Once when my husband was teaching math at a low security youth prison, a young man came up to him after class and asked, "Would you be my Dad?" My husband, himself on the receiving end of an emotionally detached father who was imprisoned in his own pain, was perhaps trying to overcompensate for this neglect by caring immensely for another hurting young man.
Thus, when we moved to the next parsonage, Johnny, having been released from detention, moved with us. We had three young children, the oldest being seven, the youngest, two. They both also desperately needed a father to connect to care about their little hearts. But their father was all wrapped up with this young man who so needed a father.
Johnny had been living with his grandmother. Grandma, however, snatched up his social security check and used it for her drinking habit. Johnny, having been left to his own devices, got in trouble with the law and thus, his stay in youth prison. He had no idea about discipline.
Johnny was a little shy at first, but he seemed to like Mark enough to stay. He was not used to family life. He even went to youth camp with Mark that summer. There was a revival that year, maybe just for Johnny's sake. Even the Baptist minister's son was renewed in his faith that summer. Both Johnny and Mark came back all revved up and rarin' to go for the Lord. Even the local news station called and wanted a phone interview about the goings on at the camp.
But some summers are hot, and some ground is shallow with many rocks in the way. Tis what happened that year with Johnny. By fall, he had involved himself with a married lady (but on second thought, she was no lady). She had a child, but she didn't love her child (or husband) as much as Johnny. She talked Johnny into some very naughty things.
One day Johnny came up to Mark.
"I have something to confess. I have a married girlfriend."
Looking sheepishly up at Mark, he expected to be reprimanded immediately.
"You know we can't have that, Johnny. We already talked about the conditions for your staying here. This is not our home. We live in a parsonage. We have to avoid appearance of evil, Johnny. You know that."
"Yes, I know that," Johnny said, downcast. "I will tell Rhonda we'll have to break it off." Johnny wanted to be good.
Johnny seemed to be more upbeat after that. He even interacted some with me and the children. He did his chores and went to work punctually. He shared in our family time after dinner and seemed to fit right in.
It was almost Easter. We were all looking forward to sharing our Passover Seder with Johnny. But Johnny began to be sad again. He would flip and flop in and out of these moods. He was having quiet little conversations with someone when we were busy with devotions or schoolwork. Whenever I walked through the family room on the way to the kitchen, he would quickly hang up.
"Mark, something is going on with Johnny. I think you should have a talk with him." But a pastor is always so busy during the holidays, this conversation never took place.
One day, the children and I began devotions as usual. When it came time to pray, I felt nudged to pray for special protection for Johnny at work for some reason. It was about 10:30. At 10:45 we got a call from Johnny. He sounded very nervous and frightened. He asked if Mark were there. But Mark was at the hospital. We didn't have cell phones those days, so I asked if I could help him. He asked if I could come to get him. He was leaving work early.
Just after we hung up, Mark called and upon hearing what I had to say, swung by Burger King to get Johnny. He didn't bring him right home, however. They went to the church to talk and pray. Later that night Mark explained what hand gone down.
Johnny had gotten back with Rhonda. He was just plain bewitched by her. But he kept trying to break it off. She wouldn't have it. This time, she went to Burger King during his morning break.
"Come on, Johnny; I have homemade cookies, and some other "sugar" you might like. Get in," she said opening the door and sliding over.
Almost as soon as he got in the car, Rhonda began to wrap herself around him.
"Rhonda, we really shouldn't be doing this. You are married, and I need a decent place to stay. I can't go off my parole." He tried to push her away.
Rhonda reached in her purse and pulled out the revolver, immediately aiming it at Johnny's chest. She fired. He put his hand up and simultaneously grabbed the gun. He heard a click.
He and the gun fell out of the car, Rhonda fairly flew out of the parking lot as fast as she could. When the police arrived, they took the bullet out of the gun. It had a strike mark on it, but it had never left the chamber.
The next day, we got a call from Rhonda's brother.
"If you press charges, or harass my sister in any way, I will come over to your house personally, and shoot each and every one of you. I will shoot your ugly ........'s , you and your bratty little children.
The Easter egg hunt was coming up. We always had it Palm Sunday. We had worked hard formulating a special dye and salt mixture to make speckled eggs, ones that looked like real bird's eggs. But now, should we take our children out? Should we expose other children to these death threats?
But we knew the same God who kept that bullet from being discharged and mortally wounding our Johnny would also protect us and our three angels. We went to the party, won the egg contest and conducted the Seder.
Holy week came and went. It was Easter Sunday.
"Johnny, come on! It's time for church. We can't be late today of all days."
But Johnny was no where to be seen. Johnny had flown the coop. He had run off with Rhonda. Again. And unfortunately, this time he didn't come back.
He did call about a week later. He was out in the western part of the state in an abandoned trailer. She was outside by the river. She had taken a candle and matches and drew a six pointed star inside a circle, points touching with the lit candle in the middle. She was "praying".
They had robbed a convenience store. No one had been killed.
"Run, Johnny. Run away from there. From her. Turn yourself in. Johnny. You just have to. You will be better off going to prison than staying in the prison of treachery and cold hearted betrayal. If you keep on, someone is going to be hurt, even killed. Then you will be worse off."
The last we heard Johnny had turned himself in. He was again incarcerated. This time he had been taken to the "big house". He was an adult now. I wrote to him and sent him pictures of the kids, the mountains he must have so missed, being in prison.
Mark got one letter, but we never heard from him again.
We can only pray that the same angels that kept the bullet from destroying his life back at Burger King are still assigned to him and keeping him to this day.