I Timothy 4:11 Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you are young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.
Sometimes we can learn more by listening to those who are younger than we are then we can teach them. I have lived this over and over again as I have worked with children and young adults.
In my time as pastor of Hyde Park UMC in Covington, I had the privilege of knowing a teenaged boy named Michael Wayne Cullens. Michael met me at the door with a wide grin and a shock of red hair, I immediately liked him because he just looked so darn much like Mickey Rooney from the Andy Hardy movies I watched as a child. He was always there to do any odd job we needed done at the church, and he ran the “digital demon” which was the malfunctioning digital hymnal the church used because the pianist had past away and no other was available. He had always lived with the grandparents, and he was known by everyone within walking distance.
The church was full of widowed women who had raised their families in that church and now they raised Michael and he loved them all. Michael always had a call to ministry, I would let him help with worship and the ladies would just beam with pride as he mispronounced Psalms (Pu-Salms) and struggled through his first few times to deliver the message. I have many fond memories of watching him grow. Miss Velma told me recently that when Michael started bringing Jessica, age 14, to church with him she thought they sat a little to close. But they where there, together, every Sunday from then on.
It pained me to leave that church, but we did stay in touch with many including Michael and Jessica who began teaching the younger children after I left. Michael talked to anyone who would listen, and helped anyone who needed it. In the poor part of town surrounded by housing projects and drugs, there was never a lack of folks who needed to talk. Michael stayed true to God’s call on his life and never became a victim of the temptations that so many of the young folks around him did.
In November of 2007 Michael’s leg broke. The x-ray showed that a tumor had all but replaced the bone, the leg had to be removed if there was any hope at all of saving his life. With a minister on each side of his bed, Michael told us, “ It is all going to be okay, I will be here as long as God needs me to be.” Michael, with Jessica by his side every day, counseled other kids with bone cancer, spoke at churches and gave his witness, and shared with us the wisdom that comes from trusting God so completely each day that you can praise God even in the midst of your own physical pain. His faith is the faith that we all aspire to have and many of us work twice as long to have half as much.
February 14, Michael and Jessica married in spite of the prognosis. There was laughing and smiles, and tears of joy. They lived every day together to the fullest. Michael passed away April 21st.
At Michael's funeral, Rev. Mike Jeffers said something on behalf of those of us who served as Michael’s pastors. “There was a point for all of us at which we stopped being Michael’s teacher, and he started being ours. He gave us comfort and reminded us of the healing God brings us in eternity.” Michael may have left us here, but he left with us a witness that will live on much longer then the 21 years he lived on this earth. I thank God for having been blessed to know him, and for being given the opportunity to share in his story.