The After of the Before

The After of the Before

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We know that poverty, substance abuse, criminal behavior, and victimization have a generational quality; if a child is born and raised in that environment, we can predict, with a fair certainty, what the outcome will be: another lost generation. But a recent narration caught and held my attention only because I already knew the spoiler.
“Wow… what a mess…!”

This boy was born into a single parent family and they moved constantly. He did eventually get a dad, but not his biological father. But all children need a father – even if he’s not related, so this boy took what he could get.

His mom seemed stuck in a spiral of poor decisions and codependency on whatever seemed to work at the time. By the time this kid was 16 years old, he had no direction, no purpose, and nothing positive in his life that he could model. There was and never had been anything that offered a hint of something bigger than him. But then the most bizarre thing happened: he had to pick up his mom from some place. Even though he didn’t have a driver’s license, he drove the car anyway. And when he showed up high, his mom, in a rare moment of mental clarity, took extreme offense at his behavior and life style, and she let him have it in a way that only a mother can get away with.

“You are not going to end up the way I am! And you are not going to end up the way everyone else is either!”
His reaction was predictable and logical, “Who are you to tell me what to do? What gives you the right to hold me to a higher standard than you hold yourself?”

So at this point, we can predict this kid’s future, right?
Another lost generation – but what chance did he have anyway? We can’t blame him for the way his life will turn out, can we? Well, at least not until he’s an adult, then he will enter criminal justice system… and then out of sight will be out of mind…. wow… what a mess…

Rebellion, cynicism and hopelessness are hard to break – especially in a 16-year-old kid who was growing up without even an awareness of a moral compass, but his mom was determined to get him out of town and far away from the toxic environment that was his only point of reference in his life.
The after of the before

He had an uncle in another city about 100 miles away. This uncle lived a very different life and was able to offer stability and a way out, so he was sent to live with his uncle. For the first time ever, this young man discovered that chaos and hopelessness didn’t have to be the normal. There was another way to live, a way to get out and break the generational cycle.
His uncle was a Christian, and he showed his nephew this way out. This was an offer freely given. But he and only he would have to accept it and, once accepted, would have to allow the terms of the offer to change his life. So he accepted Christ as his Savior. He found the power of the Holy Spirit to be the most intense, life affirming experience ever. The unconditional acceptance was overwhelming. He was all in and has never looked back.

Those of you who know Arek O’Connell, Hillside’s youth director, recognize this is Arek’s story. Arek’s testimony is the most amazing story I’ve ever heard. His life is so different than my 57-year history of being born and raised in a two-parent, Christian home protected by the friendly confines of Cutlerville.

Most – perhaps all – of the youth at Hillside share the same life experience as me. My lifetime of a day-to-day Christian is a blessing and serves me well, but it doesn’t lend itself to the intense, passionate, white-hot flame that is Arek’s commitment to living a life driven by the jet fuel only the Holy Spirit provides.

Not that I’m jealous of Arek’s life, but I do envy his passion for his Christian life. In contrast, my Christian life is a lifetime of conforming to the familiar, and I have no before and after; but Arek is the after of the before. I need to hear a story like his from time to time to remind me to take my life off auto-pilot and pursue the Holy Spirit with Arek’s drive.
I asked Arek what he wants his maximum impact on our youth to be. “I want them to realize that compared to me, they already have a huge head start. They already have the tools to change the world; they just need to use them. I want them to know West Michigan is not the normal. In a couple years, clothes, looks, and popularity will no longer matter.”
Most of the world is the before; they just need someone to show them how to become the after. That should be everyone’s impact, not just Hillside’s youth.


by Bob VerBurg

Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly
great power is from God and not from us. II Corinthians 4:7

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