It was a normal Saturday night, filled with the usual last-minute stress of organising a fun event for our Youth Community. I was hunched over my laptop, frantically trying to edit together a movie for the evening, while helping co-ordinate other leader's activities. With 30 minutes till the youth would arrive, we were pushing ourselves to prepare, knowing that if all went well - we would just make it. Suddenly, the doors swung open - and in they came.
Two young men from our community, each about 16 in age. They were early - which is the paradox of youth ministry. When you want teens on time, they will show up late - but when you are wanting time to prepare, inevitably they will arrive early! But it was not their earliness that was most striking.
From their uneven balance, red eyes and slack jaws, it was blindingly obvious that these boys had not been preparing for the evening with prayer and a Bible study. A rich stink of cheap booze lay on their breath, with the sickly sweet scent of marijuana enveloping their presence. They were fairly wasted; I was fairly busy.
I welcomed them along with a hug and a greeting, cracked some jokes and then tried to get back to work on my laptop. Other leaders were rushing about, when I heard one of our female leaders crying, "Stop! No!" and turned to see the commotion.
Now, I was familiar with both of these guys from my role as a Youth Worker at the local high school. Unfortunately, all of my contact with them had been in the Alternative Education block, where they were now full-time. Due to a myriad of drug, alcohol and violence offences, they were within a hair-breadth of permanent expulsion. However, they were great friends and had been a lot of fun to mentor, connect with and hang out with at school - so I had been excited to see them coming along to our Youth Community.
But now, a night that was intended to be safe, fun and welcoming for all Cambridge youth, looked like a UFC octagon in all its gladiatorial glory. At the entrance to our worship auditorium, these two friends had suddenly snapped and were swinging at each other as hard as they could. With the sound like a watermelon being dropped, one lucky fist connected to the other's nose - and he dropped, spurting blood and shaking with a seizure on the floor.
With my rudimentary First-Aid training echoing in my ears, I ran to the scene like a well-trained doctor, then called to another leader, "Call an ambulance!". These magic words somehow roused the boy from his unconscious state, where he got up, told me he didn't need "No F'n ambulance" and stumbled outside, dripping blood the whole way.
I followed him home, desperately pleading for him to get into my car, but receiving nothing in reply. Eventually, we walked into his house together, where he promptly collapsed on his bed, still covered in blood, while his mother gathered her things for a night out on the town. Despite my semi-medical pleas - "I don't think he's meant to fall asleep after all this" - she waved me off, and headed out the door, leaving me in the lounge.
After some phone-calls and a chance visit from his uncle, I was able to leave this boy at home and make my way back to church. I found the drunken-puncher hanging out in the gym, with his best-friend's blood on his shoes and jeans. Still drunk-as-a-skunk, we decided to play some basketball and he began to tell his slurred story.
An ending of Grace and the unknown
It wasn't the most coherent narrative, but this young man told me about being born to a drug-addict mother and a drug-dealing father, who were constantly driving around Australia to start new lives. He talked about the hideous beatings at the hands of his dad, and would then talk about his love for this father. He began to mention a darkness that overcomes him at times - and in a brief moment of sobriety, he exclaimed - "I just beat up my best friend? Who the hell am I?".
As he cried, burped, mumbled and talked, I remember the sound of my paradigm shifting. This young guy, who I had always thought of as a nice guy - but a bit of an idiot for the choices he was making - had lived a life that I could not imagine. He was responsible for his punch, but he was also the victim of his circumstances - and the powerful influence of generational sin, fear and darkness was apparent in his life.
I listened to his story, I prayed with him and I told him about a Father who loved him and wanted his life to be full of light, not darkness. As I shared the gospel with this drunk young man, speckled with his mate's blood, I invited him to church the next morning - fully thinking that when he sobered up, he wouldn't remember anything of this episode. We shot some more hoops, hung out some more, then I took him home.
The next morning, as I walked up to church - there he was outside the door. He didn't notice, but he was standing right next to the four drops of blood. Wearing the same blood-stained jeans and sneakers as last night, and oblivious to some of the looks that were being sent his way, he welcomed me with a warm, "I told you I'd come!", and then headed into the service with me.
A worship leader got up on stage and welcomed us, adding - "Leave your troubles at the door as you come to worship this morning". I looked at the boy next to me, with blood on his shoes, awkwardly trying to sing the first song. He wasn't leaving his troubles at the door, he was bringing them in - to the place where 12 hours ago he had knocked his best friend out.
In that moment, I thought that maybe this boy had understood Jesus and grace better than the worship leader, better than me. He had a glimpse that Jesus didn't want him to leave his problems behind, but to bring them with him. Maybe he understood that he had to bring his darkness with him - instead of hiding it away - to find light.
A few months later, this boy was kicked out of school for good for dealing drugs, and moved back to Australia to be with his dad. I never saw him again. But the story of him, his punch and four drops of blood has stuck with me - and continues to ring with notes of grace, love, honesty and humility amidst violence, abuse and hurt.
Jeremy is a student and Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) who can beat a drunk teenage boy at basketball, but probably not at boxing.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html