As men, we can see how many seeds are in an apple, but only God knows the number of apples in an apple seed. And only God knows the full impact that Stepping Up has made through one solitary homeless shelter in the Southeast.
Last spring, Jim Reece, the CEO of The Atlanta Mission, became convicted that he was spiritually shepherding the lives of hundreds and thousands of homeless men and women, but was not doing a good job with two men who married his daughters. So he challenged them to go through the Stepping Up 10-week men’s study with him.
The impact was so strong that he began talking to his staff about taking them and some of the men from The Atlanta Mission (one of the largest in the country) through the series. At least 125 men attended, and nearly all of them completed all 10 sessions. Jim indicated that for some of these men, this is the first thing they’ve ever finished in their entire lives. So they wanted to make a big deal of the graduation ceremony. They had a catered meal for 150 men before the ceremony. Then they heard in person from three of the men who had been speaking to them through the video series for the past 10 weeks—Paul Holderfield, Jr., Crawford Lorrits, and me.
I spoke for about 25 minutes about the first three steps of the manhood journey: boyhood, adolescence, and manhood. Then I asked Crawford to come up and speak to the men for 10 minutes about the mentoring step. Then I asked Brother Paul to come up and speak about how his dad was a patriarch and how these men should aspire to the patriarch step. What a great way to challenge men. Both Crawford and Brother Paul were in rare form and the men gave both of them standing ovations!
The Atlanta Mission created a Stepping Up Graduation Certificate, signed and displayed in a nice oak frame. We then had each man come up to receive his recognition. There were cheers, handshakes, high fives, hugs, and words from Crawford, Brother Paul, and me of how proud we were of each man.
We met men who shared incredible stories.
- One man said his dad has been in jail his whole life and that he never met him until he was 25. His mom would go get high on drugs and leave him and his siblings for weeks. He was six at the time.
- Another man could hardly wait to go home for Christmas. It was the first time he had accomplished something that he had received a certificate for, and he was going to give it to his mom as a gift, because he knew she would be proud of it.
- A father with four sons, whose wife died 12 years ago, said he’s trying to be the dad they never had.
- Man after man told how he was separated from his wife and children by his poor choices and was determined to get his wife and family back. For each one, this was the step of responsibility he was determined to make after completing the series.
- Some men had no wife, no children, no living relatives. No family. These men understood after going through the series that they had no person they were responsible for, and they wanted to change that.
- A dad with four daughters felt he needed to interview his daughter’s date.
I could go on, but one last one.
If you’ve seen the tenth Stepping Up video session, you may recall how Brother Paul shared the story of his father, who as a young fireman was unwilling to shake a black man’s hand. He then talked about his father’s subsequent conversion, his life change, and then how God used him to touch thousands of African-American boys, young men, and men. It’s a great story of redemption.
Well, one of the staff members for The Mission watched that session and, pierced by the Holy Spirit, recognized that his family was just like that–filled with racism. He repented and confessed his sin of bigotry.
Jim Reece tells me that the men haven’t stopped talking about how honored they felt that night. And I certainly felt honored to read the following in an email I received from him:
“As I look over my six years here, this night was one of the highlights of that time. To watch men who had captured a new vision of what God could do through them was so powerful. Know how hard you fight for the family, know that Stepping Up is impacting families, not just well families but broken families, families with a chance for a new start with men who really want to be a different man.”
Whether it’s at Wrightsville Prison in Arkansas, or at The Atlanta Mission, men are men. Broken. Selfish. Needing redemption that can only be found in our Savior. Regardless of their station in life, men want to discover and be the men, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers that God created them to be.
The Father has been sowing seeds lately in soil most people have passed off as barren. Only He knows the full extent of the apple harvest yet to come.
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If you’re a dad, are you “Defining the Search for Manhood” for your son? Dennis Rainey talks about it on FamilyLife Today.
Find a group of men you can walk with through the 10-week Stepping Up small group video series.