Growing up, I never would have thought that I would have worked for a church, let alone a writer for Kids Ministries. I’ve been a Christian most of my life, but most of my formative years were met with the menace of many a childhood—bullying. Unfortunately, my bullies were not your typical stereotype. For me, the bullies were Christians.
When I was in high school, going to youth group was like living in the world of the Karate Kid, only I was Daniel and, unfortunately, there was no Mr. Miyagi to save me. When I would talk to the youth pastor about the bullying, I was told that I needed to get a sense of humor. So when I thought about Christians, I thought of being harassed, humiliated, and ostracized.
I carried that with me into my freshman year of college. I lumped every Christian into the box of my youth group. If these were the kind of people who worshiped God, I didn’t want to be a part of it. Instead, I turned to dating and a whole lot of partying.
But thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us, even if we give up on God.
Near the end of my freshman year, and after a lot of bad choices caught up to me, I discovered God again. I saw His love and grace in a whole new way. As I reactivated my faith in God, I was still afraid to go back to church. I was certain that any church I walked into would be full of the mean, hateful Christians I had been tormented by growing up.
But despite my fears, I took one small step and started attending church again—cynical as I was about it. As I walked through the doors, I was hoping to find a younger, non-traditional pastor I could connect with. But instead, God brought me to a pastor who was super old-school and reminded me of Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World.
On the surface, Pastor Mike and I had nothing in common. He was as traditional as you could possibly get, and I was this crazy free-thinker who wanted to explore as many ideas as I could. And the thing was, he never discouraged it. I know he didn’t agree with half of the stuff I was coming up with, but he would discuss it with me anyway. I never felt shot down or marginalized.
He became my mentor for the rest of my college years. And even though I never would have picked him to fill that role, God knew exactly what I needed.
He taught me, encouraged me, challenged me, and loved me for exactly who I was—and broke every stereotype I had carried with me about what Christians were like. Simply by being in my life, he helped me see the intolerance and judgment I had toward other Christians, and I was able to re-frame the way I approached church, Christianity, and community.
Pastor Mike used to tell me, “Success gives you a place to speak, but struggles give you something to say.” Over the five years I attended his church, Pastor Mike poured into my life as much as he could and was the best teacher no one ever heard of. His church never grew to more than a hundred people, but the seeds that Pastor Mike sowed in my life are bearing fruit in every script I write, every story I tell, and every person I meet.
I get choked up when I think what my life could have been if I never let go of the idea that Christians were intolerant. Looking back, I may never have gotten a Mr. Miyagi when I was struggling, but God sent me a Mr. Feeny when I was searching.
Salvatore (Jack) DiSalvatore is Eagle Brook’s screenwriter, creating Spark Plugs and Zany World of Zane for Elevate, Eagle Brook’s kids ministry for grades 1-5. He’s a huge film buff and pop-culture fanatic who searches for the story in everything.