Donnie was just 10 years old. His dad died nearly a year ago leaving a widow with 6 children living in a rough town in the 1960’s. With four girls and two boys, Donnie’s mom Betty didn’t know where to turn. Her husband had been abusive, and she was now released from that nightmare, but reality set in. She was now truly alone. She was concerned for her children, especially her sons.
She wanted to protect her boys. Betty sought out advice from her pastor. Her sons were already on a path that would lead to trouble. The neighborhood was rough, the town was full of gangs, and even as young as they were, Donnie’s friends were already getting caught vandalizing and stealing candy and small toys. Even though she faithfully took them to church, she feared their foundation wasn’t strong enough to stand strong against the influence of their peers. She wanted to get them out of this town but she was stuck and didn’t know where to turn.
Donnie’s uncle had gone to Milton Hershey School – a boarding school for orphaned boys. Betty knew it had been a good place for her brother and decided to take her boys to visit the home. The kind lady at the school gave the boys tests, and they went home. Betty finally got word that her boys qualified for entrance into the home, and the day came to return to the institution. They were told they were just going to see the school again. This time when it was time to leave, a grieving mother climbed in the car alone, and with tears streaming down her face, drove away. In her rear-view mirror, two crying little boys chased the car. The only person they knew loved them was driving away.
It was bigger than that. It was bigger than them. God had a greater purpose – but you could never have explained that to Donnie. Not then. And you couldn’t have even convinced his mother – there was a higher purpose. God had His hand on these boys. He had his hand on this family – and God had a plan.
We only want good for our children. We want to give them a happy clean home. We want them to have the latest technology, and clothes as nice as everyone at their bus stop. We want to protect them from bullies and we want them to get good grades. We don’t want them to suffer. We want them to be accepted by everyone, and we want them to have peace – we want them to be the smartest and best.
Isaiah 55:3-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
It’s hardships that develop our Character – it’s the difficulties that strengthen us. When your child has to work for his money, when she has to study harder to get that grade, when he is the last one chosen by the captain for the kickball game, when she is mocked because Mom shops at consignment shops, when he doesn’t make the team, when she allows the ball go into the net at the last second of the game losing the game for her team – humility, sensitivity, mercy, kindness, faith, temperance, patience, goodness, faith, can only be learned through adversity.
Israel loved his son Joseph above all his other sons. He treated him differently from his brothers. He didn’t require as much from Joseph as he did from the brothers. He gave him everything he needed, but when he presented him with the beautiful coat of many colors, that was the last straw. Joseph’s brothers were already jealous, but they couldn’t get past this insult that their father unashamedly announced his love and preference for their younger brother Joseph. He had a way of antagonizing his brothers, dreams of his brothers bowing to him, dreams of his brothers serving him – it was just a matter of time before the brothers saw their opportunity to get rid of him.
Joseph’s brothers discussed it. It actually got so bad some of them decided to kill him. Reuben, his oldest brother convinced them not to kill him, but to put him in a deep pit. Reuben planned to come back and rescue him, but a caravan of merchants came by and the brothers decided to sell him as a slave. Joseph must have looked at his brothers in disbelief – the family he loved abandoned him. The father who loved him more than anyone in the world wasn’t able to protect him. The brothers took his beautiful coat and shred it and soaked it in animal blood. They told their grief struck father he was mauled and killed by a wild animal.
It was bigger than that. It was bigger than them. God had a bigger purpose, but you couldn’t tell Joseph that when he was sold as a slave, when he was falsely accused and sent to prison because of his righteousness. You couldn’t tell his father, Israel, that what man meant for evil God meant for good. Joseph was brought to a place of humility so God could exalt him for His purposes. God had a purpose, and worked circumstances to put His man in the right place to save his people – the children of Israel. Literally. (Israel – Joseph’s dad, and all the brothers as well as the generations to follow).
It was 20 years after he graduated from Milton Hershey School. Donnie was a different man than he was on graduation day. He graduated from Bible School, traveled across American on a wagon train, married a certain Montana cowgirl, had been a missionary in Haiti, had started a construction company and was the father to 5 children (so far). He had headed up short-term mission trips to Honduras, Guatemala, Grenada, and Mexico. Life was full and his Milton Hershey “brothers” all shared their stories. A common thread ran through each story – the paradigm of each of their lives was altered the day they were left at Milton Hershey School. They all shared abandonment issues, but they knew Milton Hershey was “probably” the best thing that happened to them.
For Donnie that wasn’t speculation – that was fact. He knew it because he saw God’s hand on his life. He knew the peers from his childhood were either in prison or dead from drugs and fighting. He shared the sentiment from Joseph’s story. “What ‘man’ meant for evil, God meant for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” He knew he was spared for such a time as this – a time when kids in his youth group needed truth. A time when Christian brothers and sisters needed a friend. A time when a Godly standard needed to be raised.
Whatever the circumstances in your life – God has a plan, and He is making your stronger, He is teaching you and giving you the tools to make a difference. He is putting you in the right location. He is directing your path. He already knows what you are willing to do. He’s showing you what you are willing to do, and He is stretching you to be willing to do what He wants you to do. He is a good, good Father – and he knows how to equip his children to grow and succeed in life.
Romans 5:3-5 “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation, And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”