Ten year old Dave Toro and I were throwing something at each other - football, baseball, maybe even a snowball!- back in 1971, when he suddenly asked me:
"Are you saved?'.
"Whats that?", I asked.
"I don't know, but you have to be saved to go to heaven!", he replied. And that is about the extent of the conversation that altered my entire life.
Being from a devout Catholic family, I had been thru Catechism classes and experienced first communion. There was no doubt that our family believed in God, Jesus Christ and knew some Bible stories. But outside of church, talking about God was new to me.
The conversation was forgotten, however, until a few months later, late at night and alone in my room, perhaps motivated by a loud thunderstorm, I recalled those words from my friend Dave. Without any further assistance or knowledge I found myself saying the following five words out loud to God:
"I want to be saved !!".
I didn't know much else to do! But in the months that followed, my parents each had their own private moments with God, starting with the meeting that little Dave Toro's dad, David, had with my father by asking:
"Do you want a guarantee for heaven?"
My father had been searching for the answer to that exact question and was more than interested in having the process of putting all your faith and trust into knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord explained to him. Shortly afterwards our entire family (eventually including 3 sisters) was going to church with the Toro's (Medina First Baptist). Turned out that the Toro's were our new neighbors because they were transitioning from their Chile mission field to their new "work" in Australia. "
Those simple questions have altered my life for the past 40 plus years. Learning about Jesus' life had aided me in giving hope to the lives of those I help. At Medina High School, friends of mine, especially Jim Fritz, also became Christians. Their lives changed dramatically. They were unashamed and proud of what God had done for them. Jim's bold announcement at lunch about his "being saved" the previous night had a significant impact on my desire to be more vocal about my faith in Christ as well. During that senior year, the youth pastor at my church, Paul Loney, started visiting our school events and built relationships with my friends. He was a significant influence on several of my friends becoming Christians and transforming their lives - as well as a model of how to help others later on as a youth pastor.
Meanwhile, my friends Jim Fritz, Thom Winkler and I had become three of Medina's 4 co-captains. When we were at an indoor track meet, we watched one particular distance runner destroying his competition lap after lap. During indoor track season back then we could wear pretty much whatever we wanted for races. Still, this runner had gone to great lengths to prepare something very special to wear for HIS races.
His shirt had three words neatly ironed on to the front. "Running for Jesus".
Bold? I should say so. He was one of the few, if only, African-American runners I remember from that day, he was all alone in front of the pack, and he was boldly proclaiming his relationship with Christ lap after lap - like a billboard.
The next week we made an announcement to our team about our intentions to follow that example and six more teammates joined the three of us captains. We wore the shirts the day of our races at school. We wore the shirts OVER our uniform. Several runners from our girls track team began praying with us before races. Members of the opposing teams began praying with us. A Bible Study that was held an hour before the school day started by one of our school counselors and coach, Bob Peters, was packed every week. If you were late to the conference meeting room, you were sitting on the floor. About this time I made a list of friends I wanted to ALSO see become a follower of Christ - and they ALSO responded passionately.
These experiences led me to attend Bible College (Baptist Bible College, Pa), though I was initially accepted and planned on attending Cedarville College (now University) in Ohio. After graduation, I became a youth pastor and began the process of visiting students and investing in their lives. Because there were so many to visit, I was able to accomplish more by visiting students at their schools during lunch and their school activities rather than to try to track them down one by one at their homes at night.
Much of that time at the first church (Pemberton's First Baptist Church) was dedicated to visiting Pemberton HS. Pemberton was quite accomplished and from 1986-88 their football, basketball, and baseball teams made it to the state finals. This was also where I gained the experience of ministering to nationally known football talents such as Jason Lucas (Rice), Ed Smith (Atlanta Falcons) and Irv Smith (Notre Dame, New Orleans, San Francisco), Octavious Gould (Florida) and Derrick Gould (Monmouth), as well as their standout baseball and basketball teams. Additionally, the fondest moments were at the youth group meetings and events with a little over 100 different students from local high schools. At nearby Lenape High School, a group of students at an afternoon Bible Study created the nationally reported "Cussbusters".
When I moved to serve at a new church in Ohio, this same concept required visiting more schools - over 15. When my employment abruptly ended in June of 1990, the students at area schools paid no attention. They just kept calling and expecting to be visited and supported. The source of my employment was of no concern to them - all they cared about was if I was going to keep caring for them!!.
This is when the TEAM JAM concept was born. All that was really required was accountability with a credible body of believers in the community (such as a local church), and simple, consistent efforts to visit. It wasn't long (2 years) before coaches, educators and students at over 30 area high schools were part of my daily visit routine.
Years of investing in thousands of young men like this has resulted in their belief that they TOO need to be involved in their community talking to young people about Christ and assisting their personal lives. It has become a way of life - not an occupation. Shawn Lazarus, Dante Booker, Tony Stockman, Jason Wallace, Brandon Wallace, Josh Holden, Rob Eggers, Steve Sorenson, Josh Bostick, Jeff Hildebrand, Andy McCollum, Keith Nelmon and Jerome Moss are a few of many that are modeling this same kind of mindset.
Thanks to my wife Pam's occupation as a teacher and my own employment as a Juvenile officer, we do not use TEAM JAM donations for personal salary. Though donations to TEAM JAM are rather modest, we are able to pursue just about any ministry we are passionate about. God either meets the modest financial need by surprise or we discover there is a less expensive, more efficient way.
My wife, Pam, has worked side by side with me in youth ministry, at our church with the children, and in the community where she teaches. In addition to witnessing these young men helping others, we find great reward in seeing our own children impact their sports teams and their classmates as well.
And this kind of fulfillment and opportunity to impact our generation started that one day with a 10 year old boy who simply dared to ask me":
"Are you saved".
And so I must ask you something similar:
"When did YOU ask Christ to be your Savior and in control of your life?
330.352.4231 (call or text)
MEDINA SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
1978 - Ohio Talents for Christ Champion
- Public Speaking
1978 - Co-Captain-State Finalist X-Country team
(1st state finalist team in school history)
1979 - Medina HS Sr Male Athlete of Yr
Track - 4 years
1980 - Lead off leg 4x400 All-American relay
1982 - 100 meter All-American
1983 - Anchor 4x100 All-American relay team
1980 & 83 Most Inspirational Award
1980 & 81 - Led HS athlete Bible studies
1981 & 82 - Organized-Gospel Concerts
Medina Town Square
Youth Pastor (1985-90)
1987-90 Gospel House (Walton Hills, Ohio)
1985-87 Pemberton's 1st Bapt. Church (N.J.)
Juvenile Officer (1990- 2016)
Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court (Clev ,Ohio)
Founder/Director - TEAM JAM
Chaplain - HS Football - 21 yrs
Chaplain - HS Basketball - 20 yrs
Chaplain - College Basketball - 13 yrs
Chaplain - Pro Baseball - 11 years
Chaplain - Pro Basketball - 3 years
Chaplain - College Football - 2 years
AAU Basketball Coach - 13 years
Youth Basketball coach - 12 years
High School basketball coach - 2 years
Middle School basketball - 2 years
Middle School track coach - 3 years
Youth Baseball coach - 7 years
AWANA Director/Teacher - 16 years
Christian Hockey Camp Director - 5 yrs
Christian Sports Camp Director - 4 years