratitude and praise God in the midst of it. He is very thankful for how this has brought his parents into conversation with one another, and some healing into the brokenness of his family. He is grateful to have learned, more people than he ever imagined truly care about him, and are praying for him. He recognizes and appreciates the blessing of having grown up in a Christian family, and is now learning to apply much of what he’d taken lightly in the past.
It really is amazing, how God will use one tool to sharpen another. I went into JDC today with the hope that God would use me to speak truth into this young man’s life, and I believe He did that. At the same time, He was using this very same young man as His chosen tool to sharpen me, to show me how desperate and sorrowful I should be over my sins when I come to Him.