Chapter 1: Gathering at the Flag Pole
The Hanson family had prepared for the first week of school to be a challenging and emotional time. Last year they lost their twelve-year-old daughter, Stephanie, to suicide. Stephanie was a sweet little girl and was the youngest. Stephanie loved playing with her dolls and dressing up and pretending she was a princess. She loved to draw pictures of horses. The family was in shocked, devastated, and angry of what took place in her bedroom. Mr. Hanson didn’t know what made a happy sweet little girl to take her own life. After the devastation that rocked their family, a move to a midwestern suburban town seemed like the best plan. It was a huge decision to leave their family home in Cartersville, Missouri and purchase a middle-class two-story house in Millisville, Missouri, uprooting everything they had ever known.
The senior Pastor of the United Methodist Church was looking for a new youth minister to take over because the previous one moved away. Mr. Hanson noticed a sign posted at the church when they arrived in town. They stopped in and he spoke with Reverend Ralph Cunningham and introduced himself and explained that his family had just moved in town and was looking for a new church home and he also mentioned he was a youth pastor at his previous church. Mr. Hanson filled out the application. Reverend Cunningham explained to Mr. Hanson that there several people applied and the pastoral staff will decide at the next meeting. A month later he received a call from the pastoral staff announcing he was appointed into the new position at the church. Brian Hanson is not your typical youth minister at the United Methodist Church in his community. The middle-aged man is on a mission to solve the problems with today’s adolescence.
His mission is to educate people on the hazards of bullying, especially for children. He also wanted to help prevent another student from being bullied and to save another family from going through the same ordeal that his family gone through. One part of his mission is to inspire the young people to treat each other with respect and kindness towards one another. He also realizes that some of the problems consist of drinking, cyberbullying, and school violence. To be able to achieve his goals, he needs to show his presence at school and be involved with the students. The first Wednesday youth service was difficult for Reverend Hanson because of all the new faces. There were about a hundred and forty-five youth attended that night. He started the night off by introducing himself and his children to the youth group. He told the students they could call him Pastor B. and asked the students what they would like to see different on Wednesday nights. One of the new students a young girl named Alysia Sanders stood up and asked if they could have devotions around the flag pole before school starts every morning. The Reverend stated that he would have to get permission from the school. He asked if anyone had any other ideas for Wednesday nights. Another young lady raised her hand up and her name was Patricia and she stated she would like to have bible study time instead of regular services. All the students clapped with agreement. The Reverend mentioned he will be planning on having a bonfire party in three weeks before school starts. He ended the service with a prayer and told the students to invite their friends to the bonfire.
The following morning the pastor called the school to get permission to have a devotion around the flag pole every morning before the first bell rings. The principal told the pastor that she will check into it with the school board. She didn’t think it would be a problem since the flagpole was off the school property. He started planning and thinking of ways that he could possibly reach out to these youths. He knew he had a tough road ahead of him and what he is trying to accomplish. He started thinking about Stephanie of what he could of done different. He wondered if he was a good enough father to raise his other children up right. All of these thoughts started rushing in through his mind. Why didn’t he noticed the signs that she was in trouble? Did he communicate with his children? Was he a good father to Stephanie and the other children? Did he spend quality time with his children? Did he take any interests in their activities? Was he too busy to notice his daughter was in trouble? Did he take time to listen to his children? After he finished going through these questions in his head. He began focusing on getting things ready for the bonfire party. He made all the arrangements, the preparations, and sent out the invitations.
The week before school started, the minister started getting ready for the youth to show up and he was surprised that there were at least a hundred students showed up. The bonfire was a huge success and all the youth had a great time of fellowship and getting to know each other. The pastor started to gain there respect and trust. He was very excited to know what will be the next event that he could do. What little information he gained from listening to the students is that the church was not very big getting the youth involved. The previous youth pastor might not have been focused on events for the youth. He began to getting connected with a few of the students. He noticed his son Patrick was taking some interest in Alysia Sanders and his daughter Gloria was poplar with some of the boys. He soon realized that doing activities and being involved with the youth that he could make some connections.
The following week the pastor begin working on his Wednesday night bible study and hoping the school would allow him to share with the students. During the services a few of the students asked if they could play games after services. Mr. Hanson had no problem with that as long as they get finished with the bible study and before the parents picks them up. He knew he had to make a strong bond if the students would continue being in the group. He allowed thirty minutes after the services to play games. The students started sharing and asking for prayer for certain things. He come home after the services and shared how much the students are enjoying having him as their youth pastor. He told Susan that this was the best week he had in a long time. As the week went on and getting close to school starting back up. He was excited and trying to think of ways to reach out to the community. He wondered how he would capture the students attention and keep them coming to the flag pole when he receives permission.
Reverend Hanson woke up on a lovely, sunny Monday morning on the first day of a new school year for his children. It is also Reverend Hanson’s first day at his new church and his wife Susan new teaching job at the school. After taking a warm shower, he gazed into the mirror only to realize the signs of aging with a few hairs turning gray and wrinkles on his face. The slight aging of his appearance reminds him he is pushing forty. He then got dressed and walked over to the children’s room where they were still sleeping. As Brian approached their sixteen-year-old son’s room he hears the jarring sound of the alarm ringing out. It is already 6:30 in the morning and he knows that waking Patrick is always such a chore. When he knocks on his son’s bedroom door he can hear the rustling noise of Patrick kicking the covers. “It’s time to get up, son.” Patrick asked, “Dad, can I hit the snooze button for just five more minutes?” Brian opened the door and said, “You’d better get up. You don’t want to be late for school.”
Patrick woke up, rolled out of bed and walked towards the restroom to get ready. Brian approached Gloria’s room when he heard the sound of running water coming from the bathroom and knew his seventeen-year-old daughter was getting ready. Gloria is a brilliant, cheerful, spunky, beautiful teenage girl on the Junior High cheerleading squad.
The Hanson’s are like any other typical middle-class couple struggling to get their teenagers up and ready for school, a task that can be a real challenge sometimes. Then he casually walked down the stairs and asked his wife Susan, age 38 and a brilliant tenth-grade history teacher, what she was preparing for breakfast. Mrs. Hanson said, “Pancakes, eggs, and bacon.” The smell of bacon sizzling on the stove filled the kitchen as he walked into the room. Susan said, “Brian, can you go upstairs to check on the children?” Mr. Hanson reached the top of the stairs when he heard Patrick pounding on the restroom door and yelling, “Dad, Gloria is taking too much time in the bathroom!” Brian said, “Patrick, stop banging on the door. Gloria, you need to hurry up in the bathroom and come downstairs for breakfast.” Gloria replied and said she was almost finished drying her hair. Brian said, “All right Gloria. Would you hurry up so Patrick can get ready?” He then headed back downstairs.
At 7:00 a.m., Brian heard the kids running down the stairs into the kitchen and sitting down. Brian blessed the meal and they ate breakfast together as a family. Pastor Hanson asked the children if they were excited about their first day of school. Patrick was concerned about making friends and Gloria confided she was a little tense about her classes.
Brian said, “Don’t burden yourself about being nervous on the first day, Son. You’ll make new acquaintances and meet new classmates. The important thing to remember is to be yourself and it will take time to make new friends, just be patient.” Pastor Hanson turned and looked at his daughter and said, “Gloria, I’m sure you’ll be okay in your subjects because you are a smart young lady. Don’t worry about your studies. You will be all right. However, I’m proud of both of you for being honest.” It is going to be difficult on all of us, we all miss Stephanie very much and the house feels empty without her joyful smile. We all need to be strong and move forward in our lives, this is what your sister would have wanted. We are still a family and her memories and thoughts are still with us. Brian felt that this move was for the best and believe it is a way for him to be on the path to reach out to troubled or misguided youth. This school may be the answer he is searching for to reach out to the community.
The Hanson family had just finished eating when they were interrupted by a telephone call from the school principal. Mrs. Jackson was calling to tell Pastor Hanson that he had permission to speak to the students every morning around the flagpole. After Brian had hung up the receiver he helped the kids gather all their supplies and finish getting ready. Mr. Hanson was nervous and his optimistic was overwhelming that he couldn’t wait to announce it to the youth on Wednesday night. He began planning and getting things organized for his devotion. He wanted to make sure the students were still interested in meeting around the flag pole. He thought about having some of the students play Christian music, share testimonies, a short devotion and prayer time. He knew that if he could get some poplar students to come others would join. He figured about an hour would be enough time to meet. He drove the kids to school because Susan had to be there early before class so she drove the family car. After he dropped the kids off at school he headed to the church office and began working on his message and making out the invitations. The Reverend had a pretty busy day and week. On Wednesday he announced to the students that they could start meeting at the flagpole on Monday morning. He asked if anyone be interested in playing music and several hands rose up. He started to hand out invitations to the youth that night and encourage them to invite. He had Patrick and Gloria to start inviting everyone they knew from the youth group to come next Monday.
Pastor Hanson arrived at the flagpole on that morning bright August sunny day. While he was getting ready to speak to the students, he glanced over and saw a boy sitting on a bench next to the front entrance of the building. The young boy was wearing headphones and drawing a picture of the group of students gathered around the flagpole. Brian observed other classmates talking with each other and walking by without speaking to or even acknowledging him. The boy was slender with brown hair and thick glasses. The youth was wearing a t-shirt ripped in several places, baggy stained jeans, and weathered tennis shoes.
After they had sung a few songs, Brian began the morning’s devotional. Pastor Hanson said, “Good morning students. My name is Pastor Brian Hanson but you can call me Pastor B or Mr. Hanson.”
“I will share a devotional today on life’s directions and I’m glad everybody can support each other around the flagpole! First, I would like everyone to please bow your heads to pray.” After this introduction and prayer Pastor B. continued with the message, “When you think of lifetime’s direction, what comes to mind? I believe the course God wants every person to follow is the way that leads to salvation – to Jesus. Yet we Christians sometimes stray away from wholehearted dedication to Christ in the salvation we enjoy and not from deliverance itself. To avoid this, we need to focus our eyes on Jesus and keep going in the way God wants for us. Think of a way in which we, as believers, can live our lives by allowing God to direct our path.”
“I believe the only way to achieve the right direction is to continue moving forward while trusting Jesus to lead us. Whatever our own goals may be – whether it is graduation, reaching out to other students, finding a job, attending college or even getting married and having a family – we must trust in God. No matter what direction or path you are pursuing at the moment, put your trust in God to lead you and direct you.”
“Everyone should ask themselves where this road would take us. If your answers to this question are - to Jesus Christ, to salvation or to heaven, you’re on the right track. If your answers are - I’m not sure or to destruction, you may need to change the direction in which your life is going. Only you can answer according to what’s in your heart. The time to change course is now before time passes you by and it’s too late to change. God wants the best for you and He loves you very much.”
“When we take our eyes, and focus on something else besides Jesus, we may have tendencies to sink deeper into our sin until we turn our eyes back to Jesus. Christians may not see what God is planning for us. All we can do is to love one another and stay on the right path in the direction he intends for us. The way God expects us to take is the path to salvation.”
“Christians can’t allow Satan to distract us and lead us away from our destiny, which is to reach out to one another. Christians have a choice to make - to take the broad path, which leads to destruction or the narrow path, which leads to Jesus. The choice is yours to make. Only you can decide for yourself to follow Jesus and ask him into your heart to help find your life’s direction. This morning you can make the first step, walk God’s path for yourself and turn your life around.”
“In closing, I would like you to find someone you don’t recognize and invite him or her to come and join us around the flagpole. Help them provide direction for their life and discover how God’s love can change them and how the decision you make can change you. The power to change lives is your choice to make if you allow Jesus to work through you. Let’s ask God to enable us to continue to follow our life’s real direction and become leaders in this school. Let’s be a positive influence upon other students.” That is all for the day, the bell will be ringing in about fifteen minutes does anyone want to pray? Ok, see you in the morning be sure to invite people this may be a small group but as time goes by others will feel comfortable.
The next morning the youth pastor noticed the same boy wearing the headphones sitting on the bench. The boy began to scrutinize the group of students as we gathered around the pole. This time Pastor Hanson walked away from the group in the hope of finding out his name and asking him to join them. Alysia Sanders said, “Mr. Hanson, where are you going?” The pastor turned around, glanced back at Alysia and replied, “I am going to talk to this young boy and invite him to come and join us.” Pastor Hanson casually approached the young boy when he witnessed some students teasing him because of his appearance and his clothing. The pastor got closer when they scattered leaving the boy with his head hung low as other students passed by laughing. Alysia approached the reverend and the pastor explained to her, “I am constantly amazed at how cruel kids can be to their peers.” Alysia shook her head in agreement and headed inside the building.
Brian Hanson walked over to where he was standing and asked the young man his name. He responded in a soft low tone, “My name is Johnny Goodwin.”
The boy wiped the tears away, and Pastor Hanson asked him if everything was all right. Pastor B could not help but notice the tears and wonder how many times Stephanie cried and no one noticed. Small things kept bringing her to the surface of his mind this morning. He snapped back to the present moment about the time Johnny said, “I’m fine.” The Reverend knew he was not fine. As he walked away he remembered that he forgot to invite him to join the group. Pastor Brian called out and asked Johnny if he would like to pray with them. Johnny turned his head and responded, “I’m not interested.” The pastor turned to leave and said, “I understand, but you are welcome to join us anytime.” Pastor B. began remembering seeing his daughter sitting on the bench at school as he drove by. It really never occurred to him what was she thinking about. Now he wished he took more time to notice what really took place that day. Brian thought about how many times she cried and nobody even took the time to comfort his daughter Stephanie. Small things kept popping in his head again: such as the weather, he asked himself what was the weather like that day? What she was wearing that day to school? Did something happened at breakfast? He just kept on thinking about the events that took place that day as he walked away. He shook his head to try not to think about those thoughts that was rushing through his mind.
The pain and suffering she had endured because of others must have been unbearable. Mr. Brian soon realized what Johnny was going through and the pain he was experiencing. The youth minister needed to help guide him in the right direction and give him a reason to smile again. The pastor couldn’t bear seeing another child hurt by other students. Pastor Hanson thought to generate a challenge to help Johnny before something bad happened and it would be too late. Mr. Tom Blackford the math teacher and Mrs. Sue Rawlings the science teacher walked over and asked if everything was okay because Pastor Brian Hanson must have looked worried. The pastor had a blank look on his face when he told them everything was fine. He explained he was thinking about the ways of life. The way some things impact other people and how certain events could change. He could not tell them he was yet again reminded of Stephanie and the hurt of missing her was almost unbearable. Pastor Hanson rejoined the group for a final prayer, adding a prayer for Johnny. Afterward he asked the group why other kids were teasing and laughing at Johnny. Patricia Miller, a sweet yet outspoken student, informed the pastor that none of the students liked him because he was strange and different from other students. The teenagers noticed that he didn’t keep himself spotless and he wore the same clothes every day. Pastor Brian said, “Johnny is in need of a friend. I would suggest each student take a minute to speak to Johnny and invite him to join the group. The youth pastor also told the group of teenagers how important it was to stand up for others such as Johnny who was bullied. Also, they should let school officials and the principal know what is taking place. All the pupils agreed with nods as the pastor scanned the gathering.
Pastor Hanson arrived to gather with the teens the next day. Johnny was in the same area as the day before only this time he wasn’t alone. George Dillings from the group was typically shy so speaking to Johnny was a milestone for them both. George came rushing over and he told the pastor and the other students in the group that Johnny didn’t say anything to him. The boy seemed to be disinterested as he sat on the bench and lowered his head while watching other students pass. The Reverend told George not to give up, but to please keep talking to him and inviting him. The pastor also told George how proud he was of him for taking the first step. George said he would continue to ask Johnny to worship with them around the flagpole. The youth pastor also encouraged the other kids to invite Johnny to join them and be their friend. George was determined to make sure someone would care. The others agreed to help George and continue to encourage Johnny.
Pastor Hanson and a small group of students gathered to sing songs and listen to a message of encouragement. After speaking, Pastor Hanson became even more proud of his son who wished to share his touching and heartfelt testimony.
Patrick started his testimony by introducing himself and said, “My name is Patrick Hanson. I’m on the sophomore soccer team in the left wing forward position and I’m a sinner. I struggle with being truant from school and skipping classes. Also last year I was charged with possession of marijuana for being at a friend’s party when the police came and arrested everyone in the house. I was released because I didn’t smoke the pot, but I was with some of my friends who did. When my father arrived at the police station, I looked up and saw the pain on my dad’s face and how disappointed he was in my behavior. I was put on probation and did community service for six months.”
“While sitting at the police station, I realized I needed to change. I gave my heart over to the Lord on that night at the police station. When I got home my father and mother lectured me and grounded me for a month. I turned my heart over to the Lord and was baptized the next Sunday.”
Pastor Hanson was almost in tears as he listened to his son talk about what he’d been through. Listening to his testimony was refreshing, a promise of knowing that God was looking after him. Pastor Hanson and the group of students said a final prayer around the flagpole. They asked God again to look after Johnny and to continue to be in every sinner’s heart.
Patrick came over and gave his father a hug and thanked him for allowing him to share his testimony. Then he also thanked his father for loving him and his sister. As we broke our embrace, Gloria rushed over and poured herself into her father’s arms. Pastor Hanson told them he loved them both and said, “You need to get to class.” After everyone had left, Pastor Hanson took a trip back to Cartersville to visit Stephanie’s gravesite. The youth minister left a message at the school office for his wife to call him during her lunchtime. Then he stopped by the florist to pick up yellow carnations to place on Stephanie’s grave. Pastor Hanson also called his previous pastor, Jim Walters, to ask him if he could come by for a visit while he was in town. The youth pastor was planning on getting a few ideas about how to help Johnny. Later that day Pastor Hanson arrived and met Pastor Walters at a diner.
“How is your family, Pastor Walters? And everyone at church?”
“Fine, fine. Moreover, how are you and your family doing?”
“Well, thanks. I’m a youth pastor, and the high school has allowed me to share devotions around the flagpole every morning. There’s this one boy, Johnny, who seems to be an outcast. How might I encourage Johnny to take part with the other students?”
Jim Walter said, “Try to connect with him and get better acquainted with him as a person. Another suggestion could be to talk to the school and ask permission to share your story with the other students at a school-wide assembly.” Walter also said, “Keep trying to encourage the students to be friends with him.”
After Walter and Brian had finished eating, Pastor Hanson stopped by the cemetery to drop off the flowers and remembered special times he shared with his daughter Stephanie. The pastor took Stephanie’s picture out of his wallet and kissed it. Pastor Hanson said, “Remember when I took you out on your twelfth birthday for a father and daughter day? First, I took you to your favorite restaurant and gave you a locket. Stephanie, your eyes and smile just sparkled and you hugged your father in front of everyone. Next, I took you to a movie then bought you this pink, red and white dress with flowers and a white bow around your waist for your birthday party. Then we did our father and daughter dance at the party to your favorite song. I remember the smile on your face and all your friends at your party.”
Pastor Brian placed her picture back into his wallet and dropped to his knees and cried. The Pastor was angry and upset as he reached up to God with both arms stretched up to the sky and said, “Why did this happen? Why didn’t I realize she was hurting? Why, God?”
Brian got up off the ground, lifted his head up towards Heaven with tears pouring down the side of his face and said, “Stephanie, you don’t know how much I love and miss you.” The trees began to blow and he felt a cold breeze come over him. He then felt at peace.
On his way back home Susan called. Brian explained, “Susan, I visited Pastor Walters and then went to Stephanie’s grave. Would you like to visit my parents for the weekend to commemorate Stephanie’s passing?”
Mrs. Hanson wasn’t sure if she was ready so she took a deep breath and said, “Yes, of course I would.” Pastor Hanson called his mother, Emily Hanson, to confirm a visit with her and to let her know they were coming.
On Saturday morning around 8:00 a.m., Mr. Hanson loaded everything into the van and they left to go to his parents’ house. The children were excited to visit their grandparents. The Hanson family spent most of the morning sightseeing and shopping along the way. When they arrived Gloria and Patrick jumped out and rushed over to hug their grandma. While Emily Hanson and Susan were in the kitchen fixing lunch, Brian and his father, Richard Hanson, were watching the football game. The children were playing outside in the backyard.
While sitting on the couch Brian and his dad were having a discussion talking about a student being bullied at school. Brian and Richard also discussed Stephanie and why he linked none of the signs that she’d been having problems. Pastor Hanson wondered that if he had examined her behavior closer maybe he could have stopped her from killing herself.
Richard turned his head towards the window and asked Brian, “What do you detect out the window?”
Brian responded and said, “I can view my children playing tag in your backyard.” Richard asked, “Do you love your kids?”
“Yes!” Brian replied with a hint of disbelief in his tone. “Where is my father going with this?” Pastor Hanson thought. “I love my children.” Taking Brian’s right hand, he looked straight into his eyes. The aging eyes of Richard were full of compassion and understanding. “God our Father loves you in the same way.” The words hung between them for a long moment and Brian didn’t know what to say. Richard then patted Brian’s hand and said, “My son, you need to give your problems to God. God will help you work through the issues you’re dealing with.” Mr. Richard Hanson smiled and perhaps he detected something outside of the window. Brian remained unconvinced. “Let’s take a walk. I’d like to show you something else to help you understand.”
Brian and Richard walked down a path in the woods and Pastor Hanson listened to his father talking as they were walking. Richard and Brian sat down on a bench in an open, grassy area surrounded by trees.
Richard turned his head towards his son and explained what Brian didn’t understand about the view from the window. Richard said, “Son, I know how much you love your children. The time you spend with your children reflects on you as a father. I want you to take a hold of this Bible and show me where it says life is going to be easy. Brian, we can’t focus on what we did in the past because we can’t change what has happened, only that we can learn from our mistakes. The view from the window resembles the reflection of your life as a man.” Brian looked at his father and said, “Why didn’t you tell me at the house instead of out in the woods?” Richard said, “My son, we are only here a short time and it is important to take the time we have and spend it to share God’s love with our children. The Bible has all of the answers to your questions,” Richard said. “I knew the message I shared with you would be more meaningful if we talked with no interruptions.” Richard took Brian’s hand and said, “Let’s pray together and ask God to reveal to you what you need to know as a father.” After they had finished praying, they headed back to the house and Brian reached over, hugged his father and said, “Thank you, Dad.”
On Sunday morning, they all got ready for church and ate breakfast. The Hanson’s attended their respective Sunday school classes. Before the church service their pastor asked, “Mr. Hanson, would you be willing to play special music on the piano for the congregation?” Pastor Hanson told Pastor Walters that he would love to. After the service, they stayed for a potluck luncheon. While the Hanson family was having a wonderful time of fellowship, they visited with other people from the community. Pastor Walters prayed over the meal and all the children ate first taking their food to various classrooms, followed by the adults who ate in the fellowship room. Susan and Brian ate with the pastor and his wife. Afterward, the men played games such as cards and dominoes. They then took down the tables and chairs while the women took care of the dishes.
The members of the church would leave the fellowship lunch by around 3:00 p.m. However today Brian said, “Mom and Dad, we want to go to the cemetery to take flowers and we will meet you back at your house.” When they arrived at the gravesite, Brian and his family placed flowers on the grave and hugged each other. Susan put the flowers in a vase as they cried and talked with Stephanie, telling her how much they missed her. Gloria walked over, kneeled down and put a rose on her grave. She started telling her sister how much she missed her. Patrick walked over and placed a rose and told his sister how much he missed his little sister.
Afterward, they piled back into the van and headed back to Brian’s parents’ house. Brian again loaded the van as they said their goodbyes, while hugging and kissing each other.
When they got home, they unloaded everything and went inside the house. After the kids had gone up to their rooms to do their homework, Brian turned on the TV for a while and Susan went into the kitchen to fix the evening meal. After they had eaten they went into the living room and did Bible study time as a family. Then they played Monopoly, Trivia and Clue.
While Brian was setting up the board games he asked Patrick and Gloria, “Did you have fun at your grandparents’ house?”
“Yes, we did,” they both said in unison.
Mr. Hanson asked, “Is there any indication I’m making a difference around the flagpole every morning before school starts?”
Patrick said, “Yes and we’re excited about it.” The children reinforced their father with compassion by putting their arms around him and hugging him.
Gloria spoke up and said with enthusiasm in her eyes, “Dad, you must realize you are creating an impact and if we’re patient with Johnny, he’ll change his life.”
After they had finished playing the games, Brian gave his kids a kiss on their foreheads and hugged them. He gathered all his documents, took the time to study the Scriptures and wrote any previous notes down before beginning work on his next flagpole devotional.