When I first started as a church planter it was just me and my wife attending our new church. We knew if we were going to get this thing off the ground we might need to add a few more bodies, but I had no idea how to start a church. What I did know was two things, motorcycles and tattoos. So I drove around Tulsa until I found a tattoo shop the Lord placed on my heart. I wasn’t sure how to start the conversation, so I just started to take them pizza once a week.
It was there that I met Alex. He was one of the tattoo artist and an army veteran. One day he followed me outside and told me that he had been praying and asking if God was real. He told me that he was uncomfortable with the subject, so he informed God that if He was real He was going to have to send someone his way to start the conversation. The very next day is when I first showed up with a pizza in my hand. Alex let a few weeks go by, but then he asked me to pray for him, and that began our friendship.
Alex began to attend our church on a weekly basis, and you could always find him sitting next to the senior adults who took him under their wing, even though he had a giant devil tattooed on his neck. They didn’t see his exterior; they saw a man full of love and potential. For six years I ministered to Alex as he wrestled with his demons and severe PTSD from his time in the military.
Occasionally his girlfriend would call me in the middle of the night terrified because Alex had a gun to his head threatening to take his own life. I would show up and always say the same thing, “Alex, you know I’m supposed to baptize you not bury you.” Eventually he would put the gun away, and we would cry and hug it out.
One of the ways he dealt with his issues was to go on long camping trips alone. One day I got a phone call that, while on one of his trips, he had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. I dropped everything and drove seven hours to be by his side. Alone in a hospital room I held his hand as he passed away. I cried like I haven’t cried in a long time as I told him once again, “Alex, I was supposed to baptize you not bury you.” Although he had never gotten baptized I knew his love for God was real.
The next day his mother arrived hoping to see her son, and I had to tell her the bad news. In the same way I had held her son I held her as we cried together. This is a tough story, but to me it is what ministry is all about. Jesus got His hands dirty. Spiritual growth looks different in all of us, but I saw Alex grow in leaps and bounds. I saw God transform his heart all because of a cheap $5 pizza and an ignorant young pastor who had no idea how to grow a church.
All I knew then, and all I still know now, is that God just asks us to trust and to try. I had no idea what was waiting for me the first time I walked into that tattoo shop, but God did. I still call those guys my friends, and I’ve been blessed by their friendship. Galatians 6:9 tells us not to become weary from doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. I consider it an honor to have held the hand of my friend as he got to meet his Savior.
Dear church, let us step outside our comfort zone and love those around us because you never know who God has waiting for you.