By J. Hogan
A few years ago I caught jury duty and dutifully, if begrudgingly, showed up to the San Diego County Courthouse. Then, despite my best efforts, I was seated on a jury for a civil case.
A couple had bought a piece of land to build a house in Poway, but declined to have a suggested water percolation test done. The test, done in desert areas, is to ensure that water will absorb into and through the property.
Without that, summer monsoon storms become flash floods, and erosion can advance quickly, tearing out foundations. A failed test means you can’t build.
The couple spent $300,000 only to find out they couldn’t build their dream home. Documentation they’d signed proved they’d been advised, but declined, to have the test done.
So they sued the seller hoping to recoup their money. For me, it was an open and shut case of folly on their part and I would have found against them.
After two days of their lawyer making his case, the seller’s lawyer asked for a summary dismissal and we jurors were sent out to the hallway, where I sat grumpily lamenting the wasted time.
Sitting there, lost in my thoughts, one of the other jurors came over and said “You pastor a church in Linda Vista, right?”
“I do,” I said, extending my hand, which he shook. We exchanged names.
“I brought my youth group to a play your team did a couple years back,” he said.
I sighed. Judgement House. We’d invested a lot of time and effort putting on a “walk-through play” about two friends - one in relationship with God and one who’d refused God’s entreaties - killed in a car crash leaving a party.
Room by room, the play relayed a vision of whom each teen had been (flawed, bad teenage decisions mostly) and what the Bible says lay ahead for each in the aftermath of their passing.
We’d spent money to send out 5,000 mailers to the local community, went door-to-door to muster up interest, and brought in teams from Lawton and Altus Oklahoma to teach us and play characters. It was expensive and time consuming.
Only a few church youth groups showed up. No one from the surrounding community. It was a bust, and I - already in a mood and ready to vent - was about say so. Then he spoke.
“That play completely changed our church,” he said.
“We had a girl, Amber, in our youth group. She was popular, but angry. Rebellious. Amber would sometimes show up, sometimes not. When she was there it was chaos. She has great innate leadership skills, but lived with her aunt and didn’t like being sent to church youth group. Said she didn’t believe in God, and used her influence to argue and disrupt all the time. We were at our wit’s end with her.”
“At the end of the play,” he said, “your folks asked if anyone wanted to learn about having a relationship with God and none of our kids spoke up. It’s likely that all but Amber already knew Christ, and I didn’t expect Amber to speak up… and she didn’t.”
“Then on the bus back to the church, I turned around to give some instructions to the kids, and saw Amber was crying. A couple of girls were trying to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. I asked the driver to pull over and walked back to see what was going on.”
“Amber, wailing, broke down.She said she’d been so mad at God since her mother had died that she’d expressed hatred toward God. Her mother had been a believer, but she’d decided that if God would take a girl’s mother when she was only a kid, she didn’t want to be with that God for eternity. The play had reminded her of God’s love in a way that we hadn’t been able to, and she regretted rejecting and lashing out at God.
“She gave her life to God right there on the bus. The other kids were all in tears and hugging her. She’s since taken over leading the youth group and the group has grown fivefold. She’s leading kids to Jesus all the time.”
He kept talking until we were called back into the courtroom, where the judge dismissed the case, but I don’t remember much else he said. I was too busy inside my head, thanking God for this moment, for showing grumpy, imposed-upon me that when I couldn’t see what He had done, He was still at work, doing his thing, impacting lives.
There are days when I revisit that moment because I can’t see what God’s doing and I’m frustrated… and I cherish the lesson I learned that day and the hope that it gives me when things are a rough slog from my perspective.
We walk by faith, not by sight ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.