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April-May 2018

Soccer and the Gospel

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FIRST GLIMPSE: His Best From My Mess


“You don’t remember me, do you?”

Trying not to show my dismay, I wracked my brain, trying to match the face before me with a memory...any memory.

“Don’t worry. I was younger then—much younger. I went on a trip with your youth group, the one where you were the only chaperone.”

I groaned. Audibly.

In more than two decades of youth ministry, I only took one overnight trip without multiple chaperones, and it was an unmitigated disaster. When two volunteers called in sick, a parent had to work unexpectedly, and my wife couldn’t make the trip, I found myself alone with 14 mischievous students, a worn out church van, and a short fuse.

That fuse was clipped even shorter as the weekend progressed. With the shortage of chaperones, the teens had no trouble working around my frequent room checks. They sneaked out, tormented other groups, and went sledding in the middle of the night using a brand new hard side suitcase the pastor’s son had borrowed from his mom. They even locked an annoying member of the group onto the hotel balcony, where he spent a long, snowy night in his pajamas. During services, they whispered, made faces, and laughed at inappropriate times.

Looking back, they were simply being kids, pushing the limits and taking advantage of the situation. At the time, it was infuriating and then humiliating when retreat leaders informed me our group was not welcome back without additional chaperones. I can’t blame them.


Fifty miles into the trip home, the short fuse lit when I looked in the rearview mirror through sleep-deprived eyes to see 14 cherubic, sleeping faces. The explosion that followed wasn’t pretty and left the girls in tears, the guys furious, and all the van windows rolled down so no one could sleep. I can’t imagine how our visitor must have felt.

Now, she sat in front of me. An adult. My greatest failure as a youth pastor had come full circle on this routine follow-up visit with guests to our church. No wonder I didn’t remember her. I had blocked those memories from my mind.

I dropped my head, avoiding her eyes so she wouldn’t see the shame in mine. “I am so sorry,” I murmured, thinking the visit was about to come to an abrupt end.

“Why are you sorry?”

Her cheery response was unexpected, to say the least. I raised my eyes to see a broad smile.
“That was the best weekend of my life,” she continued. “That’s the weekend I accepted Jesus as my Savior.”

Once again I saw God’s best from my mess. I am so grateful.

A final note: Kristen and her family not only returned to church, they eventually became faithful members. She coordinates Toddler Time and is an AWANA leader. Every Wednesday night, I enjoy teaching her daughter in my AWANA class, where we have multiple chaperones. God
is good.

About the Columnist: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine and president of the Evangelical Press Association. Email:




©2018 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists