I've been preparing for and doing Christian ministry going on forty years. (I entered Stetson University as a religion major in the fall of 1976.) Forty years . . . that's a biblical number, a long time to be in the wilderness, a long time to be in ministry. Believe me, there have been days, and weeks, and, yes, even a few years when there didn't seem to be too much distance between the wilderness and the ministry, when they even seemed like opposite sides of the same coin.
In those hard times, which I imagine you too have encountered -- at least if you've been following the way of Christ for any length of time -- you may have asked yourself the question, "What difference has it made after all?" Hang around the world long enough, give your life to following Jesus long enough; you just might wonder what good it has done.
Well, it's 7:30 p.m. and I'm writing this column on the Megabus making my way across Alligator Alley into the sunset on the way to Tampa. My friend Ruben Ortiz, our CBF Florida moderator, is seated across from me. We're on our way back home from the Parrot Jungle, where Touching Miami with Love celebrated its "Big Dreamers" with a luncheon that honored and thanked those who saw the possibilities that were planted in the hearts and minds of the children, youth, and families in Overtown. And because followers of Jesus saw those possibilities through the eyes of their faith, they invested their time, their money, their sweat, their prayers, and their faith into those lives.
Today, one of the speakers was a young man named Isaac. He was on the program, but he arrived late. Maybe he got lost like Ruben and me. Anyway, Angel Pittman rearranged the program when he arrived so that we could hear what he had to say. I'm so glad that she did. Here's what I want you to know about what Isaac said.
He said that he started at TML when he was just a child. He was there, he said, before Jason and Angel. He was there before Trina and Amanda and the rest of the staff. He was one of the children that sat in a chair in the afterschool program ten years ago, twelve years ago. Maybe some of you who are reading this column taught him. I don't know, but TML's people, its staff and the volunteers and the church groups helped Isaac see that his life is a work of God. So today he works at TML as a fitness coach, helping the next generation of kids discover the dream for their lives that I believe is planted in their souls by the divine gardener.
Isaac ministers at TML because you were a part of his life. He ministers at TML because CBF Florida gave generously to purchase a building and bless it and together transform it into a space for grace. He ministers at TML because Cooperative Baptists across the US have given so that Jason and Angel (as well as their predecessors) can live and serve in Overtown. He ministers at TML because Trina Harris, TML's program director, saw his potential and dared to ask him to serve, to lead, to coach the kids of TML.
So today I was invited to the podium to receive a "Big Dreamer" award on behalf of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. As I held it, though, I knew that a lot of hands should have been holding it with me. I wish all of you -- everyone who prayed, everyone who gave, everyone who served, everyone who dreamed -- I wish you all could have stood on the platform with me. I especially wish that Pat and Carolyn Anderson could have heard and seen what became of their dream. I'm glad I was there. I'm glad Ruben was with me. And I'm glad that once more God allowed me to hear an answer to the question, "what difference have I (we) made? Today God answered the question as he has done before: with laughter, with Isaac.