Monday, August 17, 2009

Servant Ryan

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I share the following with you with Ryan’s permission. This post is based on his candid interview for my other blog.

“I have to begin with my testimony. God, in His redeeming love, has taken my experiences and used my brokenness to help His Kingdom to come,” he says. “I was raised in a Christian home, in the church all the time and singing at the podium alongside my mother. But at an early age I became principally motivated by performance and approval, which soon led to lying, cheating and other bad behaviors designed to enhance my performance and win approval.

Over time I began to associate with people who praised me for acting wild and crazy, and inevitably I turned away from the Lord and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I was less interested in performing for God than I was for the people I had surrounded myself with.

Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five I suffered numerous legal consequences for my conduct, yet I continued to do the things I was doing. My sin caught up with me in 2001 when I was sent to prison for five years. It was in prison that I met a fellow who was bringing the Gospel to the inmates. He looked at me and said ‘It is not an accident that you are here. God has been pursuing you, he disciplines those he loves.” I realized then God had been pursuing me all along and that only He could fill my emptiness. That prison ministry and a prison chaplain poured their love and discipleship into me, and when I was paroled two years after entering prison I eagerly returned to the church.”

A grin crossed Ryan’s face as he flexed. “You could say I went from rebellion to religion.”

But the pull of rebellion against God’s will can be strong, and within a year Ryan reacquainted himself with old friends and relapsed.

“I found myself doing everything I had vowed to God that I would never do again. But my small group and Celebrate Recovery helped me through that time and helped me to finally understand that I didn’t need to be burdened by the motives of performance and approval, that God’s love, mercy and grace were what would save me. It was then, with their help, that I began to free myself from all my secrets and shame.

My mother and other supporters urged me to find an opportunity to serve so I began volunteering for The Bricks. There I began to tell my story, and at every turn I was met with acceptance and affirmation. God began to call on me to use my experiences in positive ways. He had healed me and was then asking me to come alongside others who were broken to tell them about His redeeming love. I quit my job and came to work in an internship with The Bricks and eventually the Jr. High ministry.

Three years later, after much prayer and encouragement, I decided to form my own ministry. I wanted to share the Gospel with kids who were headed down the same destructive path I had traveled not once but twice.”

Ryan began to share with leadership at Perimeter his vision of a ministry targeting troubled and at risk youth. It took him only three months to raise enough funds to establish and operate Pathways for an entire year.

Ryan describes Pathways as a support group ministry for kids in crisis. The teens who turn to him and others at Pathways for acceptance and understanding include those engaged in a wide variety of self-destructive behaviors and/or who are tormented by the emotional challenges they face at that juncture in their lives.

“Our goal is to help them discover their relationship with God and then their unique purpose and calling,” he said.

I once enjoyed a healthcare career that lasted over twenty years, much of that spent in the fields of mental health and rehabilitation. Teens were my favorite population to work with. I was their favorite therapist – when I was young, gritty and believable when I said “I’ve been there too.” That was back when I looked a lot like Ryan.

Alas, I became less favored as the years passed, when in a teen’s eyes I began to look more like a fossil than an understanding soul.

It is from that perspective that I say Ryan is perfect in his role at Pathways. Just as God had foreseen all along.

How can you take your experiences, good and bad, and use them in God’s service? Ask, and He will help you find a way.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

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