Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:
Who should I send?
Who will go for Us?
Here I am. Send me!
Isaiah chapter 6, verse 8
At every school I've taught, my students have 'Googled' me. It's not something to skite about. Rather it's matter of fact stuff. You're a new teacher. You write your name on the whiteboard. Your students type it into Google. Why wouldn't they? They're taught to do that with everything else: sports teams, new terminology, statistics, etc. All of it goes through the Google search.
One afternoon, during a free period, I wondered about a student I'd taught six years earlier. I typed his name into the Google. His name was Detroit*.
I can remember Detroit like it was yesterday. Gelled, jet-black hair in a Mohawk, cubic zirconia studs in each ear. He was the type of student who you dreaded teaching in your Period 5 English class, but relished the chance to have a chat with in the playground.
I like students with character. I like students who can hold a conversation with an adult; I see it as such a strong quality. Detroit had this quality.
So often I'd peer out the staffroom window and I'd see Detroit standing on the veranda, picking the grout out of the brickwork in the wall from around the classroom door he'd just been booted out of. I'd gently slide my chair out from my desk and wander outside.
'Detroit! Come, sit down mate. Talk to me'.
I can remember the conversation we had on one of those occasions. Detroit told me a concerning story about how students from his school would organise to meet up with students from other schools at the local train station to fight.
One student seemed to have the recording rights for the fights. A burly Polynesian student who they called 'Lucy*' had a bank of fight videos from June the year before on his phone, I was told. As if that wasn't concerning enough, there were weapons in some of the videos.
'The other guy pulled a crow bar out of his bag ...' Detroit told me, excitement in his voice.
'Detroit, it's not a game, mate' I said, 'if he connects with you, you're dead. If you connect with him, he's dead'. I don't think it went in at all.
I spoke to Lucy too, 'What if you had footage of your best friend being killed in one of these fight?' I asked him.
'It's the way of the streets' he said, 'there's a legacy'.
The day I left that school it was Detroit who came and shook my hand. 'Sorry for giving you grief sir!' he said, 'We'll miss you here'.
I saw Detroit time and time again after I left the school. He got a job at the local cafÃ©. Some days I popped in for a coffee and Detroit would fix it for me.
'How are you Sir?'
'Good mate. What's happening?' I asked each time. It was always the same reply...
'Just hitting the gym and the clubs Sir!' he'd beam, his million-dollar smile on full display.
A tragic end
That day I typed Detroit Vagai into the search engine I'm not sure what I expected to come up. I can't remember. I'm too consumed by what did:
That night at the gym I asked around. One girl looked at me confused and gently said, 'Detroit passed away last year. He committed suicide'.
As a teacher I'd always thought it was the quiet, reserved kid who was most susceptible to depression and suicide, never the charismatic, 'larger than life' kid.
Now, more than ever though, we are confronted with the truth that this simply isn't the case.
According to Mindframe, suicide rates for males aged 20â24 have decreased. There were 42.8/100 000 suicides recorded in 1997. This dropped to 17.7/100 000 suicides in 2013.
While this data understandably means a definite improvement in awareness campaigns and access to help, the figures are still quite staggering. Suicide rates in Australia are among the worst in the world.
Mindframe's data also testifies that if a person is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, he or she is twice as likely to commit suicide.
Open your mouth
You don't need a church pulpit to speak God's word to people, and it doesn't have to be injected with the most complicated King James style Bible references! More than ever God's word needs to be digestible and simple. The Gospel is simple after all.
Jesus loves you.
That's the Gospel.
There are people who don't know this.
When we have an attitude like Isaiah, who says, 'Here I am. Send me!' Anything is possible.
I wish God had used me to prevent Detroit from doing what he did. I wish with everything that I'd been able to tell him that God had a plan beyond his wildest dreams.
But I didn't get the chance. I can't do anything about that, but I can make myself available to help anyone God might want to use me for.
In the past few weeks I've been seeing every opportunity as a God appointed opportunity, not to dazzle people with the Gospel but just to let them know that there's something bigger, that 'it doesn't have to be that way'.
And if my ministry grows no bigger than letting the guy at the pub know that he's loved I'm happy with that.
If this article has raised some issues and you'd like to seek professional help Mindframe recommends:
*Names changed for privacy.
David Luschwitz grew up in Bankstown, in Sydney's South West. In September David will fly to Huelva, Spain where he plans to spend the next year reading, writing and surfing on the Portuguese coast.
To read more of David's writing and to hear his story head to www.davidluschwitz.com.
David's previous articles can be found at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-luschwitz.html