Two's Company

John Fowler’s gray Corolla was loaded with all of the beach trip essentials; tent, grill, hot dogs, football, Frisbees, baseballs and mitts.

“When I go to the beach,” said the volunteer leader John, “I blow it out.”

But this blowout beach trip had hit an apparent snag.

John started receiving messages every Young Life leader dreads: the “sorry I can’t make it” message. By the time John was ready to make the 40-mile trip from Spanish Porch, Alabama, to the beach at Gulf Shores, it was down to one Young Life leader and one kid.

And not only was it one kid, it was Adam*, the quietest kid in the group.

John tried to put the brave “Young Life leader” face on, but he was disappointed.

“I was right on the edge of saying, ‘Hey, let’s just call it off,’” John said. “I was a younger leader, and didn’t realize that maybe this could be a good day.”

If John was unaware that the road trip was a divine appointment, he’d soon learn.

The initial words out of Adam’s mouth completely changed the trajectory of the trip down Highway 59.

“The first thing he said was, ‘I’m glad it’s just you and me.’”

Adam had a big brother who preceded him into the Army. Other than that, no father figure, uncles or grandfather. When he decided not to continue his track career, there wasn’t a coach involved either. He had lots of questions — specifically on dating — he was eager to throw John’s way.

The car ride turned into an incredibly detailed coaching session with John helping Adam plan his first date down to the smallest detail. They planned out vacuuming the car, rehearsing questions the girl’s father might ask, dinner options and appropriate return times.

Once that line of questions was exhausted, John then listened intently as Adam sought out affirmation on his post-high school plans. He had always dreamed of being in the Army.

“The whole day surprised me, and I realized, it was about me and this kid, not how many kids,” John said. “And God was definitely in it.”

What John didn’t know is that he would be one of the mentors walking Adam through the obstacles between him and the Army. It was John who promised the kid that if he gave the military entrance exam just one more try, he could pass it.

Once Adam passed — just as John had predicted — it was John who took him to a late-night steak dinner at the Waffle House. And it was John who helped arrange a going-away party for the soldier, complete with a camouflage cake topped by a plastic Army battle figurine at the local Pizza Hut.

It was also John who took the mini Bible out of the inside sleeve of his volunteer firefighter’s jacket and gave it to the new soldier. It’s the Bible John received a text about years later from Afghanistan.

“Still have the Bible,” the soldier said. “Still reading it.”

Many times since that initial Gulf Shores beach trip John has found himself in one-on-one situations. He now knows to look at them as God-ordained moments.

“Whether it’s a conversation or hanging out,” John said. “The most important thing I can do is be with that kid.”

*name has been changed