When I was a sophomore in High School God did an amazing work in my heart when as the Westminster Shorter Catechism question 29 says I was made a partaker of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit. That is God opened my eyes to see Him and to love Him. Before this time I was attending youth group at Northwest Bible Church in Spring, TX. There the youth pastor was Todd Burnett, the guy on left above. I remember after talking to Todd about my new found faith in Christ and he told me I needed to begin reading and studying the Word of God, the Bible. We sat in his office and he asked what book I wanted to study. I had no idea what any of the books were about so I flipped through and choose Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” begins the book. I expect he knew I choose and odd book and yet this is what we studied and I loved it. (Click on link to read the rest of Todd and that other guy up there).
In my looking through old pictures enough time has finally passed to get a broader perspective on the people who God has used to influence my life. Todd was one of the biggest influences. His love for the students was so evident by the time he gave us and the preparation he put in to everything. His patience was amazing. I remember when a new youth building was finished and the first weekend we were in it I crashed a metal cart into the wall creating a big hole. I felt horrible and thought he was going to to kill me. He only responded that it was no big deal, it is just a wall and the wall can be fixed. So I continued to break everything over the next few years… Really though it meant so much to know he was not concerned with the building. It also taught me that material possessions must be held onto lightly. I’ve only kept distantly in touch with Todd since those years. He moved back to Georgia and spent some time as a assistance or associate pastor and then later spend some years in the secular work world always keeping involved in his church. I’ve been encouraged recently to see that he has returned to help with the youth group at his church and I can only imagine he is making an impact in the lives of teens their for the glory of God. I thank God for people like Todd in my life.
The other guy in the first picture is Mike Zarro or simple, “Z.” As a teenager I was never into illegal things (drinking/smoking/etc), but I spend a great deal of my time in detention for simply talking too much or breaking school rules. Looking back I laugh now and at the time I even took some pride in much of it. But there was also this sense of feeling like I couldn’t do the right thing. I broke things all the time and early on in my walk with Christ there was this sense that I simply did not fit in with Christians because even when I tried not to get in trouble or break things I still did. Mike Zarro though changed my view of what it meant to follow Christ in a way that I have forever been challenged by.
He was in many ways the type of person I wanted to become. He was the intern youth pastor and later when Todd left he became the youth pastor. What was different about Mike was this passion for Christ and this passion for life that excited people around him and yet often lead to the same trouble I would find myself in. Not rebellion type things, but a pure lack of concern for material things. I remember helping him make a video for a summer VBS type event we did. I was to drive his car and he would throw a dummy with a helmet at the car. I think the character was going to be invincible and I cannot for the life of me remember what the video was about. I drove his car and he threw the dummy and when it hit the windshield cracked all over. His response was not frustration or anger, but something about having to stick his giant dome out the window to see where he is going now.
More than anything with Mike though was his personal conversations. He would ask a series of questions and even if you started out giving him one word answers before long you’d be telling him everything. He cared about those God called him to minister to, you could see it in his eyes. He ask questions that were awkward but needed to be asked. When I left for my first year of college I had the strange experience of going to the same school Mike would be(SFA) graduating from after one more semester. What was great is he was the same guy there as he was at church during his summer internships. These two had an impact in my life that I will never forget.
I praise God for men like this and pray that I might be one myself.