“The kids track with me pretty well,” said Pastor Josh. “But when Naseef gets up there, they’re riveted.”
Pastor Josh’s south Boston church runs Teen Connect, attracting several at-risk youth. After basketball on a November Wednesday, the boys assembled bird houses, then considered the merits of building a house on rock vs. sand, courtesy of Matthew 7:24-27.
Barely two months into the faith, Naseef didn’t yet know much about the Bible, but he did know how a lousy start in life can send you on the wrong way. With all those young eyes trained on him, Naseef began to recall his own story of just a few years ago …
“You don’t want to go down this path, Naseef,” said his teacher, Mr. Vamvakide.
After finding acceptance and importance as a gang member, Mr. Vamvakide’s words disturbed the high school sophomore. Did Naseef dare to hope that his teacher could be right?
Expelled from school most of his 7th grade year, Naseef’s life had gone from bad to worse.
One night stands out as absolutely horrifying.
Awakened by screams, 13-year-old Naseef grabbed a baseball bat, halting the knife-wielding boyfriend from further damaging his mom.
With the boyfriend in jail, the situation eased somewhat. In fact, after receiving a hefty check from a car insurance settlement, Naseef’s mom promised a Disney trip to Naseef and his brothers.
However, weeks of anticipation eventually smoldered into resentment. Instead of Disney, Naseef’s mom used the money to spring her boyfriend from jail.
Broken promises jumbled with distorted values sent Naseef searching for stability. He found it by joining a gang.
“People in the gang were there for me, including some older ones. They had my back.”
Yet Naseef had caught the eye of a couple of his teachers, Mr. Vamvakides in particular. “You can do better, Naseef. God has a plan for you. Put him first.”
Struggling in uncertainty, Naseef tried putting more effort into his studies. Meeting with some success, he then joined track and field and the wrestling team, and began to participate in programs designed to help first generation collegians.
Zipping ahead a couple of years, we find Naseef pulling a 4.0 GPA and gaining admission into Boston’s Bentley University!
“I felt welcomed at Bentley, but wondered if I could make it in this predominantly white school,” Naseef confided. As if on cue, Cru intern Andrew, who had met Naseef in one of the prep programs, initiated with the new freshman. Seated in the Bentley Student Center, Andrew asked Naseef if he knew the gospel.
“I know the word ‘gospel,’ but not the meaning,” answered Naseef.
As the beauty of God’s unfailing promises blossomed from Andrew’s words and diagrams, Naseef began to believe, cautioned by Andrew that this was a life-altering decision.
“I’d prayed, but never read the Bible. Now I realized why Jesus died on the cross – so I could be forgiven for what I did.”
Naseef’s new life began on 9/11. That night Andrew treated Naseef to Chipotle and took him to Cru’s Citywide meeting. A few days later, Andrew introduced Naseef to Pastor Josh and Charles River Church, where Andrew assists with Teen Connect.
What Naseef hoped to find in the gang, he’s now experiencing in God’s family.
Receiving an alarming call from his mom while at Cru’s Fall Retreat, staff and students alike surrounded Naseef with loving support and assurance, praying for him and helping him figure out what to do.
Naseef credits God with his recent academic improvement, citing rising test scores in math and government.
“I explain to my friends how God is growing me, and that it happens in small steps, especially when you’re in rough situations.”
Beginning with Mr. Vamvakides, God is giving Naseef a roster of new role models. In turn, the youth of Teen Connect find themselves captivated by their new role model – one who know what it’s like to go from bad, to worse, to “gospel!”