Embezzler’s new beginnings
PLYMOUTH – During the mid-1980’s my wife and I served the Lord as house parents for Kentucky children, ages first grade through high school graduation, while I attended Southern Seminary in Louisville. Being house parents means that we lived in a cottage with ten girls for three days, followed by three days in a boy’s cottage before having three days off for recovery. With our first-born, we moved from one cottage to another then to our, on campus, efficiency apartment. We were on call 24/7.
In our second year of service, I was enlisted to serve as the campus pastor for the entire population of students and staff in a rural setting of rolling hills near Glendale, KY. The setting was serene and spacious with a local nearby Baptist church that was a valuable partner in helping the children learn about how the Lord can guide people out of generational family bondage toward a new way of life in Jesus Christ.
Though the setting was peaceful, the conflicts the children faced were chaotic and confusing. The children lived on campus for years, being cared for by Kentucky Baptists because their parents were unable to get their lives under control. The poor decisions and actions of the parents led to horrible outcomes in the lives of the children. The children should have been able to rely on their parents and family members to guide them toward safety, success, and salvation in Jesus Christ, but that security seldom arose, so Kentucky Baptists loved and provided for the children, replacing what the children’s families failed to do.
During the regularly scheduled, in-home, family visits we repeatedly saw the children and teenagers regress into poor or dangerous behaviors weeks before their departure and then helped them, through therapy and biblical counseling, to overcome their poor and sometimes violent behavior after returning to campus. It was exhausting and rewarding.
Today, as we look at a new year getting underway with 2023 upon us, I had a vivid recall of an annual conference we set-up for the teenagers at the children’s home during the 1980’s. The event was labeled, “New Beginnings.” It is worth noting because the event could help someone you love, your church, or you. Please, take a few more minutes and let me describe the simple set-up and its implications. Let me explain how the event grew out of one man’s renewed life.
In that local nearby Kentucky church, the children and teenagers we served were amazed when on a sunny autumn day, a former local bank manager returned to the church after years of imprisonment for embezzling funds from the small-town bank. The former bank manager stood before the church on that Sunday morning with his wife and children at his side confessing his desire to start a renewed life in the community and the church. With emotion and well-chosen, tender words the former banker thanked the members and the pastor of the church for their unwavering support and love during his imprisonment.
He replayed how he, years ago, had confessed his dishonesty in court after his arrest and through a handwritten letter to the church before going to prison. Now upon his return to his family and community, he wanted to restart his life. The former bank manager confessed his former felony without any excuse and asked for a chance to prove that his faith was strong enough to form a new life of integrity and Christlikeness.
After the former banker spoke, the pastor prayed over the family and invited members of the church to greet and welcome the former banker back into the church and the community. I was startled out of my own deep reflections over the bold confession, as I took note that it was the children and teenagers from the children’s home who rapidly streamed out of the pure white pews with red velvety cushions toward the former banker, his wife, and children. They were first in line. The handshakes were awkward, the words were few, but the actions of the children from broken homes spoke so loudly that even the hardest heart in the sanctuary would have been ashamed to refuse a second chance to the former banker and his family.
From the response of the children at church, I knew there was something to be gained by focusing on this spiritual lesson at the children’s home. That impression was further confirmed by weeks of discussions during daily cottage devotions with the children who were amazed at the confession of the former banker. They admired his declaration of failure. As a staff, we realized that the children we served were surrounded by family members who never confessed personal failure, so the children consequently thought they were the ones, with shame and guilt, that had failed their unhealthy, immature, and neglectful parents.
The entire staff mobilized to organize what we called the “New Beginnings Conference.” The guest list included the former banker, a recovering addict who worked on the campus, the campus activities coach who promoted healthy practices, a social worker who mapped out lessons on change, and the director of the children’s home, Mr. Buckley, who was a former longtime resident of the campus forty years earlier. We discovered the children were inspired more by those who dug themselves out of previous failures than the stories of those who appeared to live perfect, pristine lives.
Let me finish with some questions for your private reflection:
Does your life and church provide a culture that, while we all strive for devoted Christlikeness, allows for someone to confess failure immediately followed by personal spiritual guidance toward godliness without exclusion?
Who guides and promotes the culture of redemption in the church and is that redemption process often described publicly so people know that deliverance from sin and its consequences is a process available at the local church?
Would an event in your church setting, with this theme, among the adults and teenagers be worth creating, conducting, and evaluating?
You might wonder, will it help? My response is that it led to healthy transparent conversations that led toward biblical solutions for the children and teenagers.
Here is a short story that explains the new culture’s impact. Billy was an older teenage resident at the children’s home. We nicknamed him “The General” knowing that he was in control of most of the teenagers’ actions. Billy had the most violent past. One night he ran off campus for a nighttime party at a nearby river park. After the discovery of his transgression, Billy was brought before the director. Billy explained his failure and his success that night with these words, “Mr. Buckley, I understand I did wrong. But I made better choices than I usually do. While at the party, I could have been with a girl, taken drugs, and drank beer – but all I did last night was drink beer. I am making progress because of what I am learning here at the children’s home!”
Does the culture in your life and church allow others to make spiritual progress within the biblical community that you provide? This may be worth discussing with those in church.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Tony L. Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.