There I was, a few weeks before I reported to football camp, on my way to England for…God-only-knows-what. I figured, I get to quit work a couple of weeks early, take a trip to a part of England I’ve never seen – all at the expense of Dr. Bill, who I spent a total of 45 minutes with at lunch. Why not?
We arrived in Manchester, England, and took the train across to Sheffield. There I met Mick, and his wife and daughter. Alicia and I stayed at the house of a young couple from the church. Pastor Bob stayed with someone else and my dad stayed, again, with Mick and his family. The young couple took Alicia and me all over Sheffield. It’s a good sized city, with several universities, typical narrow British streets, a large number of clubs that attract university students, and, of course, thousands of pubs!
I really liked the people we met. I’ve never seen people my age so excited to be Christians. They seemed genuine, too. They were not religious fanatics, or weird. They seemed like normal people, but there was something very different about them. They had it together, you know what I mean? They have challenges in life like everybody, but they seem to have purpose, direction. They actually like going to church – it didn’t even seem like a duty.
I met some university students who were from around England. They had found summer jobs in Sheffield. Even though their parents were far away, they were involved in this church – and wanted to be. That seemed strange to me, for some reason.
My dad is always trying to help churches reach out to people who aren’t Christians. But, these people seem to do it because they actually like to. It seems part of their life. They also have a good time doing it.
My youth pastor, Eric, was a bit like that. I thought he was enthusiastic because it was his job – you know, he had to put on a good act in front of the kids like me at the church. Yet, he seemed genuine enough. I never met anyone else like that. The last thing I expected was to find others like him in England.
We got to visit the countryside, what they call the Peak District. It’s beautiful. Large rolling hills, reservoirs, forests, and English villages with old churches and little shops. We even got to see Little John’s grave – you know, the guy who hung out with Robin Hood? We also got into some pubs and had some great meals. Pubs are not like bars in the U.S. They’re more family-friendly. They’re places where you watch sports, talk to your neighbors, and strangers become friends. It’s all about relationships. I like that. Pubs are neighborhood gathering places – community halls with food and beer. They don’t feel like commercial destinations. They’re more a part of life.
Somewhere in this whirlwind introduction to Sheffield and St. Thomas’ Church, I met a few young adults who are involved in what they call FORM. I had no idea what this would mean for my life four years later.
It’s funny. Sometimes you do something, or meet someone, and it just seems like another everyday occurrence – nothing special. I mean no bells or whistles go off, the earth doesn’t shake, no lightning. It’s just like another day of life, another person you meet, another place you visit. Something you’ll maybe forget. You might take some pictures, and look at them once or twice, maybe post them on Facebook. Someday you throw them away. They are just more clutter in your journey.
Then there are these…I don’t know…“God moments.” They seem just so ordinary, nothing special. You have no clue then – and maybe for a long time in the future. At the time, you’re not even aware. You’re not ready. The dots are not connected. You don’t even see the dots. That’s because you’re not looking. I wasn’t looking.
My eyes were on football, criminal justice, a fraternity. It was just days from my university adventure. I had no idea that the embryo of my greatest journey was birthed as I met these students in FORM. No idea at all.
FORM is a 10-month training program for young adults. At Mick’s church, it’s for those just out of university – a year off before the job market. My first thought, when I met Ben and Andy, was why, after four years of university, would anyone want to go through another year of school – especially a religious school?
“It’s not like that,” said Ben, “…not at all. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Andy added, “You go to the university as an investment in your career. But you take ten months of FORM to let God invest in you, as a person. That changes everything.”
“Yeah,” continued Ben, “It’s a discipleship year. You learn more about who God really is. You also learn who He has made you to uniquely be. You learn about yourself.”
“Don’t you think everyone already gets that?” I asked politely.
“Not at all!” said Ben. “Most people only think they know who they are. They learn all this stuff at university, but they never asked God to teach them about themselves. Besides, we do hands-on ministry. We get involved in helping the poor, working with children, interacting with other cultures, connecting with university students. Most people go through life and never get those experiences. Yeah, and we have a lot of fun along the way. We live together in community: guys are in two houses and the girls share a couple of houses. We become family. We go on mission excursions around the country and take a trip outside of the country together. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do FORM.”
I have to admit, I was momentarily intrigued. When Alicia and I saw my dad and Pastor Bob at Mick’s house a couple of days later, I made an announcement: “I know we’re supposed to go back home tomorrow, but I have a few days before football camp. Alicia and I have decided to stay here in England and hang out with these people. We’ll come home later, okay?”
I saw my dad look at Pastor Bob, who looked at him. Then they looked at Mick, who looked at each of them, and then they looked at each other again. It was a long silence, like everybody just discovered a pink elephant in the room. I think the pink elephant was me and it just took a dump! I could tell the idea wasn’t going to fly.
My dad broke the silence, “That won’t work. It would cost a fortune to change your tickets. Besides, you might not get on another plane. Planes are really booked going overseas. Besides, you need to finish the work on the farm, pack, and move to school.”
The comment broke the dream into pieces of reality. I knew he was right. I felt a little foolish. Mick added, “You’ll be back someday.”
As we said goodbye, Mick prayed over us. He paused, put his hands on my shoulders, and said, “I have a word from God for you, Jon. I sense God is saying that you are a mighty warrior for God.”
I was speechless.
The J-Dog Journey:
Where Is Life?
by Kent R. Hunter