Sixteen Precious Souls

​I remember my Young Life leader reading me the Burr Nichols story from the book Dance, Children, Dance. Burr began a relationship with Jesus after hearing Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, speak about the Savior in club. A few months later the high schooler was killed in a car accident. As my leader read the story, he couldn’t finish it through his tears. He kept getting caught on Rayburn’s line, “Burr was a precious soul for whom the Lord died.” Recently this story has taken on new meaning.

This past summer, another leader, Travis, and I took a cabin of 16 young men to SharpTop Cove. Most came from tough backgrounds; a lot of single-parent homes, rough neighborhoods. Maybe a quarter of them had a father who was around at all, let alone one whom they lived with or would tell them he loved them.

On the third night of camp, the speaker, Devon Accardi, left us with the question: “Have you ever asked, ‘Jesus, where were you? If you had just been there ...’” These guys certainly had a lot of pain. This cabin full of tough football players, who dismiss feelings and insecurities, guys who believe vulnerability equals weakness, was quickly filled with tears. There was Bryce, who came to camp a day late because he had to bury his four-year-old cousin. There was James*, who was constantly told by his mother he would never amount to anything. Each one could tell a story, many stories in fact, that would break the Savior’s heart. None more poignant than Isaiah, however. The sobs stifled for a moment, as he quietly told the story of coming home and finding his mom dead on the floor.

Later in the night, Nick, the star running back of the football team, stopped me and asked to talk. He said, “How do you be a leader?”

“What, like a Young Life leader?”

“Yeah ... I mean no. How do you lead people to Jesus? I’ve never understood before tonight, but people’s stories are real. I’ve heard Isaiah’s story before, but it’s never clicked. That’s his story. That’s his life. How do I help him? How do I show him Jesus?”

We eventually walked to a bench, and he continued questioning me. “How do I lead my brothers?” Nick has many younger brothers and cousins who look up to him. “My dad was never around for me. He’s lived in this town for three years. He hasn’t come to one of my football games. Not one. They don’t know that. They haven’t seen that side of him yet. How do I lead them?”

My heart burned with his against the brokenness of this world. I found myself wondering, “Jesus, where were you? How could you let all this happen?” Then Nick spoke again, this time the deepest question of his heart surfacing, as he asked me, “How come he doesn’t want to father me?”

What do you say to that? No leader is prepared for that. Heck, no human should have to answer that. I was scared to answer. What if I couldn’t come through for him? What if I failed him, just like his father so many times? But I found my voice, and told him I didn’t know why his father wasn’t around. That I hated it too. That I didn’t have answers. But I knew one thing. God wanted to father him. He wanted to pour His love on him. God wanted him to know, more than anything, that he is His beloved, His son.

I told him about Romans 8:15 (NKJV), which says, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” I told him how we can be sure of the promise of God’s desire to father us because of Jesus on the cross. And I told him how this empowers us to be there for others, and share this same life-changing news with them. We talked for over an hour about what it looks like to lead other people, to pray for them, and mostly, to be loved by and fall in love with Jesus.

I realized at camp, outside of Travis and me, many of the guys have never had an older male tell them he was proud of them. That he loved them. Medical school has forced me to stop leading Young Life, but I still get to run with these guys. I watch their football games, and tell them how proud I am of them. I tell them I love them, and sometimes even hear it back. And mostly, largely due to the mission of Young Life, I get the chance to tell Nick and those 15 other “precious souls for whom the Lord died” about the love of Jesus. And for this, I will always be thankful.

*Name has been changed