I was born in Puerto Rico in a private clinic, because my mother was hiding her pregnancy. Shortly thereafter we moved New York City and my life of struggle truly began. At the age of 5, I was hit by a car and later molested. At 6, I was physically bullied to an inch of my life. My mother and stepfather sold drugs and neglected my sister and I, so we were shipped back to Puerto Rico to stay with my elderly grandparents, who already had custody of several of my cousins. Instead, we turned to the streets.
I caught my first case (I was arrested and prosecuted) at the age of 10. As a young teen, I’d already started having sex, smoking, drinking and doing drugs. I cursed God for abandoning me. After joining a gang and being arrested time after time, I became the most wanted fugitive of my town, and fled to the United States.
Satan had a grip on my heart and my downward spiral continued. I jumped back into gang life, drugs and guns. The arrests continued until I was facing 5 to 10 years in prison – when I was just 17 years old. In jail, a pastor brought me a Bible, telling me that all my life’s answers were inside. With anger and self-pity I challenged God to prove His love by providing me another chance at life, promising that if my prayer is answered, I would sing His praises for the rest of my life. I’m sure I’m not the only incarcerated person to try and make that deal.
Miraculously, a month later a judge granted me parole. I’m convinced it was God’s hand. On the outside my “old life” came calling right away, but I remembered my prison pastor’s words, “the moment you step outside of this place, that’s when you’ll discover if your decision for Christ is real.” God protected me in His own ways. When I was 21 years old, I started my walk with Jesus.
Now for HIS glory, I can say, I am a happily married man and the father of three wonderful kids. I have a good job, I am a teen pastor, a teacher of His word, a basketball coach, and I am involved in the I am Second movement here in NY. Take it from me, no one is beyond God’s redemption. While I do not deserve it, I happily accept His grace. My name is J.M. and “I am Second.”
What struggles do you face? Guess what – you’re not alone.
Report from Daniel, a youth pastor in Little Elm, Texas.
When I was first asked to take over the student ministry in my church, our Senior Pastor told me “When the youth get activated, the whole church will get activated.” I didn’t completely understand how true that statement was until a couple of weeks ago.
In December 2011 we launched our first I am Second youth group. It didn’t take long for our students to get behind the groups. A few weeks after our first group launched, six students told me they wanted to take I am Second into their public schools. So in early 2012 we launched I am Second in our local Junior High and High School. Soon 35 new students had joined those school groups.
We now have 8 groups. Each group caters to different types of people. About 30 kids have joined our youth group because of groups our students are doing outside the church.
One group amazes me because they consistently have over 25 kids attending each week. This group has inspired the parents to get involved. Each week 4-6 of the parents team up to host the group and provide dinner.
The whole church is getting behind these youth groups. For example, the parents are wearing I am Second bracelets and t-shirts. Their impact is spreading, too, for now we are finalizing a strategy to launch I am Second groups for the men’s and women’s ministries. Several new families have come to our church because their kids started coming to one of the Second groups.
After we train more leaders, we plan to expand the groups in the schools. The schools have given us permission to put up banners during lunch to get more exposure for the Second groups. So we’ll have an official launch soon when these new leaders are ready.
There is nothing more powerful than young people passionately telling others about what Jesus has done in their lives. Our Pastor was right. “When the youth get activated, the whole church will get activated.”
Everyone at our leaders’ conference sat in stunned silence as the young college student shared these words. Nancy was coming regularly to a Second group at the Univ. of North Texas. She told us how she studied the Bible with the others in the group, and even made commitments about how she was going to do what it said. But she freely admitted that she still was wrestling with whether to put her faith in Christ, particularly because of some of her lifestyle decisions.
So when asked why she was involved in the group, even though she was not sure she believed what was being discussed, Nancy said, “Why wouldn’t I want to go where I feel loved? I’m not against Christ, I’m just not sure about Him.”
How many other people around us are like that? Just waiting for someone to show enough interest to engage them in the conversation?
“It’s just two days before I get on the road with my friend, Havana, to begin the exciting eight hour drive to Lubbock from College Station. We’re leaving Thursday afternoon to spend the weekend with the Campus Crusade group at Texas Tech. These wonderful people have opened up over a dozen homes for all of us- we’re coming from Texas A&M, UNT, UT Tyler, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Sam Houston State.
Friday afternoon, about 25 A&M students will begin to pull out of their driveways to road-trip up to Tech and join our very-much-missed friends from all these other campuses. So why on earth are we even venturing out on this long drive from College Station to our rivals up at Tech?
I have the joy of getting to read the testimonies that come in to I am Second on a daily basis. I’m always amazed at the way that each story brings to light a new truth or something worth thinking through.
One particular story submitted by a guy named Ray was particularly intriguing because it falls perfectly in line with the things I’ve been talking about over the past few posts: sharing with your friends. Read part of his story:
“I had all these great plans on going to culinary school to become a great chef, but on July 12, 1999 as my truck spun out of control on the way to work I thought my life was over. What seemed like forever it was all over in seconds I came out untouched, WOW! As I stood in a field I called my Dad, told him to come and get me, waiting for the police and ambulance to show up I said to myself there has to be more to life than what I have made it out to be the last three years…
The day of my crash, believe it or not, my truck was still drivable and I told my dad that I wanted to go to work anyway. A bit bruised and shaken I had to be around people that day. That day my Jesus Freak buddy Ben was working and after a few hours of pondering that there had to be more to life than getting drunk and high every weekend maybe it was this Jesus dude, maybe there is a God. It took me a couple of more hours to get enough nerves to approach Ben, I asked him you know that church you are always talking about and inviting me too is it possible that I am still invited, I asked. With the biggest smile I have ever seen and to my amazement Ben said absolutely. It was then that an over whelming excitement came over me and I knew then that maybe there is a God, a higher power, a purpose in life, maybe Ben is authentic living out God’s word.”
It’s good when people know what we’re about. We obviously don’t have to be obnoxious or over-bearing, but we should stand firm. That way, when someone wants to know more, he or she will know to come to you. I’m interested in getting some discussion around this topic as well. What do you think are some good ways to let people know what you’re about (being second)? (Try to take out the Christian-ese) Where do you start if someone is suddenly interested?
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” – Paul
Wait a minute. “We loved you so much“… Now there’s a new way of looking at it (for me anyway). I always have this idea in my head that the love I show others comes directly from my love from God. My love from God compels me to share His love with others. I still wouldn’t say that’s wrong… but maybe it’s incomplete. Should it be my love for God and my love for others that brings me to the point of sharing the gospel? And not only the gospel—but my life as well. For Paul to share his life with someone, it meant he was spending time with them in community—living with them, eating with them, and serving with them. How often do we make that next step of truly investing not just a conversation, but authentic and substantial time with a person? We should be taking delight in these things out of our love for our neighbors. But fundamentally, do we love our neighbors? Think about those who we’re called to love. (This would be everyone—friend and foe alike). Do we truly love them? Now, if we love them, shouldn’t we invest in them both through sharing the gospel with them, and then by following up with them through quality time?
The challenge is pretty self evident here, but I’ll lay it out just in case. Examine your relationships. 1) Do you love your neighbors? 2) If you love them, are you showing them genuine love? 3) If you’re showing them genuine love, are you showing them Christ? 4) If you’re showing them Christ, are you continuing to love them by investing in them?
I of course am not suggesting that you beat anyone over the head with a Bible, but I think it’s important that we show an authentic compassion and love for people through actions and quality time so that the faith that we share doesn’t stand alone. Then we, like Paul, can show others our love.
I got a message from a guy today, “Just checking if this is the Shannon from the I am Second video? If so, I wanted to thank you for your testimony. I have a friend who is recovering from a similar situation. I am going to send her the link to your video.”
Here’s the thing: you have friends who are struggling. Think about it for a few minutes and you can probably think of one if not more. Now, can you think of a video that might encourage them? Send them a link to that particular video, and then go get coffee with them. “Hey, I saw this video and I thought you might enjoy watching it.” Wait a day. “Hey! Do you want to go grab coffee? Oh and by the way, did you check out that video I sent you?” Then ask him what he thought about it over cappuccino. You could so easily minister to someone who is having a hard time.
For all of your other friends who may not exactly be struggling right this second, invite them to the fan page. Who knows how they may be affected spiritually!
Up to this point, the sole I am Second communication on Facebook has been through our Group. Amazingly, there are 30,000 members. However, most people don’t take time to visit group pages on a regular basis. So three days ago, a Fan Page went up. Personally, I am really excited about this new form of communication, because it makes it easier to encourage, inspire , and inform people. I love it. After three days, there are already 2,500 fans and lots of discussion on the page. Who knew this type of page would be such a catalyst?
One thing I’ve seen that I found particularly exciting was a post from a guy named Mitchell. I had asked how people found the site and this is what he said:
“I saw where one of my FB friends had become a fan and so I checked it out. Of course I was hooked as soon as I saw it, became a fan and shared it with my Facebook friends.”
I’m encouraged by both of these messages because as each of these guys found a story inspiring, they immediately shared it. Have you done the same? Sending page suggestions is pretty painless and could have some great rewards. So tell some friends. Get some coffee with them. Join the fan page. Share it with your friends. And I’m looking forward to hearing some success stories from you J