As youth workers and adults who work with youth, we often get hung up in fundraising, details, the project, etc. This year was a different kind of trip for me for a number of different reasons. Yet, one of the main reasons is the time I had to spend with the youth in the group.
In 1994, a friend came on The Appalachian Service Project with me for the very first time. He was a year younger and I was not sure how he would fit in with my “older” friends. At the time, he did and it was fine, but I remember thinking how awkward it was. Matt was not the most conventional of friends. Why, because he was a kind, wonderful person, who didn’t seem to really understand holding grudges and was just happy laughing.
Now, as a 32 year old man, I can say this and be honest, but I was not always the best friend to Matt. Not saying that we were “best friends” but saying as a friend, I failed a lot. However we shared a unique bond in scouts besides youth and high school. I remember when Matt would agree with where to go or what to do his answer was “good call, in fact that was an excellent call. We joked of killer, kudzu eating, radioactive, suicidal, and cliff diving deer on the way to my Sr. Year on ASP. Matt, Mickey, and I spent one of the greatest weekends with the youth group in Washington DC. (SIDE NOTE: This is also the trip where Pastor Bill Bixby told us we were ROLE MODELS and people look up to us. We both look at him and say, well we don’t want to be, and we want to have fun. Bill explained that you can do both, but we are getting older and need to learn that others will look to us.) That weekend we played Frisbee on the Mall, ate at the Hard Rock, and talking about things in life that perplexed us like girls, parents, and what life would be like when we grew up.
Well here I am grown up (ok, how about chronologically older and a little wiser). 14 days ago my friend Matthew Ryan Hoffa died. We had been through a lot in the passed few years and time had separated us, but in 2005 when I learned my friend was in the Hospital waiting on a new heart, I was there to see him, talk and on a few times I just sat in his room while he slept. A few of these he may not even have known about, but I did and that is what mattered. His faith even then was an example to me. He was my ROLE MODEL and we spoke of times growing up and friends. He told me of the people in the hospital who inspire him to keep hope and be positive.
Recently, Matt had been ill 2 times since March this year and each time friends would tell me and I would say, OH I HAVE TO GO SEE HIM! Well, like all “important” people I got busy. Then the second time in the hospital, he was home the day I was going downtown to see him in Jefferson Hospital. Little less than 2 weeks later, my ministry friend Dayle Malloy had to tell me that Matt had passed. This was the Friday before I left for ASP. I WAS CRUSHED, I thought, I need to be here to say goodbye. Then I thought about it and back to those talks with Matt in 2005 and high School and with all the teens who tell me how amazing ASP is for them and I realized I had to go and not just go, but go and take Matt’s spirit and heart to serve with me.
All week I had struggled with missing Matt. People asked what was wrong and I just blamed the heat the first two days, but then on Culture Night (Tuesday) a man came to sing. He had been doing this for ASP since 1994. That year he also wrote a song “Love isn’t Love, until you give it away” which was also the theme of the summer and Matt and my first year. It was then, that I knew Matt was with me and God had put me in this place to be a “ROLE MODEL” share my skill, humor, and love with the people of Williamson, the youth on the trip and families.
I still miss Matt; I still need to deal with this loss. As someone who struggles with depression, I can tell you any death is like ripping open your heart and yanking on emotions (though given Matt’s issues, ripping open my heart seems appropriate) and forcing me to deal with it. I read a post on our Youth Blog (udlcyouth.blogspot.com) and it showed me that thanks to my wife Deena, my church friends growing up like Matthew Ryan Hoffa, and the adults who I work with now in ministry I am able to still be a Role Model and hopefully prepare and send out other Role Models who will share their lives with others to show God’s love, but more importantly who they really are not worrying about what other may think they should be.
Thank you to my awesome wife, ASP team this year, the mentors in my life, and those who continue to “give it time” to figure out my style is different, but genuine.