Gauntlet broke my heart for students

Every year, John James uses his vacation time to serve at Gauntlet because of what he experienced as a room leader.

In early 2012, at the time Gauntlet announcements were being broadcast, my wife asked me what needed to be done to get us signed up.

I quickly learned that the “us” she was referring to was my son and me.

I had no problems at all sending our son two states away for a week without a parent nearby; my wife didn't quite see it in the same manner. I was set to attend Gauntlet 2012 as a room leader.

I wasn't really sure exactly what that meant at the time. I concluded that it would be, basically, a weeklong babysitting assignment, where my parenting skills would help me get through the week.

I had absolutely no desire to minister to youth.

My wife, Charlotte, and I have seen both our children, Tyler and Courtney, benefit from Fuse and receive salvation.

Comfort Zone

That year, I had started serving at Fuse only out of selfish convenience. I was dropping off my sixth-grade son only to drive back to the campus a few hours later to take him home.

I chose the parking team since it was an area where I would primarily be outside the building, and it would limit the potential for interaction with students.

It wasn't that I disliked students — I am a parent with kids whom I love dearly — but rather because I had absolutely no desire to minister to youth. I felt this type of ministry was best suited for the college-age volunteer.

Why would God use someone as broken as I am?

Fear of the Unknown

This “babysitting” mindset about Gauntlet was completely trashed upon attending my first Gauntlet volunteer training session.

It was here that I learned three students would be placed with me for an entire week. And, in addition to being responsible for their accountability, I was also expected to lead them in small group discussions every night after the main sessions.

Just when that fact was settling on my mind, I was presented with a list of the possible care topics that a Gauntlet leader should be prepared to be faced with at some point during the week. This is when the fear turned into pure terror!

That also was the point I was convicted by the Holy Spirit. My fear was due to the fact that I had never truly shared the Gospel with anyone, much less had to deal with care issues surrounding sex, drugs, suicide, etc. I felt like I wasn’t capable or good enough. Why would God use someone as broken as I am?

I was outside of my comfort zone, and it was weighing heavy on my heart.

Getting hyped with my Gauntlet room at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

An Indescribable Week

Upon boarding the Gauntlet bus a few months later and meeting the three seventh-grade students I would lead, I still felt as though I was outside my comfort zone, and it was weighing heavy on my heart!

But I knew God would provide me with whatever I needed during this week. He told me He was going to use me, even though I felt like I wasn’t capable of ministering.

The next five days literally cannot be described with words. It could only be experienced.

Two of my students decided to take their next step of baptism while we were at the Gauntlet! As a result of my experience, I understood God could use me, even though I thought He couldn’t.

What could I possibly have to offer a group of teens?

The Courage To Lead

Gauntlet not only changed my students. It changed me!

Upon returning to Anderson Fuse, I informed the Fuse staff that I would no longer be serving in the parking lot. God had placed it upon my heart to be a Fuse Group leader, I told them.

All the same, the thought of leading students literally nauseated me! Where would I find the time? What could I possibly have to offer a group of teens? Wasn’t leading a Fuse Group for the college-age guys?

Through a series of events over the next few months, I was assigned to oversee eighth-grade Fuse Group students and match them with a Fuse Group leader.

Additionally, I was tasked with communicating with the male Fuse Group leaders to ensure any needs they had were also met.

God reminded me that He does not call the ready; He readies the called.​

Celebrating with one of my students who gave his life to Jesus.

Prepared For More

Here again, God reminded me that He does not call the ready; He readies the called.

Over the next few years, I would tag along with some of my “all-star” Fuse Group leaders as they led their particular groups.

Through this experience, the Fuse Group leaders taught me more than they could know about leading and ministering to students.

Looking back, though, I understand now that this was God’s way of preparing me. Eventually, I would take on a group of boys from leaders who were moving on to their own next steps.

I’ve literally had every gamut of emotions.

Going The Distance

The students from my first Fuse group, who I started to lead between ninth and 10th grade will be graduating this year.

To some, I’m a mentor. And to others, I’m a big brother. And for one or two, I’ve been like a father to them. I’ve literally had every gamut of emotions with these guys in the things that I have had to deal with.

There are students who probably should not have graduated from high school based on the path they were on when I first met them in seventh grade. Now those students are making great decisions. It’s shown me that the Lord works even through times of trouble and strife.

One of the highlights of my time with them was leading one of my students to Jesus at Gauntlet X. That was the first time he realized that, while he knew who God was, he didn’t have a relationship with Him. I had been praying for this moment since I met this young man in eighth grade!

We had a conversation on the beach, and there were lots of tears shed in that room that night. That experience taught me to never, ever give up on someone.

My Fuse story is not over, and the best is yet to come!

Getting excited for the sunrise baptism on Daytona Beach with my students.

An Amazing Journey

I have attended every Gauntlet since 2012, and I’m signed up for my sixth Gauntlet in 2017.

Working full-time in a public service career, I have had to use 24 to 48 hours of my vacation time to go to Gauntlet each year. It has become something I have to do. It’s not even a question anymore.

It‘s worth the sacrifice because of the life change I have seen in my students every year. And every year, Gauntlet has validated that there was something I could offer when it comes to youth ministry.

My hope in sharing my story is that it will convince one man like me to go to Gauntlet and make a difference in students’ lives.

I continue to be absolutely certain of two things: My Fuse story is not over, and the best is yet to come!

My Fuse Group and I hanging out at one of our weekly meetings.

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus.

Sharing your story is a simple and powerful way to tell people about Jesus. By talking about what Jesus has done for you, it’s like joining a conversation God is already having with them.