Sitting at a lunch table in Jasper High School's noisy cafeteria, James Jackson and Benton Hall divulge a prank that happened on their last camping trip.
"And then he jumped out of the tent and started shooting his paintball gun into the woods," James says as his friends crack up laughing. When Benton wanders off to speak with a group of teachers, one of the teens at the table lowers his voice and asks James, "Who's that old guy?"
Being friends with a 60-year-old on a high school campus naturally piques curiosity. James gladly tells his classmates, "Oh, that's Benton. He's speaking at the Bible study on Tuesday night. You should come."
A Legacy that Spans 3 Generations
A suburb 20 miles north of Dallas, Plano has 8 high schools. At 3 of these, Benton Hall is the director of the high school ministry of Cru, which uses small groups, one-to-one discipleship and retreat weekends to help students achieve a greater understanding of who God is.
James Jackson, a freshman football player at Jasper, has known Benton his entire life. "He's like a second dad to me," James says.
For over 2 decades, the Jacksons and Halls have sustained a faithful friendship. James' grandfather Larry played a vital role in helping launch the high school ministry in Plano. James' dad Marshall played high school football and was the first student Benton worked with in Plano. Marshall told Benton he could not retire until he worked with his son.
Now, 30 years later, Benton has that opportunity.
Combining Football, Faith and Friends
At the end of football practices, James stands in front of his team and announces upcoming Cru activities and Bible studies.
"James is passionate about involving friends and teammates," Benton says.
In September of 2008, 30 guys attended the first Bible study of the semester, held at the Jackson home. In less than 2 months, 15 young men put their faith in Christ.
Benton also challenged James to pray for his friend, Andrew. Andrew had told James, "God is just some guy."
James invited Andrew to Bible study, and he began attending weekly. Andrew learned what it meant to begin a relationship with God and after a month of questioning, decided to give his life to Christ.
"Andrew's attitude has changed. You can see it in the way he acts and how he talks to his friends," says James. He is excited about taking Andrew with him to Fast Break, a winter conference of Cru's high school ministry.
Building Trust Connects Students to Christ
Benton, a confidant and friend to students, like James, asks about families, grades and relationships with genuine interest. "Students open up when they realize adults want to listen to them," Benton says.
"School would be difficult without Benton's influence," James says. "If you have a problem, you can find Benton and talk about it. I can share personal things with him about school struggles and relationships. He listens."
Benton also makes it a priority to talk with students about beginning a relationship with Christ. At the popular hamburger joint, Country Burger, James and his dad tease Benton by asking, "What's the bigger number? How many hamburgers Country Burger has sold or how many students you've led to Christ?"
Influence Continues Over the Decades
At 60, not many people are leading student ministry. It's not surprising to Benton that many people question why an "old guy" is working with high school students.
"Once you turn 30, you're old," exclaims Benton. "As far as the kids are concerned, I've been old for 30 years."
As Jasper fans and cheerleaders chant, "Go, Jaguars!", green and white jerseys assemble in a scrimmage on the field. People of all ages often come up at Friday night football games to hug and thank Benton for the influence he's had on their lives or their children's lives.
For the Jacksons, that influence continues to point them toward Christ. "Hopefully, one day my kids will be involved with the high school ministry, too," James says.