The Early Heroes

indexThis is part of a series, celebrating those who have cheered me on in the race…

What motivates someone to invest in the life of a teenager? It certainly can’t be a paycheck, as teachers and youth pastors are some of the most underpaid workers in the marketplace. There has to be something of greater significance and purpose for these unsung heroes who give sacrificially to make an investment in the life of a teenager.

For those early “heroes” in my journey of faith, I believe it was their love for God and love for others that motivated them to make an investment in me. Now, at the time, I had no realization what they were doing, but through their investment of time and friendship, they served to lay a solid foundation of faith on which I was able to build upon in my life.

As a teenager, I was incredibly blessed to be part of one of the largest youth programs of its day, Campus After Dark. It had an incredible presence on the local high school campuses and an incredible bunch of youth interns and workers. The youth staff was fun, well liked and cool! We played wacky games, learned about God and served our community. And in my humble opinion, we had one of the best youth pastors in the nation, Mike Maples.

Through Campus After Dark, I learned about character, leadership and life. But it was the relationships that I formed that helped those spiritual truths become reality, as they lived the Christian life in front of me. Two of those stand outs were, Dennis Bennett and Dan McElroy. While I can’t pinpoint the first time I met these guys, they shaped my view of God and their encouragement helped me through the difficult teen years. They took a genuine interest in me. One that went beyond the confines of our youth program. They shared their struggles, their ambitions and what they were learning as a follower of Jesus. They also took me to ballgames, concerts and bought me pizza!

I remember one night when Dennis and I went to a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park. It went extra innings and we got the “Croix de Candlestick” button at the conclusion of the game. As a teenager, that was pretty cool, especially given that it was a school night. Dennis and I also played racquetball together. Those moments of fun, allowed me to hear truth from Dennis, because I knew he wanted the best for me. So when the hard conversations came, I listened, especially when he spoke from his own experience.

It was Dan’s eclectic taste in music that connected us together. But his influence went far beyond music and I will never forget a talk we had right before I headed off to college. His “make it or break it” talk motivated me to go the distance in my Christian faith. In fact, since that talk, the number one hope for my life has been to “finish well” the race that God has called me to. But the immediate application of that talk, was to plug into a church and a Christian group at UC Santa Barbara as soon as I got there. That advice served me well in college, but Dan also made sure I stayed the course in college, often checking in with me, sending me money for pizza and praying for me behind the scenes.

So what’s the purpose in all this? First, it’s an expression of gratitude from a grateful heart and a way to say thanks to God and to those he put in my life. Secondly, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is one that is given away. It is meant to be shared with others. This was Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 28:18-20 when he told us to “go and make disciples of all men” and Paul’s expression in 2 Timothy 2:2, when he told Timothy, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Finally, it’s my way of recalling God’s faithfulness in my life, as I recall His goodness in the land of the living.

So, Dan and Dennis, thank you for making a difference in my life! I am grateful for your influence and for being among the “cloud of witnesses” in my life.

One Response to The Early Heroes
  1. Dennis Bennett Reply

    Hey Bryan. Such nice words from a long time friend. Makes all the days spent with CAD worth every minute of it. I’m so glad to see and hear what kind of man you have become my sister-in-law, whom you met some months back, had very nice things to say about you. Of course, things I already knew. Thanks for being the kind of influence I know you are in the lives of the people around you as well as I’m sure, your family. Let’s get together sometime. I would really look forward to something like that.
    With love,
    Dennis

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