It’s Thursday morning around 7:00 am and I am driving down 15th street in Tuscaloosa, praying for students and for our Campus Life team at Westlawn Middle School. At 7:15, I arrive at the school and am met with a shower of good mornings from office staff, the principals, teachers, and students. Next, we make our way down the colorful hallways to the library, where we await students, who are looking forward to club and wondering what we are going to be up to today.
Preparations include clearing the space of tables and chairs, setting up a sound system and PowerPoint, talking through club and prayer. By the time this is finished, students begin trickling into the room, and we meet them with smiles, high fives, and fist bumps, asking them how their week has been or if they saw the crazy basketball highlight from the night before.
The next 30ish minutes are organized chaos. We engage students with games that could be anywhere from rock, paper, scissors to something crazy like musical baby food. Food cans are passed around while music plays but, when it stops, whoever has the can has to eat! It’s wild! This is followed by some discussion times, where we talk about everyday life decisions. Finally, we conclude with a short wrap-up from one of our leaders, which usually includes a parable or story from the Bible that relates to the things we have discussed and makes students think about the bigger picture.
This is how I have spent my Thursday mornings for almost three years. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I am grateful that the Lord has allowed me to take part in such an awesome program. We have had such great support in this that I have been able to go into the school and shoot basketball with the boys during PE and sit at lunch with groups of students. I’ve had the opportunity to help lead Junior Achievement for a day and even coach baseball practices. It hasn’t always been this way, though. It has taken time, commitment, and consistency.
When I began Campus Life at Westlawn, I hardly knew anyone there. Students wouldn’t give me much of a chance to try to talk or hang out. It was tough for a while. But since then, I have poured into students, taking time to learn the environment and to form relationships with students and staff. It has paid off more than I would have ever thought, as everyone there has warmed up to me and I feel like I’m in a totally different place than I walked into three years ago. It feels like a second home.
“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” // 1 Corinthians 9:22
Now that I’ve detailed the experience and how I’ve gotten to where I am today, I want to talk a little more about my relationships with students. I now have connections with students that expect me there every week on Wednesday’s to kick it at lunch or shoot hoops in the gym. And if I’m not, they don’t like it and you better believe they’re going to ask me where I’ve been when they see me next. But through these relationships, I have heard of some of the things these students have gone through.
Just to highlight a few: I’ve heard of students who go home and play video games all night long and cook their own dinner because Dad works two jobs and Momma works three. I’ve talked to students who have been told they were being looked for and were going to be in danger if they are seen out on the streets. I’ve listened to students sob because they don’t have any friends, and everyone picks on them all the time.
All of these scenarios really break my heart, but they inspire me even more, when I wake up at 6:30 am on a Thursday morning after doing last minute studying until midnight, to get up out of bed, remember that no matter what I am going through, the joy of the Lord is my strength, and go be there for these kids as an ear to listen and a light.
Campus Life club has allowed me to share not only the story of the gospel in the Bible, but the story of the gospel in my life and how it has changed everything for me. I get to share with anywhere from 40-80 students what the gospel is and what it means for how I live my life! And I see Holy Spirit moving in the students.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with two boys. I’m not even sure how we got there but the conversation went to the topics of money and how it relates to happiness, and the difference between happiness and joy. The students shared their views, which included wanting more money to be happier, and then asked me mine. I was able to share the hope and joy that I have in Christ and how nothing in this world is even comparable in worth.
The next week at club, I had wrap-up duties, and the things I shared included some rough patches in my life and how the hope and peace I have in Jesus got me through them. One of those two students was upset in club after this, and now, just a week later, He says he wants to be a follower of Jesus, when before, has was adamantly opposed to that same idea. I look forward to following up with him this week to see what his thoughts are and how I can help him in his middle school journey.
All of this to say: The Holy Spirit can work in the lives of others through us sharing the gospel and how it has changed our lives. We have to tell our story, which is easier said than done. It isn’t easy for me. In fact, I fall short in situations like these all the time. But because God has changed my heart and given me a desire for students to come to know Him, I am able to witness to them about Him. None of the work I put in to do what I do comes from myself, but from the Father, who has given me grace upon grace and loves me unconditionally.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” // 1 Corinthians 15:10
Thanks so much for reading if you have made it this far! This weekend, I will be participating in Over the Edge Tuscaloosa, a fundraiser in which I must raise $1000 to rappel down the side of “The Tower,” the tallest building in downtown Tuscaloosa. All the funding goes towards the ministry and providing students with mentors who will walk through life with students in Christ. I check in at noon on Saturday, April 6th, 2019, so I will be rappelling around 1:00 or 1:30 if you’d like to come watch!
Thanks again to those who have supported me financially through this event and through prayer as I hangout with my buddies at Westlawn. If you want to know more about Campus Life or how to get involved, I’d love to chat!
Garrett Pinkerton // Junior
Secondary Education (Science) // New Hope, AL