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God is Present Always

My Faith Journey

Yearbook Staff
In my Mansfield Christian classroom with a group of seventh and eighth graders doing a special Christmas activity.

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Preface

This article began as a class project for a graduate level class at Liberty University within the Master of Professional Writing program. It has taken me on a personal remembrance tour of my faith in God. I hope that the account will encourage you in your own faith journey. 

Note:  Thanks to Campbell Miller, senior at MCS,  for encouraging me to make this available for all to read.

~The Shy Kid~

I started kindergarten when I was four. Since my birthday was in November, I would not be turning five until after the school year started. The regulations for screening students in 1975, must not have been as rigorous as they are today, because I was accepted and enrolled for kindergarten at age four.My kindergarten year was a trial to me, my parents, and my grandparents. I just did not want to go to school. My mom would drop me off at my grandparents’ house, about a residential city block down the street from the school, a little before the beginning of school each day. One particularly hot fall day in Tampa, I walked down the busy street to the corner, where I promptly ran back to my grandparents’ house. My grandparents were always kind and compassionate, but my grandpa, sure enough, did drive me to school that morning. I was too young then, and I am too old now to recall, but I am sure that part of the issue was the sea of faces in my class and the vast ocean of people in the entire school. Who ever heard of eating lunch with hundreds of other children?

No, my faith journey did not begin in a public school kindergarten classroom at a crowded elementary school in Tampa, Florida. It was shaped, however, by the experiences filtered through the nature of that slightly husky child such as elementary school. My character, my reserve, my compassion, my inquisitive mind… all these things are the baggage and preparation for the journey.

My parents’ faith journey was an integral part of my own. My dad talks about his journey beginning with a knowledge that just going to church was not enough. His fellow co-worker, Doyle Martin, at the Southwest Florida Water Management District led him to salvation through a series of Bible studies during lunch time at a road-side rest stop sometime in 1975. Eventually, my mom also realized a renewed faith in God. The seed for this faith was planted long ago during her attendance at the United Methodist Church as a teen. Right away, my father’s spirit changed. He was indeed a new man. He took us to church almost every time the doors were open as long as I lived in their home. Church is where my faith journey really took root.

Sitting on an un-cushioned hard wooden pew at the Gibsonia Church of God near Lakeland, Florida could sometimes be taxing on the body and mind of a pre-teen. Thoughts inside my head were scattered as the long-winded preacher continued preaching after twelve noon. “I know this is important, but I am hungry. I wonder if Sister Hunt will have us over for dinner? Am I a Christian? What did he say about heaven and hell? I hope my mom didn’t bring bologna sandwiches for lunch again. Maybe Brother Collins and his wife will take us to the buffet!” These disconnected thoughts are what runs through the mind of a ten-year-old child who is waiting for church to let out and for the preacher to stop his preaching. Yet, something inside me was beginning to mature. The idea of God and his righteousness, His plan of salvation, and my own sinfulness was becoming real to me.

~Christian Education Begins to Impact My Life~

One summer evening before the start of sixth grade, I drove with my parents to be interviewed for enrollment in a small, new Christian school. We drove up to the dirt parking lot where three double-wide trailers housed a church auditorium, a school office, and school classrooms. “What kind of school is housed in trailers?” I wondered.
The pastor and administrator of the school was an outgoing friendly, confident man. Pastor Tom Vann escorted us into his office. I heard him explain the individualized Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum to my parents, but barely heard anything else until it was time for my interview. Pastor Vann said, “I would like to ask you just a few questions before enrollment. Would that be ok?” I am sure I did not say anything but just nodded my head in agreement. “Ok. Are you a Christian?” In my head, my honest answer was no, but I knew that I should become a Christian. Nothing came out of my mouth for what seemed like an eternity. My parents eventually answered for me, “He has not professed faith in Christ yet.”

The rest of the interview went reasonably well. Questions that I could answer easily such as the basic IQ test weren’t hard. Why was the “Are you a Christian?” question so difficult? As he showed us around the small school, the question continued to ring in my soul and mind. I pushed it away for the time being, but Bible Baptist Christian Academy was where I encountered a personal God.

At BBCA, my inquisitive nature and love of reading fueled my desire to know more about God. I read the assigned Christian novels and missionary stories. I pondered the sermons I heard during weekly chapel. I studied the Creation versus evolution debate. These early impressions during my middle school years along with my church attendance led me closer to my profession of faith.

The Christian schools I attended were the greatest impact on my faith journey besides my parents’ salvation and their relationship with God. I attended a Christian school from sixth grade to high school graduation, as well as college. The Biblical curriculum, Christian teachers, chapels, and Christian students all shaped my faith.

~The Faith Journey Begins~

I do not point to any single event or series of events. My conviction of sin was based in knowledge of my own sinful nature that I learned from Scripture I heard and studied at church and school chapels. Honestly, I was afraid of hell. I was not ready to meet God.

One evening as I was lying in bed, I was, however, then ready to pray. My recollection of the exact date and time is not precise nor even necessarily important, but it was sometime during my sixth grade year (my first year in a Christian school). The conviction of the Holy Spirit just would not allow me to go to sleep without coming to grips with my sin. As I did often, I called my mom to my room, “Mom!” As usual, her motherly instincts led her to dutifully walk down the hall to my room and open the door.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I need to get saved,” I whispered through my tears.
I heard her yell to my dad in the living room, “Bill, come here.”
“What?” he said as he waited with her at the door to my room.
“Wes wants to be saved,” she emotionally replied.
“Praise, God! Let’s all go to the living room couch.”
Kneeling at the seventies-style brown plaid couch at Pinehurst Drive in Spring Hill, Florida that evening, I said as many words as I could say to express my guilt and need of a Savior. I know that I did not comprehend the depth of the commitment. I just knew that it was the way to begin. I recall resting easily that night in the peace and satisfaction of knowing God as my Savior. Is not this the way a journey should be? It must begin. Even though things seemed to be going smoothly, many trials lay ahead.

Now what? I recall many evangelists saying that if you become a Christian you will want to tell someone and everyone. I wanted to do everything I could to express my excitement even though I usually do not express my emotions well. I do know that I told my brother David the next morning. I was not a rebellious teen who had gone deep in sin, but, like all Christians, I had to face temptations and trials. What I know, is that the Christian life became a series of ups and downs for me. There were tremendously exciting and emotional times. There were low and lonely times. There were sad and sinful times. This sounds all too much like a teenage life.

~The Move to Ohio~

Yes, as a teenager, my life was filled with the normal teenage angst brought on by puberty. The faith journey continued on the thrill ride of high school. In the summer before the start of my tenth grade year, my family decided to move from Florida to Ohio. What kind of crazy was this? Our family in Florida could not understand. I did, I thought, understand that my parents were moving the family to support our spiritual life.

My father’s mentor, Doyle Martin, who had led him to Christ, had become a pastor at the Bellville Church of God in Bellville, Ohio. He had counseled my father to move somewhere where my siblings and I could be connected to a more robust church–a church that had a youth group. Following much prayer and much trial, my dad packed us up and moved us to a rented farmhouse outside of Bellville, Ohio. I pretended to understand the importance of following God’s will for our family, but it was tough being uprooted from friends, family, and a familiar location.
My love for the small Christian school that I attended from sixth grade to ninth grade played a role in my parents seeking the same type of school in Ohio. I certainly lobbied hard for a return to at least something that seemed familiar. From tenth grade to graduation, I attended Community Christian School in Mansfield, Ohio. This small school had to rely on individualized curriculum and video instruction to supplement their lack of professional teachers, but my academics flourished. The video lessons in government class so engaged my appetite for political discourse, that to this day, my wife calls me a “Fox News” junkie.

~Compassion in Action~

Jason was a scrawny looking guy with blonde hair that never seemed to stay in place. His voice screeched like an owl on a summer night. His gait was crooked as he made his way from class to class. Later I learned that his physical challenges were due to a hole in his heart that required surgery as a child. His heart issue had stunted his growth. Jason was a couple of years younger than I. If I recall correctly, he was in my brother David’s class. At lunch time at Community Christian School, the older students mixed with the younger students in the gym after eating their lunches in the school library.

One day a group of students teased Jason. “Your white shirts are always yellow under the arms…ewww, they are crusty,” one or two rowdy kids yelled after him. I followed him to the restroom to find him wiping his face with a paper towel. I do not remember if he was wiping the sweat off of his face or wiping the tears from his eyes, but I could tell he was upset by all the teasing. I cautiously approached him. “Jason, I am sorry about all that they said to you out there. If you need someone, I am glad to be your friend.”

“Thanks, Wesley,” was all he could muster at that time. I did not know what else to say, so I turned and left.
We all have felt the hot stinging words of a bully at some time in our life. Most of us had to learn the hard way through experience that those words do not make us who we are. Those words, however, do shape our journey in life. I have always had compassion for the people who are roughed up by life or by others. In my own way, God’s love for people comes through in the types of interactions with those like Jason. For Jason, life’s journey ended in suicide. His suicide happened years later after I had finished college, but it moved me deeply. I wished there was something that I could have done to stop his depression. How much of a difference my words made might never be known, but Jason’s story keeps me grounded in my calling and ministry to my own students I teach in Christian schools. For God called me to teach as a ministry to others.

~Called to be a Christian School Teacher~

You will never get rich teaching in Christian schools. I have heard this statement too many times to count. It is true that private Christian schools cannot pay teachers public school salaries. Does this fact alone make Christian teachers ministers on par with preachers, missionaries, and evangelists? It goes much deeper than that.

When I was a senior in high school at Community Christian School, our new principal showed the three seniors (yes, a whole class of three) a promotional video for a Christian camp called the Wilds in North Carolina. The Wilds has a five-day camp just for seniors graduating from Christian schools. As it turned out, we voted to make this camp a part of our senior trip. I enjoyed the activities, but being the only guy among the other two seniors who were girls, wasn’t great. Retreating to my camp bunk each night by myself, and rooming with other campers from other schools, I felt lonely. What made it momentous, though, was the decision I made in one of the last evening services of the camp.
Evangelist Tom Farrell gave the invitation that night inside the camp’s multipurpose room where all the campers and counselors had gathered as they had gathered every evening. “God calls people to full-time Christian service,” he exhorted as every head was bowed and every eye closed. “You don’t have to be a missionary or a preacher or an evangelist. God needs full-time ministers to be nurses and Christian school teachers!” With that last statement from the evangelist, the direction of my faith journey changed dramatically.

The story of Jason and Pastor Vann and a whole teenager’s life experiences poured into my mind. Can God use a quiet, regular unassuming guy from Ohio to teach in the trenches of a Christian school? “I get nervous talking in front of our church, let alone, teaching in front of multiple classes each day, God.” I broke down with tears. “I will go with Your Help,” I thought. I sought out Principal Dave Angus and explained that God was calling me. He prayed with me as I settled the issue that evening.

~On Track~

Personal application of a spiritual decision is usually the more challenging part of the move toward God’s plan for your life’s journey. After my senior trip decision, I felt as if life was going well, but another big decision was in the way–college. Where to attend college was a question that I had not yet nailed down. You will remember that my mother felt that she had started me in school at too early an age. Therefore, my parents both counseled me to work for year out of high school before jumping into college. Looking back, I agree that it was helpful to receive work experience along with sharpening my inter-personal skills before going to college.

I worked for a year at Beacon Graphics in Ashland, Ohio as a computer room operator helping print proofs for pre-press books and periodicals. I was exposed to the mundane working world and all the unique human beings in a white-collar job. Salty language, off-color jokes, and tales of partying seemed to make other employees smile and to indicate a grand-old time away from work. Yet, the dissatisfaction with life in general was revealed in the gossip and petty selfishness so evident on the work floor. It was not a bad job, nor an evil environment, but the exposure to many non-Christians helped me grow and prepare for the next step in life.

Along with being reserved, I am also bent toward pessimism. As my last day of work at Beacon Graphics came along, I remember getting sick with a bad head cold. I hardly ever called off work, but I did not work the last two days of my scheduled shifts at Beacon before I left for college. I probably could have gone in on the last day. I wasn’t that ill. No one cares anyway, I thought. How wrong I was!

I went to pick up my last paycheck and the receptionist said, “I hope college goes well for you. By the way, everyone brought in food for a last-day party for you yesterday. Check the refrigerator …there might be leftovers.” I walked down the hallway to goodbye wishes from a few people as I went to check the refrigerator in the break room. “Good, grief,” I sighed in my quiet Charlie Brown voice. “Look what you missed all because of you thought people didn’t care!” I murmured as I helped myself to a piece of leftover apple pie and pasta salad. The next part of the journey was four years long.

My years at Pensacola Christian College shaped me in ways no other experience possibly could have. Part of my decision to go back to Florida, so far away from home in Ohio, to college was definitely the low cost of tuition. Knowing that PCC had a well-established disciplined structure of campus life also brought a sense of comfort to me. Some have asked, “Why did you want to go to a college with rules about campus life?” My reply was, “It can’t be any stricter than what my parents require at home.” This was not a negative reflection on my parents, just a way for me to say that boundaries are necessary in the journey of faith. Following my recent dedication to become a Christian school teacher, I enrolled at PCC to complete a Bachelor’s in History Education with a minor in English Education on the secondary level.

It would take a full-length book to record all the college experiences that I had at Pensacola. The inter-personal life lessons were the ones that helped “crack the shell” of my more selfish reservations. At college, you are forced to interact with others. I could not live with three other guys in a residence hall room and not say anything, but it sure took some time to warm up to others.

I really did not know how to take Todd. Todd was one of my roommates. As a junior, he was the “top level” of authority or floor leader on my residence hall floor. Todd was a Commercial Art major who spent hours on his creative works. He loved joking with me about my reservations and shy ways. “Wes, you are so indecisive,“ he joked with a twang of laughter. He repeated the word, drawing out the first syllable out to make it humorous, “innnnn…decisive!” I think his comment was in reference to asking a girl for a date to a campus event, but he was right. Pessimism and worry usually got in the way of many of my attempts to live outside of my reserved shell. It took me a long time to ask anyone out for a date, and usually those dates were not repeated. It is no wonder that I did not find a companion for life at college, but I did start to shed that “shy” label.

Just having to interact with other students and teachers at college helped become more confident. My freshmen year I walked past people on the sidewalk with my head down. Sometime later, I made a commitment with myself that at the least, I would look people in the eye and smile. If I could make that small step, I could also hold the door for women entering a building behind me. These things may seem ordinary and easy to do for most people, but for me, it was a tremendous undertaking. It was a victory.

~Arkansas~

On Beech Street in Helena, Arkansas in August of 1993, my parents finished unloading my furniture and other belongings in the early afternoon. I said goodbye to them, closed the front door, and choked back tears. This was it. This was the calling God had lead me to. I was starting out on my own very much alone.

I was hired right after college to teach history and English to high school students at Phillips County Christian School. A school not much bigger than the high school I graduated from back in Ohio. It was a commitment. I viewed it as my mission field. I never was one to shy away from a challenging task, but this seemed almost too big for me. How could such an ordinary, quiet young man end up teaching in essentially a different culture miles and miles away from home?

As any other first year teacher will tell you, there are just some things that college cannot prepare you for. I had to experience things first hand to know the best way to handle the delicate relationships between students, parents, other teachers, and administration. The most important thing that I grew to understand in Arkansas was that my own knowledge was, at the best, incomplete. I needed to rely on the power of prayer and God’s love more than ever. I often tell other teachers and students to this day, that if you would have seen me my first year of teaching, you would not have been impressed. After many years of introspection, I realize that I was too confident in my own knowledge, and not reliant enough in the counsel of others or God’s truth.

In God’s providence, he placed many kind, Christian people in my path to help smooth off the rough edges. One of those people was my pastor during those years–Rudy Davis of the Second Baptist Church of West Helena, Arkansas. He was the epitome of a southern gentleman. He and his family took me under their wing and many times invited me to dinner after Sunday church. Pastor Rudy, as he was called, allowed me to serve in many capacities at the church. I played the piano for the first service on Sunday mornings. I taught a discipleship class on Sunday evenings for a few years. I sang in the choir. The senior citizens of the church, especially the ladies, wanted to help “fix me up” with someone. They thought I needed a wife. Once again, a wife was not God’s plan at this time. Many of these experiences at Second Baptist and Phillips County Christian School could be described as happenstance, but I know God was watching over me all through my four years in Arkansas.

~Wandering~

Sometimes our way is not God’s perfect plan for our life. After teaching for four years in Arkansas, I thought it was time to go back to get a master’s degree at Pensacola Christian College. The familiar atmosphere of the college seemed so inviting after living alone in Arkansas. I was accepted as a graduate teaching assistant at PCC. Looking back, I was relying more on my own desires rather than God’s direction in my life. The graduate teaching experience was a wonderful learning time, but I only stayed in the program for one semester. A few bad choices and financial strain led me to move back to Ohio.

I moved back to my parents’ house in Bellville, Ohio for the next year and a half. There I worked in a non-education hourly job as an assistant area manager for an inventory service. This job helped me learn additional leadership and inter-personal skills, but I felt unmotivated and out-of-place. I knew this was not the Christian education ministry that God had called me to in my senior year of college. I prayed that God would open a door to resume teaching.
The school board at Faith Christian Academy in Wilmot, Ohio hired me to direct the individualized (ACE) instruction in their junior high classroom. God had once again provided an open door for me to continue ministering to students. The two years I spent at FCA were enjoyable and rewarding years. My personal finances were stretched thin, because FCA did not pay teachers during the summer months. Through relationships at the church I attended during this time, I was able to work part-time for an electrician in the summer. I also recall a few times at church, that church members would privately hand me a check or cash, saying that they believed God wanted them to give me a financial gift. What a great answer to prayer those gifts were!

~Back on Track~

God also answered a long-time prayer while I was a teacher at FCA. I became friends with an acquaintance, Patricia, from my teen years. She was living alone with her young son, Dakota, in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Patti was the answer to my prayer for a wife. We were happily married in 2001, had a son, Bryce, in 2004, and have been supporting each other in this journey ever since. As so often the case, God directs and leads His own to places that require faith and dependence on Him. In 2002, Rush Christian School, hired me to be a teacher and principal of their K-8th grade school.

RCS was a great fit for my stepson, Dakota to finish his elementary and junior high. He thrived among some great friends in his class. RCS was a great place for me to practice leadership and inter-personal skills. Some things I attempted failed. Some things I implemented at the school flourished. I learned that school culture and history are important items for administrators to consider in their decisions. After Dakota finished junior high, we believed that God wanted him to go to a Christian high school. Once again, God answered that prayer and lead me to another leadership position at Coshocton Christian School.

At CCS, I was again a teacher and a principal. This time, the school was a K-12 school housed in a church facility. Even though the board of the church and school were separate, there were so many issues that required working through disagreements between the two ministries. Hard work, prayer, and tears were important ingredients for the Christian education ministry at CCS. I spent five wonderful years at Coshocton before moving back to Mansfield, Ohio. The city where I had attended my own high school.

In the fall of 2011, I began teaching English at Mansfield Christian School. MCS is the largest Christian school to-date where I have had the privilege teaching. Unfortunately, one thing that has been common to all the schools I have taught at is their financial difficulties. MCS, I had thought, would not be one of them.

Dr. Cy Smith, the superintendent of MCS, changed his plans at my first MCS teacher in-service. I believed he had some educational topic to present, but he cut it short. “Due to the school’s long term and short term debt, the school board has directed me to institute drastic budget cuts right now,” Dr. Smith soberly announced. He went on to detail all the staff and administration cuts which included a 10% across the board reduction in salaries. I went home to Patti and asked, “What is God doing? How can we survive? We were relying on this money.”

That statement belied my faith or lack thereof. Was I relying on God or money? I started teaching that year shaken to the core. I was trying to help support Dakota in college as well as seeing Bryce start out well at MCS. I was worried, but God was faithful and still able to supply our needs.

Shortly after our move to Mansfield, we decided to attend the Clear Creek Church of God in Ashland, Ohio. There was a core group of dedicated believers here at this church. Some were family, and many were people we had worshipped with in other locations. The first Sunday we arrived, the church gave us $500 and a whole car full of household supplies and canned goods. We called it our little miracle.

God continues to pleasantly surprise us with His provision. Our dryer needed repaired, and a day later $100 in cash showed up in the mail. My wife loves garage sales and continues to find free or low cost items that no one else could ever spot or find. A gift card from a parent at school makes the day brighter. A parent stops me in the hall to thank me for teaching their child, and wants me to know that he was well-prepared for college English. I am reminded of a chorus from a Brooklyn Tabernacle song that says:
“How many times must I prove how much I love you
How many ways must my love for you I show
How many times must I rescue you from trouble
For you to know just how much I love you.”

God loves us. He wants us to be eternally successful. Philippians 1:6 states: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (KJV). We can expect many trials in this journey, yet He is there all the time. God will be faithful. I pray that I will rely on His faithfulness all the way to the end.

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1 Comment

One Response to “God is Present Always”

  1. Tom Vann on November 3rd, 2018 9:09 pm

    This truly blessed my heart!

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