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This story takes place over ten years ago and so some of the details have gotten hazy with age. Perhaps after reading this, my brother can offer some additional insight.

During my freshman year of high school I attended a private Christian school. That same year, my younger brother Daniel was in seventh grade and attended a private Lutheran school. My parents were still together and I regularly attended a youth group called “Highlife” that was closely affiliated with my school.

For those that are completely unaware or only partially familiar, the youth group that I attended involved singing upbeat songs (similar to those sang in Church, but not hymns), playing some sort of group game, small group activity and discussion, and a message (like a sermon). It was a place to have fun with fellow Christian teens and learn something extra about God that I had not already learned from school, church, parents, or elsewhere. Although the “God stuff” was great, most of us simply saw it as an excuse to hang out with friends on a Wednesday night.

My mom shifted jobs a lot, but, at the time of this story, had been renting an office space inside of a local carpet store where she could run her interior design business. The owner of the carpet store was divorced, his ex-wife lived in Los Angeles somewhere, and they had joint custody of a teenage boy named Steven. The owner was so busy with his work that he seldom had time to be with his son.

Apparently, there were some parental issues at Steven’s mom’s place too because Steven had gotten himself involved in gangs. I had seen movies like “Colors” and “Boys in the Hood”, but I knew enough at the time to know that I knew nothing. To this day, I still don’t really understand what it means to be in a gang. I am not sure exactly how it came about, but somehow every parent involved decided that it would be a good idea for Steven to live with us for a week or so and share a room with my brother and me! I have already told you about the differences between Steven and my brother and I. It was like the pilgrims coming to America and meeting the “Indians”. We were from completely different worlds and neither understood the other.

At the time of the story, Amy Grant had just released her hugely popular crossover album “Heart in Motion”. Also, Michael W. Smith had released a similar although less popular album that included songs like “Secret Ambition” and “Go West”. Both albums were very big at my school and my mom owned the Amy Grant album. My older brother has always been a bit of a black sheep in my family. He is five years older than me and his musical interests and lifestyle were very different than mine. He had already moved out to live with his first wife but had left behind some of his old tapes. The tapes he left included Eazy-E and Whodini. Actually, I rather like both of these artists and did at the time too but they weren’t high on my hit list. If you had to take a wild guess at this point, who’s music do you think Steven was more likely interested in? No-brainer, right?

Steven moved into mine and my younger brother’s room and we all three took turns sleeping in the two beds while the third person slept in a sleeping bag on the floor. Steven was oddly quiet. I took him to one of the Wednesday night youth groups and since he had no idea what to expect I tried to get him excited about it. After all, it was exciting to me. I was seeing a girl named Katie at the time and was hoping to see her that night. He mentioned that he had a girlfriend back in Los Angeles. He went through all of the youth group activities without complaining or comparing or trying to leave. He was just silent. On a Friday night, he was wanting to go out and was asking us what we did. My brother and I typically watched the sitcoms on ABC on Fridays (remember Erkel?) but they didn’t interest him so the three of us decided that we wanted to watch music videos. The problem was that our TV only got the basic Los Angeles channels via a roof antenna. The only channel I knew of that would have music videos was the Christian channel (TBN) which was always fuzzy on our TV. As fate would have it, videos were on that night and we did watch them. Also, as fate would have it, both an Amy Grant and a Michael W. Smith video were played. I thought he might appreciate that since both songs were popular on secular (non-Christian) radio, but again all I got from him was silence. The following night, we did the same thing but he knew of a late night show on one of the other channels that played rap videos. I don’t remember what all played that night but I do remember that the very last video of the night was the world debut of “Baby Got Back”. Hmm… let us contrast. Amy Grant’s video spoke of love and showed images of her husband. Sir-Mix-Alot’s video spoke of anacondas and showed images of tomatoes and bananas dancing about. I think it was that night that my younger brother decided to go to bed with a walkman and the Eazy-E tape. He and I both remember him blurting out “Eazy duz it, Eazy duz it” and Steven echoing it back to all of us in a mocking tone.

Steven left our home shortly after that and I never heard from him again. I have no idea what has come of him. Did he go right back into his gang? Was he tremendously relieved to be out of our nuthouse? Did he go and tell his friends about the crazy stuff he had experienced? Probably all of the above. I hope that his moments of silence meant that he was deeply pondering what he was witnessing and experiencing. Who knows? Perhaps my brother and I planted some seeds in his heart that led him out of gangs. He’d be close to thirty today if he’s still alive. I wonder what he is up to.

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