They Call Him Mr. Paul

Paul Richard had a crazy idea running through his head. Oddly enough, it involved running. But when the Western Tidewater, Va., area director laced his Nike Pegasus sneakers and started running with the student-athletes at Western Branch High School, a Group AAA track power in the Hampton Roads area with six team state championships in the last four years, Richard didn't know God would use those relationships to start a new outreach ministry at the school.

Intent on being where kids were, Richard purposely ran laps while the track team was practicing. "I went down to catch up with these kids and watch them run," said Richard, who had a heart to connect with the African-American kids at the high school. "Slowly but surely, I met kids. I was on the track at the same time they were, and as I ran with them, I just made suggestions. The kids started saying, 'Hey, this old guy is pretty all right.' The track was the natural place to be."

After three months, conversations began going deeper than sprinting techniques. What started off as an investigative study through the Gospel of John with four student-athletes and some Wawa deli sandwiches has turned into "Chew on This," a regular Bible study geared toward a previously unreached segment of the school's population.

Richard and his wife, Shelley, regularly host 35 -40 kids in their home, with about 70 kids involved throughout the school year. Western Branch students get their fill of chicken, chili or other delicious homemade meals — which are always followed by choose-your-own-toppings ice cream sundaes — and the teens leave with more than full stomachs.

"We just eat and hang out and talk about the Word," said Jarard, a Western Branch student. "It's given me a better relationship with God."

Not only does the man the kids call "Mr. Paul" share the Gospel, he also embodies the Gospel message with his lifestyle.

"Mr. Paul is like a mentor to a lot of us," said Eric, also a student at Western Branch. "He's the big brother a lot of us needed. I know he's helped me a lot."

Brandon, a classmate at the school, agrees. "He's the best cook I know," Brandon said. "And besides that, he's a good man. If you call Mr. Paul, he'll be right there for you."

A former Campaigner kid in West Chester, Pa., Richard didn't become a volunteer leader until he was 39. At age 45, he left an incredibly lucrative vice president of sales position to join Young Life staff. He and Shelley — who estimate they've had more than 30,000 kid-visits in the home — have hearts for kids who need the Gospel.

"We intentionally got involved with Young Life because we wanted to be with a mission reaching lost kids," Richard said. "We started off volunteering, wondering if kids would like us. As we got to know kids over time, we were able to find that we could have an influence on kids' lives."