Bringing Love to a Knife Fight
I was getting into my car, recently to go to work when the phone call came from a young man. I will call him Braden. “Pastor Chad, I am stranded at the McDonalds, and my pastor who is here with me has to leave soon,” he said.
The call came through a messenger app, which is typical. Youth that I haven’t seen in years will often find me on Facebook and make the free internet call when they are in trouble. I told him I would come to pick him up.
When I pulled up and saw him, he looked like he had been beaten up, like he had been in a bad fight. His pastor was from southeast Oklahoma. We talked briefly, exchanged cards, and he was on his way with a four-hour drive back home.
Then the story started. Braden had been at home when his mom was getting home from cancer treatment. She was delirious from her medication, and her boyfriend started beating her. Braden pleaded with him to beat up on him instead, to no avail.
Braden finally stepped in and took the abuse. He is tall but skinny, maybe 130 pounds and no match for a grown man. After beating him, his mother’s boyfriend cut him across the face and hand with a pocket knife, requiring several stitches.
Braden is a senior in high school, but he is also 18, so I was told the police declined to press charges, calling it a mutual fight between adults. His pastor took him in over the weekend and then delivered him to Oklahoma City where he has some relatives.
It took me a little time to wrap my mind around his new reality as a homeless adult and what I should do for him. Like a lot of youth we work with, he had extended family and friends who would let him couch surf in the short term, but Braden was making excellent grades and had already started the process of applying to colleges. I could see that in the next few hours he was going to make some decisions that would shape his future.
His mother allowed him to leave with his clothes, social security card and a photocopy of his birth certificate. He had no ID, no driver’s license and no money to take care of himself. His best prospect was a distant cousin in east central Oklahoma, who was willing to take him in if he stayed in school and got a job. His cousin agreed to come to pick him up after he got off work at 5 p.m., so I had the day to do what I could. My task list was long but critical. Get him an I.D., a bank account that I would fund, a working phone, enrolled in school and a safe place to stay.
He couldn’t get an I.D. card or driver’s permit because he lacked an original birth certificate. To get a birth certificate, he needed two forms of I.D., and he only had one. It is a frustrating loop that young people in poverty face when they have little parental support. You need transportation, money and lots of patience to get the government to recognize you. Most kids end up on foot, working with cash and facing many closed doors.
We figured out how to get his birth certificate ordered online, but he couldn’t open a bank account without it, so I bought him a pre-paid card at Walmart with $200 on it, and we got his phone activated.
I fed him lunch, and we headed out of town, waiting for his cousin. On the way, I called his previous high school and talked to the school counselor. I explained his situation and asked if we could come visit her. She agreed and told me what to do to get him enrolled at the school district offices as a homeless adult. Braden had been a member at a Baptist church in that area, so I called their youth pastor and explained his situation and asked to come by.
A short time later, we were at the church, and his pastors were waiting for him. They knew him well and were prepared to step in and care for this boy. As we were leaving to go enroll in school, the outreach pastor said to tell the principal that “you are one of my guys.” He also informed us that the school counselor is one of their Sunday school teachers.
We got him enrolled at the district office and went to the high school. The principle was outside when we pulled up and immediately recognized Braden. He ushered us into his office and called the counselor in.
They gathered around Braden and took great care of him. They wanted to make sure he had food, clothes and a stable place to stay. He left school on Friday in southeast Oklahoma, and he started school in this new community on Tuesday. It reminded me of the promise from Jesus that He will never leave us or forsake us.
As we left the school, his cousin was waiting outside in his car. He was a handsome bright-eyed 20-year-old who is working in the oil fields. He gave me a firm handshake and said, “I want to thank you for bringing Braden to us. My mother is closing on a new house this week, and we have an extra room picked out for Braden to stay in.”
Braden gave his heart to Christ at Mission OKC, where I serve as pastor, when he was still just a little boy. As his mother moved around the last few years, he had made a point to get plugged into a local church. As I drove away, I thought about how God saw this terrible day coming when Braden would be beaten up, separated from his mother, lose his home and would be thrust out into the world on his own for trying to protect his mother. Yet it was clear that there was a hedge of protection around him.
I was proud of my brothers and sister in Christ and proud to be a Christian as eight believers from three cities locked arms around Braden without missing a beat to save this young man from a devastating fall. He may have been hurting, but he knew that he was loved. I pray that it is a formative example to Braden that as Christians we are called to do whatever it takes to help those who are hurting and that one day he will be ready to take up his role to do the same.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know if facing abuse, please seek help through law enforcement and know anyone can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.