“Placing fifth in the creative writing category of Word of Life’s Teens Involved: Nationals is, Kalene Parker!” I was oblivious to all of the cheering from the crowd as I accepted my trophy in shock. As I made my way down from the stage after the ceremony, my youth pastor beamed at me with pride and said as he hugged me, “See? I knew you could make it all of the way! Stretching outside your comfort level might have hurt a bit, but wasn’t it worth it?” My life has been changed; my spirit molded by the power of God through the influence of my youth pastor.
My youth pastor taught me to step outside of my comfort zone in things I wanted to do, but was too scared to try, and in being more confident in who I am in Christ. When I first started going to my youth group, I was a very quiet and shy person who liked sitting by myself in the back corner writing my stories. Pastor Brian noticed this, and one evening made an announcement about a competition that a local Bible Institute held annually. He came up to me afterward and suggested that I sign up for the creative writing category of the competition. Although everyone else was excited about Teens Involved, I wanted no part of it because I believed it to be just another “church” thing. As if Pastor Brian knew that I needed this opportunity to grow spiritually as well as in my writing skills, he kept asking me to participate. Finally, only because I could not
think of any other way to get him to stop asking, I signed up for the competition. At first, I was reluctant to start a story that focused on the Lord, but He guided my hand as I poured out my heart onto paper. I did not expect to get past the first round, but to my surprise I won first place in the regional competition! I also won first place in the state level and ended up placing fifth in the national level. The invaluable experience that I gained from the competition helped me in being a better writer and in being more extroverted. Because of Pastor Brian’s constant insistence, I was able to repeat my wins almost exactly the following year. After that amazing experience of stepping outside my comfort zone for the first time, I could not stop! I became very outgoing and no longer afraid to go after what I wanted to do with my life.
Not only did Pastor Brian influence me to stretch myself in order to accomplish things I wanted to do, but also to be more confident in who I am through Christ. When my youth pastor first met me, I was unassuming and did not have a positive view of myself. He always emphasized the fact that girls were God’s princesses, and that not only should guys treat us girls that way, but also we should treat ourselves and one another like that. One instance that really influenced me was when I was having trouble letting go of my past. Pastor Brian devoted one night to addressing “letting go of the past” and had one of the girls come up and give her testimony, which was similar to the things I had gone through. After the message I came down to the altar and Pastor Brian listened as my will broke and years of hurt came pouring out. At that point, I realized that I had to move on with my life and not let my past get in the way of the bright future God has for me. Slowly, yet surely I grew to see myself as His princess and finally started to live like one.
My youth pastor also taught me to be aware of others and their hurts. Because of his gentleness and acceptance of me, I, in turn, want to do the same for others. Through this, the Lord has gifted me with the ability to get along with pretty much everybody I come into contact with. Because of the things I have been through, I can easily spot a hurting person that everyone else thinks is weird. When I see people like that, I think of how I was only a few years ago, and cannot help but to show them that there is a way out of the pain.
God has shaped my life using Pastor Brian to teach me that even though stretching myself outside of my comfort zone may hurt at first, it gets easier with time and in the end I can help others. Because of my youth pastor’s example I decided to major in Criminal Justice and help those who are victims of human trafficking. I am incredibly thankful that the Lord brought my youth pastor in my life, because without his influence, I would not be where I am today.