Mikel and I worked together several years ago and I didn’t know what he was going through at the time until I sat down and heard his story recently. Even then, in the midst of his struggles, Mikel was still a warm and welcoming person. We connected years later and I asked him to share his story. He’s still his warm and welcoming self, but with an intentionality and care that comes from Jesus’ love for people. His story screams of God’s faithful pursuit and what good can come when leaders of the church empower those who walk through the doors by giving responsibility and trust – giving them a place of belonging.
November 15, 2017
MIKEL: I moved to Joplin with my family. I’m the second to youngest of six kids. My mom was a single mother. I was born in Iowa City, Iowa and lived in Davenport for a while before stumbling upon Joplin. My grandma and uncle actually moved to Joplin and my grandma got a hold of my mom and said, “Hey this would be a great place for you to start over. You should go ahead and come.” My mom and my dad were going through a tough time at the time – separating. So, we made the journey to Joplin. We moved here whenever I was nine years old and it was rough at first – going to one home and then another home and another home. My mom was a single mom with six kids and disability was her main form of income. It was very tough, but at the same time, but I don’t want to get sympathy. At the same time, I also embraced it. I was very close to my brothers and sisters. We had a great time growing up. I can’t remember very many dull memories even though we were poor and struggled. We still had a good time. I always try to stress that to people: It made me who I am today. It was tough, but I always looked up to my oldest brother. We were two peas in a pod. We did everything together. I looked up to him. Everything he did, I wanted to do. Some of that was good, some of that was bad.
A man named JD was the director of the Boys and Girls Club and he really embraced my family. He got our family involved and the Boys and Girls Club really shaped me as a kid. It really saved myself and my brothers and sisters from what we could have been getting into. JD was also a youth pastor and I remember when I was about ten years old, he started bringing a church van up to the Boys and Girls Club and loading up the van with kids. He would pack it out and basically run a bus route. We’d leave the Boys and Girls Club and go to youth group at the church and come home. My brothers and sisters always got to go, but JD said, “You gotta be 13 before you can come.” So I would sit there and watch that bus go by. Finally, I turned 13 and got to go and experience it. It really changed my life. I remember: my best friend and I were so wrapped up in it. In one month, we brought 30 kids with us to youth group. That’s when I really started to feel a pull on my heart and a calling on my life. When I was 13, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Then something really shifted. I got into high school and I started struggling with my identity. I started getting caught up in this double life. I would be one person at church and a different person with my friends. I really struggled in high school with who I really was. I remember being really passionate about poetry and hip-hop. My friend and I started a hip-hop group and it was called J-Boys and we started writing Christian rap music. It was awesome. I mean, we probably not good at all. We started doing some shows and opened up for Grits and KJ-52 and did some awesome things. In our minds, we were living the dream, but there was still this void inside.
My senior year was probably my toughest year of high school. I was in Special Education classes all the way through. I was just behind from moving around all the time. I just had a bad time with retention. Here I am in my senior year and they finally put me in some regular classes. I felt super behind. I finally graduated and went on to college. I kind of just rebelled at that point. I went off to live on my own, got a job, and felt that I was grown. I went to college for a whole two semesters and then dropped out. I wanted to really figure out, Who is Big Mike? I know you believe in God and are a Christian, but you also like drinking and partying, but who are you? I just wrestled with that.
I noticed a shift when I decided to come back to church. I came back to Destiny Church [here in Joplin] for the first time since I had walked away from the church. I remember feeling so broken and thinking, What’re you doing? I was serving at a local restaurant and was getting so bad into alcoholism and gambling almost all of the time. I just felt lost. I remember walking through Destiny’s doors and talking to Pastor Gene. I don’t know where the boldness came from. He was getting ready to get up and preach a sermon and I walked up to him and said, “I just feel so unworthy,” and he spoke words to me that I’ll never ever forget and I just started coming back regularly.
I remember getting invited to Passion conference in 2011 and I went with a few young adults. I remember looking in the mirror in the hotel room and God said, “If you don’t make a change, then you’ll die.” Those words shook me to my core. I didn’t know what that meant; I didn’t know if that meant physically or if that means spiritually. When I came back from Passion, I just never looked back. I started getting involved in youth group. The Joplin tornado happened. It was just another wake-up call. The fall of that next year, I ended up marrying my wife. We were living together at the time, but I felt we needed to make it official. I stepped down from working in the restaurant. It wasn’t the best environment for me at the time. I felt the Lord tell me that I needed to step down and I went without a job for about a month just waiting for something to come up. Every step of the way, checks were just showing up in the mail. Everything was getting paid, but I felt like it was because of my act of obedience.
I got a job working with a kid with autism and pushing in. It was a state-paid job and I fell in love with it. About a year after that, I had somebody present me with an opportunity to work with a local school district. I worked there in the behavior center. It was one of the biggest challenges that I think I ever endured, but most fulfilling at the same time. I worked there for about two and a half years and then that following year, our pastor came up to us. She said, “Hey, there are two boys that go to Webb City and they just need a home. We just got the call. Would you two consider taking them in?” My wife had wanted kids for a long time. We couldn’t have kids of our own. I told her we’d consider it. We were staying in some duplexes at the time and my wife said, “I really feel like we’re supposed to do it.” I was reluctant because I was listening to all naysayers saying, “You guys are so young,” and “You don’t have money,” and “How are you going to take care of two kids, you’re still trying to find your way,” and all of these other things. My family was on the fence about it. Her family was on the fence about it.
One day, I remember walking down the hallway at my house and at the time, my wife was doing in-home daycare. The light in the daycare room was on for some reason, but she didn’t even have kids that day. I don’t even know how the light got on. I remember walking down the hallway and turning the light off in the room. All of a sudden, I heard the Holy Spirit: “You know what I’ve called you to do.” The next day, I call the case manager back and said that we wanted to consider taking these kids in. Instantly, on the other end, I hear crying and he’s like, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “No.” He said, “I don’t know if you’ll understand, but we just had a case goal meeting and I just got off the phone with the group home and we were going to have separate these two boys. I’ll bring them over to stay the night and if you think it’s a good fit, then we’ll do what we have to do to make it happen.” I didn’t know how the foster care system really worked. Little did I know, once the older kids get to a certain age, they usually end up staying in the foster care system. Sadly, a lot of people will not foster or adopt teenagers. Teenagers are tough and then dealing with the trauma that they deal with … it’s a whole other ball game. We brought the two boys in and I instantly fell in love with them. I remember sitting in a room that they had for us to visit them. My youngest just came and started playing with my head and my eldest asks a million questions anyways and he was asking me a bunch of questions. They let us take the boys out for ice cream. I saw so much fear and pain in their eyes … so much hurt … and we went back and we instantly told the case manager that we’d take them. He asked if we wanted to do an overnight visit and we said, “No, we’ll just get their rooms ready and we’ll take them.” He said, “Are you sure?” I said, “We’re sure.” He said, “You have a tough road ahead of you. These are tough boys,” and I said, “We’ll take them.” So the boys came and they stayed the weekend and then went back and prepared their stuff and before we knew it, they were in our care.
At this point, we’re fostering and waiting until their biological mom gets on her feet. Somewhere in the process, their bio mom was making some process and as soon as we were in the picture, she just checked out almost as if she thought we’d do a better job with her kids than her. It was sad because I don’t think that was necessarily the case, but I think that was a big chunk of it. Either way, in the midst of it all, all the boys are feeling is abandonment. It’s been a tough road and it’s still not easy, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s something we hold near and dear to our heart because we know it’s something God has called us to. Right after that, I was getting calls: Come get one out of school. Come get another out of school. I was missing work constantly. I asked my wife, “What’re we going to do? I’m missing work all of the time.” She said, “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, I think I wanted to get back into cooking, but I don’t know what that looks like.” I said, “What if I just started catering? I’ll do it on the weekends and see how it goes. I’ll get a part-time job. I think I can start something up on my own.”
At that point, we were really diving into Acts chapter one, when we start off one by one. I started bringing people into my home and started feeding them and just showing them what I could do. I built my clientele by just being the Church. It just came together. A lot of those people that use me today remember being at my house at one point and me feeding them. My wife ran an in-home daycare and one of her parents heard me say, “Hey, what if I catered,” so I catering a wedding. Everyone was like, “Hey, did you make your own sauce?” and I said I did and they were like, “This is some of the best food we’ve ever had at any wedding.” So I go back and talk to JD, who is my business coach now. I asked him if he thought I had something here and he said he thought that I did. He suggested we make it all legal and see what happens.
God gave me the opportunity to speak to a group down in Neosho at their FCA. There I am, just telling my story to these kids and Ike Ejiochi was there. He’s now a news anchor in New York. He heard me speaking and came up to me and asked, “Have you heard about the Webb City Farmers’ Market opening a kitchen for people just like you – just to cater out of?” I told him no and he said, “I’m going to connect you right now.” He immediately called this lady and she said, “Yeah, have him come meet with me.” So I was their first tenant in their kitchen. Here I am right out of the gate: full-size industrial kitchen, all of this equipment, I pay for space only when I need it … God just laid this business in my lap. It’s crazy how it came full circle. God’s hand is in this 100%. I know I’m only doing what I’m doing so that I can fulfill the calling He has called me to do. I can see now: Because of the trauma our kids have been through, they have some behavior issues and the job I had two years beforehand was a training ground for me working with other children with those behavior issues all for me to be able to have my kids. It’s crazy.
That’s where I am now – still asking God asking which way do we go now? Left, right, up, down, or straight? What do we do now? How do we deal with this? And giving Him all the glory. We now have three kids. My daughter … she actually came along before we finalized the adoption of the boys. Same mom – we were able to keep them all together and we finalized the adoption at the same time. Here I am, a kid that had no idea what he was doing, a kid that is only able to love his kids because of the harder life he had. I’m able to be to them what I never had. I went through a Special Education system and now I own my own business and it just goes to show that anything is possible when you trust in God, when you are obedient to Him, and when you work hard for what you’re passionate for. The road is never easy – whether it’s with business, marriage, or kids and it doesn’t get any easier. It’s all about perspective and what you allow to bring you down. I literally feel like the lame beggar sitting outside the beautiful gate and begging for money and Peter and John come up and say, “We don’t have money, but what we do have is this …” And they told him to get up and walk. That’s my life in a nutshell. People believed in me enough to say, “Hey, get up and walk.” Pastor Gene and Melody Bebe believed in me enough to be like Peter and John to the lame man. They told me to get up and walk. They push me past my limits to help me grow. They look past my flaws and imperfections and are allowing my wife and me the opportunity to love on people and pastor our outreach team. I try to pass that along to everybody because anyone who knows my life, my past, or who grew up with me knows that it’s only by God’s grace that I’m here. I was once crippled and now I’m leaping.
I don’t know the end of the story. This catering gig is not my identity. God might have something for me later. That’s how He’s worked the past 5 years of my life. Whatever opportunity He gives me to shine His light and show people that you don’t have to be what you came from, but you can be who God has called you to be is my biggest mission.
My biggest message to my kids is: Hey, I know I’m hard on you, but you have the potential to be exactly who you’re called to be and I’m called to make sure you get to where God wants you to be and I don’t take that lightly. I have a much bigger responsibility than what you think I have. It goes beyond my love for you. It goes deeper than that because whatever He has called me to do, that’s what He’s going to judge me on when I stand in front of Him. That’s what I try to put out there for everyone: Just walk by faith and anything is possible. I’m Mikel Clark and that’s my story.