STORIES FROM OLD JOE
Praying in McDonald’s in Pacific Grove — July 1986
“He is a father to the fatherless . . .” —Psalm 68:5
In early August of 1986, we left Spokane after eleven years and moved to Monterey, California. I had driven the little red ‘85 Honda down by myself on July 1st to spend a couple of weeks figuring out where we were going to live. I stayed with with some new friends in Pebble Beach during that time, and learned my way around the Monterey Peninsula.
I would go out for breakfast by myself every morning to get out of the house, and to see a different part of the Peninsula. On one particular morning I found myself at McDonald’s in Pacific Grove having an egg McMuffin and coffee. Still one of my favorite breakfasts.
Sitting across from me were a couple of guys from Pacific Grove (PG) High, wearing their red and gold letterman jackets. As I watched them talking, I remember praying for whoever the first kid would be from PG High to begin following Christ through the ministry of Young Life in these next years. At the time I didn’t even know if we would start a club there right away. I just knew that we would have one at Monterey High.
But as it turned out, we did start a second club later that fall. The club met at a kid named Jason’s house and was composed of a fun group of loner/outsider kids who were all friends with each other. They were easy to get to know, and felt a lot of ownership for the club, and, as a result, we never felt pressure as leaders to put on a big deal. At the second club, a big kid named Nick showed up. I talked to him a little afterward. The next day I happened to be on PG High’s campus to see Matt Bell, a Math teacher/swim coach and one of our leaders. As I headed into the office, I spotted Nick and called him by name. I could tell that he was pleased and even surprised, and we talked for a bit. As it turns out, he was not normally on campus, because he’d been put in special ed by mistake.
A month later, I was at club talking with Nick, and I mentioned that this coming weekend I was going to rent a floor sander and refinish our bedroom floor, but that I really didn’t know what I was doing. He asked if I wanted any help. I said, “Why? Do you know how to work one of those big things?” He allowed that he hadn’t actually used one, but that he’d seen it done, and was pretty sure he could. So I picked him up that weekend and we sanded that floor together. (You can probably still see the ridges in some spots, but we did a pretty good job.)
That was the beginning of our friendship, which lasts to this day. Nick was one of those guys who had learned a little about Jesus as a kid, but who hadn’t done anything with it. His dad was non-existent in his life, even though he lived for the most part in the same town. His mom was both unstable and unhappy. So I stepped into a dad role, and we did a lot of things together. The first time I took him to breakfast was at a fancy golf breakfast place in Pebble Beach. He always remembered that. After that, we had years of regular breakfasts together at our favorite place called First Awakenings. We had our usual spot by the door.
Nick was always refreshingly honest with me. Taking him home from an overnight camping trip with a bunch of other kids, he confessed that after we’d gone to sleep, he and another guy had snuck over to a girl’s campsight, not from our group, and stayed up very late. He didn’t want me to find out from anybody else, and he apologized. He confessed his wrongdoings from his past years, which were both humorous and embarrassing.
When we would go on camp assignments, Nick would stay at our house, and watch over Shannon and Chewie, our dogs. Shannon grew very attached to him. We would always return to brown grass at the end of the month, but Nick was learning responsibility.
The first time I took him to church at Carmel Presbyterian, he was so nervous. He felt like everybody was watching him and that he didn’t know how to act. Asked me how he should act. He didn’t have his GED, so we started working on that, although I wasn’t very successful in my tutoring attempts. We remember him coming for his 21st birthday at our house, and him being reluctant to have his mom come, because he was embarrassed about her. Sometimes he would introduce me as his “dad.” (Once, when we were together, we actually ran into his father, whom he hadn’t seen in four or five years. The conversation was limited to a couple of “hi’s” and “how ya doing’s”. It felt strange. No wonder he referred to me as his dad.)
He began helping with the middle school group at Carmel Pres. And, after a couple of years, he came on their staff, and then became the middle school youth guy. From there he really progressed. As I write this twenty years later, he has been a youth director in four different churches and literally hundreds of kids have been drawn to the Saviour because of Nick’s commitment to Christ and his leadership. He is married to a wonderful woman and has three children now.
You never know what will happen when you pray over your egg McMuffin at McDonalds.