Joshua and I met in Kindergarten at age five and went to school together for the following 15 years (with the exception of one semester of college.) Our grade never had any more than about 20 students from Kindergarten to 12th grade, so you can imagine how well we know each other after all of those years. Our friendship really blossomed in mid-late elementary and only continued to deepen throughout junior high and high school. Most of my fondest memories for the first 18 years of my life revolve around our friendship and how I could count on him when I didn’t feel like I had anyone else. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that both of our stories run almost parallel. One of the downfalls of being so acquainted with a person throughout formative years where massive change happens is as you watch all of the changes happen, you never really think to later ask, “What’s your story?” I most likely wouldn’t have ever asked Josh this question without Finding Story Co. – not because I didn’t want to know, but because he’s too familiar. To have this opportunity – to routinely sit down with him and just say, “Alright, tell your story – for the purpose of this project” was a blessing from God. I listened to Josh’s story. I was able to make a lot of comparisons to my own story – same people, places, and memories. I was able to hear Josh’s perception of the years prior to us finding our way to Jesus and what it was that he was wrestling with during that time in retrospect. As Josh’s words flew out, I was mesmerized by the chain of God-ordained moments that nudged Josh through the doors of a little country church – the little country church that he eventually invited me into and where I heard about Jesus for the first time. Josh has always been really good at helping others, but now, with Jesus in his heart, his helping and loving knows no boundaries. Here is his story:
February 13, 2017
JOSH: I was born in a town of about 300 people. I grew up not really doing much outside of my home. If I did something it was at my house, with my friends, or with my little siblings. Since it was a small town, you made up a lot of games with your animals and your trees and anything you could find in your house. As a kid, I went to church some and thought I was learning a lot about Jesus. Later in life, I realized I learned a lot of the ideas and some pieces wrong. I learned Psalm 23. My default for John 3:16 is still how I learned it as a kid in the King James version of the Bible with all the thees, the thines, and the thous. I grew up going to church and knowing who Jesus was. I sat back and watched a lot of my friends be baptized and thought, That’s just where I need to be. At some point, I need to be baptized and that’s the goal.
In 8th grade, I was baptized. I got there. Then after that, I didn’t have a lot to do with Jesus. Our family – for a lot of different reasons – quit attending the church I went to as a kid. For three or four years, I didn’t really set foot back into a church unless it was for a special occasion. Jesus didn’t really have a lot of influence in my life. I’ve always had strong personal, moral convictions, ya know? I can remember never wanting to swear and someone holding me down on the ground at recess until I said a swear word. I always felt things like that were wrong. I never went out and drank or partied or smoked. I haven’t done anything like that in my life. Before I really got serious and experienced what I feel like was a real encounter with Jesus, I treated people however I wanted. If I didn’t like them, I would treat them poorly. If I didn’t see any value in people, then I would just write them off and not worry about them. I just looked at people like they were pawns in a game and see what I could personally get from them. I really just lived my life looking for more. I always thought if I got this, my life would be better. If I got a certain job or went to a certain college or anything in particular, then my life would be better. I was jealous of other people and what they had because all I wanted was more. What that looks like now is that I hurt a lot of relationships and I hurt a lot of people in that time and there’s still days where that comes back and catches up with me. Eventually, through all of that, God was just opening a lot of doors for me to see him again – to come and actually experience him and to find out what a real relationship with him meant. In high school, my English teacher’s son became a youth minister at Walker Christian Church, a church across the street from the high school, through a lot of wacky happenings. Neither of them were from that town or had any connection to that town prior – both just happened to end up there as a teacher and a youth minister.
For a year, I was encouraged by my teacher: “Hey, go check out my son’s youth group…go to this carnival…go to this movie!” And ya know, with my family holding church at arm’s length, I didn’t want to do anything to hurt them or to make them feel awkward. I didn’t feel I had any good reason to go to church. So, I brushed her off. Eventually, through the prodding of a friend, I went. It was okay. Jesus meets us in a lot of weird places. He decided to start working on me in a wood-paneled room with a bunch of 8th grade girls who were whispering about me – “Oh, he’s so cute.” I was there with only one other senior boy so it was a little awkward, but God started working and eventually, I started to see His plan for my life and what He had in store for me. One of the first things the youth minister, Devin, said to me was, “Ya know, you’d be a good youth minister.” And I was like, “Yeah okay, whatever, dude.” I wanted to be a computer engineer and just learn that inside and out and just go make some money and live better than my parents did. That’s all my parents wanted for me, too – to live a life better than they had and not have to work two jobs. I brushed Devin off and he told me that several times and even made me teach a lesson before I left youth group.
Through all of that, I decided to go to Ozark Christian College for one year. I was in a college prep program and they told me I was crazy. I was able to justify it for my parents because I said, “Well, I can go play basketball there” which they thought I had basketball potential and looking back now, I don’t – and didn’t. I was able to justify it with people that mattered the most that I’m just going to go for a year to get a good knowledge of the Bible. I’m going to go there for a year and then go to school for computer engineering. It was fun going there. When you first get there, you take a Bible entrance exam. I didn’t know what book of the bible Moses was in. I had four choices and all of them looked foreign to me. I had some notes from my first couple weeks of classes and I spelled Israel, I-Z-R-E-A-L. I spelled baptism – B-A-B-T-I-S-M or sometimes –T-I-Z-M…BABTIZM. So I had no idea. I was biblically illiterate even though I went to church and was in Sunday school as a kid from the time I was in first grade to eighth grade – every Sunday. I realized as I started getting back into church and eventually going to OCC, I was just faith and Jesus illiterate. When I first started getting serious, I had to look at the way I used my language. What I say is a big deal and words matter and I was very flippant with that. The way I saw people and the way I treated people mattered because Jesus cares about them. Seeing the way Jesus cared for people really transformed the way that I saw Jesus as I learned more about him.
TAYLOR: What was the trigger that sent you to Ozark Christian College?
JOSH: There were a lot of different things. I pre-enrolled in my dream college for computer engineering in August and had all my classes picked out by February of my senior year so there was nothing, in my mind, that was stopping me from going. Although, I got my financial aid back and it was pretty poor. I had a lot of student loan debt that I was going to walk into so that was kind of the first nail in the coffin. I spent so many times with my counselor talking to her and through our conversations, I just realized that I’m wired in a way that I love to help people. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do…was help people. While I had my plan to go become a computer engineer, I would spend my free time in classes looking at what it would take to be a police officer or a firefighter or a nurse. I just kept asking her, “What is the best job I can do to help people?” And then to see what the Church was doing around me – to see how faith and Jesus were literally changing the people around me – it made me look at that and say, “Well, that’s something I want and if this can actually help people then maybe I need to experience that, too.” I don’t know if the trigger was one thing in particular but a lot of it was just coming to a realization that I wanted to help people. The best way to do that, that I saw, was through faith in Jesus. Jesus helped a lot of people around me.
TAYLOR: You talked a lot about making these decisions for Jesus, but when was it that you actually decided to live for Jesus and take his words seriously?
JOSH: I went to Ozark because my youth minister thought it would be good for me and I agreed. I was curious. When I first got to Ozark, I had been making small changes to my life and as I learned more about Jesus I could apply things. All of that though was pretty half-hearted at the end of the day and it was still was about me and making myself a better person. What really started to change me was when I started taking classes and realizing that a relationship with Jesus is so much more than behavior modification. It’s so much more than having right actions. I grew up with people saying they went to church and they followed Jesus but their actions were all wrong so I thought if I say that but get my actions right then I’m doing it right. It was really sitting in class and hearing how Jesus was transformative and when you experience Jesus and get serious about following him, he not only corrects your actions, he gives you a basis for your life. Everything in my life should flow through Jesus. It starts with Christ and now how does that affect the rest of my life. One time when it really hit me was when I was sitting in class. Ya know, relationships are hard – with family and friends. There’s a lot of brokenness and hurt. It hurts me to see even other people’s fractured relationships. In class, one of my professors just said that love fixes all of that. It wasn’t anything too profound but that flooded to me all at once. True love actually does fix everything. If you start with love, it mends relationships and barriers that are put up. If you continue to fix your eyes on Jesus and fall in love with him, the world changes. He restores any relationship. I could see so many barriers with people over various things and love could literally remove all of them. It’s with all of that that I really wanted to start taking it seriously. Nothing in life could change without Jesus, but also that everything in life could change with Jesus. Everyday in class, I was just hearing about people quitting destructive things and changing the way they did things and it was never done only because they wanted to be a good Christian, but that everything was motivated through Jesus. That’s his ultimate goal. That’s the goal of the Holy Spirit – to transform.
After hearing about the power of love, it was hard at first. I didn’t want to believe it. It seemed too easy. I was flipping through my notes earlier from when that professor spoke and I couldn’t find an exact phrase or anything. I mean, I know I cried. I wanted to just tell Shane [Wood] thank you that day, but all I could say when I walked by was “eeeeep” and then I ran off to the bathroom and just sat there and contemplated. It was just so weird because I just thought about anything in my life that I felt was wrong or out of whack…love could fix it. It just really overwhelmed me and it’s hard to explain. So applying that to my life, I came to terms with having faith in that belief about love. It started with the way I treated people and that all people deserved to be loved and it doesn’t matter what they look like, sound like, or even if I didn’t like them before. They still deserve to be loved. It transformed the way I interacted with the people around me. I found out I had a lot more pre-conceived biases about people than I realized. If you start changing how you interact people, it starts influencing the rest of your life. For me…when I was living in the dorm, that meant that my door was always open because I loved these guys and if they needed to swing in and do anything – even distract me because they needed to be distracted – then I’d let them do that. It reorganized the way I live my life so that I could love and serve others better. It changed the way I handled money and my personal possessions because it wasn’t about me anymore. Ya know, and love isn’t a hippy, strange thing. It does what is right for the other person and sometimes that means having hard conversations and telling people things they don’t want to hear. So since all of that, I’ve become a minister – a youth minister. If Jesus is changing lives, I wanted to be a part of that in the biggest way I knew how.
TAYLOR: It’s so funny Devin told you right off the bat that you’d make a good youth minister.
JOSH: Yep, and then I took his job…and now he’s my brother-in-law. (quietly breaks out in chorus of “Circle of Life”)
TAYLOR: What made you want to get involved with Walker Christian Church?
JOSH: The need – at first, but also that they cared. I had very little investment in that church and some members bought my cow at the youth fair [when I was a part of 4-H.] People from that church gave me food, money, and encouragement. They had no reason to at all and it didn’t benefit them in any way. They just took care of me from the beginning.
TAYLOR: What’re the characteristics of God that comfort you the most?
JOSH: His promises. His faithfulness. Any time there’s trial, he just says, “Look at where I’ve been before. I’ve always come through.” Also, just the peace God brings that surpasses understanding. It’s so hard to explain, but once you have it you realize there’s nothing better than that.