By Ben Pirrie
I am not what you would call a “typical” college student. Unlike most people I did not come straight from high school. After high school, I immediately joined the Army as an infantryman. I spent 3½ years on active duty, most of that time being at Fort Irwin in California. Unlike the California you might imagine, Fort Irwin is smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and resembled the Middle East in most ways. The base existed to train units to go to war, and we were used as OPFOR (opposing force). Our lives were an excruciating endless cycle consisting of 2 weeks of training in the desert and then 2 weeks preparing to go back.
When I arrived at Fort Irwin I was immediately shoved into the endless cycle of training. With a lack of friends and being 1500 miles from family, I began to be crushed by the weight of it all. I fell into severe depression and lost all hope in myself and God. I tried nearly everything to feel better which mostly involved using alcohol to solve my problems. This only made things worse, and I just wanted to end it all and escape the pain. I went from wanting to go to church every Sunday to never even wanting to think about God. I was angry at God and blamed him for everything; this, however, doesn’t mean God forgot about me.
Most weeks I would call my mom, as it made me feel less lonely. She had no idea what I was struggling with and didn’t know that I stopped going to church. One Saturday while on the phone with my mom, she asked if I was going to church the next day. I lied and said yes and continued talking about other things. After I hung up, I felt guilty for lying to my mom, so I made an agreement with myself – I would go to church if I woke up in time to go. For the first time in months I just so happened to wake up before church started. I begrudgingly got up and headed to church. I can’t tell you what the sermon was about, I just remember sitting in the back and wanting it to be over quickly.
Once church got over, I immediately booked it out of there, or at least I tried. Before I got to the door this nerdy-looking man stepped in front of me and introduced himself as Stephen. Stephen goes on to nicely ask me to go to a bible study, and I said “yes” – only because I wanted to get out of there. He was clever and got my number before I escaped. On Tuesday night I got a phone call from the leader of the group telling me they got me a ride and that they will be in the parking lot outside my building in an hour. And for some reason I can only attribute to God, I got in the car and went.
The men of the bible study began to show me something that no one else had showed me in months, that they cared about me. Stephen especially showed this to me as he willingly spent many late nights talking to me about my struggles and God. I had never had someone care about me as much as Stephen did. He became my best friend and my mentor. Through this discipleship and Godly love, I was brought back to God.
I credit myself being here today because of Stephen and his boldness to act and reach out to me. In Matthew 28:19 we are told to “go and make disciples”, and Stephen was an amazing example of this. He not only stepped out to bring me to Christ, but he then discipled me for almost 2 years. This stranger-turned-friend showed me that we all have the capability to do this, and that you could make an amazing difference in someone’s life. Stephen told me some time ago that I was the first person he ever reached out to when God pulled on his heart, and I am thankful every day that he listened to Him. I now want and try to live my life seeking out those who are lost, in the hope that I can be a Stephen to someone else.