The transition from being an engaged couple to becoming man and wife surprisingly did not come easily for the newlyweds. The couple lived in Devon’s small apartment and, because Devon had given up his paid position as youth leader, he and Jessica were struggling to survive. It was Jessica’s last year of university and the following year she would be able to enter medical school. Because she had moved in with Devon she was unable to keep her job at the hospital because the couple could only afford one car. So, in addition to university, Jessica worked as a waitress part-time at a nearby café. Devon had needed no qualifications for his job as youth leader therefore he took a job working as a custodian at a nearby school. Often at night Devon looked over at Jessica sleeping peacefully beside him and wondered if they should have waited to get married. However, in spite of their financial hardship, they loved each other dearly and they knew that the Lord would never leave them nor forsake them and that somehow they would get through.
When Devon was walking to work one morning he noticed that there were police cars outside the school where he worked.
“What’s going on?” he asked one of the teachers who was standing with the crowd outside the building.
“Tom Clark was shot right on the steps of the school this morning.”
Devon couldn’t believe it: he had seen the seventh grader yesterday with two other friends and they had looked as happy as ever. Tom had waved to him and Devon had waved back to Tom. From what Devon knew, Tom was an extremely outgoing kid who was always friendly to everyone and willing to help out with anyone who needed it.
“By whom?” Devon asked.
“They don’t know, the police are investigating. What a shame, it is such a shame,” the teacher shook his head. “He was so young, he had his whole life ahead of him.”
Devon was not merely sad, he was angry: in fact he was furious. On Devon’s first day working at the school Tom had been the first one to welcome him and now Tom was gone. The whole situation made Devon sick to his stomach. He could not believe that someone would kill such a polite and gracious individual such as Tom.
Two weeks after Tom was killed Jessica was driving by the bank on her way home from the cafe when she saw two figures or what looked like teenagers running out of the bank. They each had two big bags of money on them and they were being chased by four police officers. When they were finally caught, Jessica’s first assumption had been right. While the police officers were reading one suspect his rights she saw that he was not more then fifteen or sixteen years old. Jessica returned home that night and told her husband what she had witnessed.
“Man, what is going on in this neighborhood? First Tom’s death and now this,” Devon sighed after he finished speaking.
“I know, it’s scary,” Jessica agreed. “These kids are so lost and bored, they need someone to introduce them to the Lord and they need other kids that are positive to hang out with.”
“Honey, quite honestly,” Devon said, “I think that people who haven’t been where these kids have been have no idea how to reach them. And I believe that pastors and church members don’t respond because they don’t know how to. Most of the young people at church go there because their parents do and they have no concept of who God is for themselves. They need God to be introduced to them in a way that they can understand and relate to, with none of the dress codes and expectations that adults put on them: a place where they can be themselves and get to know God for who he is, not what others in their life say he is.”
Devon went to bed that night and thought about the conversation he had had with Jessica and then he thought about the robbery and Tom’s death. In the morning Devon woke up with a revolutionary idea.
“Jess,” he said, while sitting at the small dining table. “I was thinking last night about all that we said and I came up with a brilliant idea.” When Devon told Jessica what he had come up with in the night, she smiled and said “What an idea, how did I get so blessed to marry such a genius?”
“Well I’m not a genius, it’s the Lord working in me.”
”You’re right, and I love both of you.” Jessica leaned over and gave her husband a kiss.
Eight weeks later Jessica and Devon were ready for the first meeting of R.E.A.L: Righteousness Explained Applied and Lived
“Don’t be so nervous honey ” Jessica said, as Devon continuously checked the time. At 7.30pm about five kids walked in to the church auditorium. About five minutes later fifteen or sixteen more people walked in. Devon waited for about five minutes more before walking up to the front of the room and holding up his hands for silence.
“Hi everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Devon Morris.“ He beckoned for Jessica to join him. “And this is my wife, Jessica. Welcome to REAL. First what I would like to do is to open with a prayer to invite the presence of the Lord into this first meeting.” After Devon had prayed he asked each of the participants to give their names.
“Well, it’s nice to meet all of you. I’d like to start this meeting by explaining the purpose of REAL. How many of you go to church on regular basis?” Three of the participants raised their hands.
“Okay, now my next question is, how many of you have really understood what your pastor or youth leader teaches in church?” At this question no one raised their hand and Devon said, “How many of you wish that someone would really explain the meaning of some of the fancy words and terms like ‘salvation’ and ‘repentance’. Maybe you wish somebody would explain the whole understanding of Jesus being God?”
This time all the participants nodded their heads in agreement to what Devon was saying.
“In that case, you’ve come to the right place. This is REAL: ‘righteousness explained applied and lived’, a place where you can learn about this whole Christian thing, a place where you can be yourself and learn about all those terms you don’t understand, and hopefully you’ll get a better idea of who Christ is. Now I would like to explain how REAL is going to work. Each week there will be a different theme. Each week I will start by opening with a prayer and then I will explain what the topic is for that week. Then Jessica or myself will give a little talk on that subject and you’ll be free to ask as many questions as you like. The cool part about this is that, after the talk, a group of you get to pick an activity for the rest of us to do on that theme. It can be a skit or sharing an experience that you had regarding the subject, and somehow we’ll incorporate the rest of us into it for that part of the meeting. You guys will get to do whatever you want to. Just don’t forget to run your idea by Jessica or me first.”
Each of the participants nodded their heads.
”After your activity, it will be discussion time. In that time we can talk about anything that’s on your minds. Whether it’s school, friends or something else, discussion time will be a time for sharing ideas and for helping and supporting each other. Does anyone have any questions about REAL?”
The participants were so excited that from then on, time just flew by. Before Devon knew it, it was time for the participants to leave. The next week REAL was double the size and week after week, the numbers kept increasing.
One day, after a session was over and the participants were leaving, Devon was approached by a man.
“Excuse me, are you the leader of this wonderful program?”
“Yes I am,” Devon replied, “My wife and I run this program.”
“What a blessing you are. This neighborhood needs more people like you that have such a heart for the youth. I’m Jason’s father.”
Jason was thirteen years old and Devon had to admit that he was the most enthusiastic young person that attended REAL.
“Nice to meet you.”
“I was wondering if you and your wife would like some help running the program? From what my son tells me, he’s learning a lot. I’ve never seen him so excited about anything before. Other parents say their children are learning so much about the Bible and that you are teaching them principles that we could never teach ourselves. I’m the head of a Christian volunteer association: I told some of my volunteers about your program and they were wondering if they could help you out in a way? Because at the rate God is moving in this program, it will soon be too big for you and your wife to handle on your own as I imagine.”
“Yes sir, we would appreciate that so much, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Keep up the good work! God is doing something with you.”
Not only did Devon get volunteers but a few weeks later, one of the mothers of the participants said that she was closing down a senior center because it was too small for them. She asked Devon if they would like to use it for REAL and she would offer it to them at no charge. The place was not only twice as big as the auditorium but it had different rooms and a stage that was ten times the size of the one they were currently using. The program that they had started in a little church auditorium was now an entire community center. Thanks to the donations of generous people, in less than a year Devon was able to start collecting a salary and operate REAL twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They introduced programs such as youth counseling, sports of every kind, and a teen crisis hotline which was saving lives each and every day.
On the anniversary of REAL the Morrises decided to host an appreciation dinner for the participants of the weekly meetings and the staff of the community center. The main auditorium of the community center was packed with volunteers, participants, staff and people whose lives had been changed by REAL. Devon had just finished with the welcoming speech and was standing with Jessica at the far side of the auditorium when he felt a hand on his shoulder. To his delight, when he turned around, he saw that it was Pastor Benson. “My son, this is quite a turnout”
“Pastor Benson, what a surprise!”
Devon gave his former Pastor a bear-hug.
“We’re so happy that you came,” Jessica said, smiling as she hugged him.
“I must say Devon how proud of you I am, how proud of both of you I am. REAL has certainly done wonders for this community. I hear that in your meetings there are over a thousand young people attending.”
“You heard correctly, the Lord is doing such wonderful things,” said Jessica.
“The Lord has blessed us tremendously,” Devon said. “I should be thanking those people that wrote the emails that caused us to leave your congregation because without them, many lives would have been lost.”
“I marvel at the young people that come up to me every day in my congregation and say that your meetings have changed their lives and they really understand who God is now.” said Pastor Benson. “The Lord has blessed us in so many ways,” said Jessica, “Not only with this ministry but in five months we will receive the greatest blessing of our lives, a son or daughter.”
“That’s wonderful,” Pastor Benson smiled. “He or she will be extremely blessed to have such generous, God-fearing and loving parents like you. May God continue to use you to shape the minds of our young people.” Jessica and Devon hugged Pastor Benson before he walked away.