I was honored to be invited to write a post for “Bearded Theologians” even though I have a clean shaven chin… but naked face aside, here we go. I, or anyone else for that matter, would never have thought myself to grow up to be someone who would minister to youth. That seems to be the way God’s design usually works though, separate and not dependent on our own plan or ambition. My plan was to go to OU and get my degree in mechanical engineering. I even completed a year of college in that degree field until something changed. You know that feeling you get when you discover your passion, when you feel like you have found your purpose? There is truly something intimate and divinely romantic in discovering the call the Lord of creation has placed on your life. Discovering and discerning my call into ministry started with less than sincere intentions. My freshman year of college I had a crush on a girl who was very involved and enthusiastic about the youth group she had been raised in, and it just happened to be the same church that I had “grown up” in. I say “grown up” because church was never something I was enthusiastic about, and my only memories of youth group was during my 8th grade year when I was forcibly put through confirmation. The youth minister at the time was always so welcoming when he saw me and would text and write me, encouraging me to be involved. I appreciated the invitations, but I just didn’t see what I could tangibly get out of being involved in a church youth group.
Back to that girl I had a crush on, we’ll call her “Sally” for namesake. Sally would have been considered super involved in the church. Sally attended every mission trip, was on the leadership team for the youth group, led Sunday evening worship, and was an officer in the youth choir. In a poor attempt to impress Sally I told her that I was interested in volunteering in the middle school ministry at our church. I never expected that statement to ever materialize into anything… That is until I got a text the morning of October 12th, 2012 at 10:49am. It was from my old youth director, the one who was relentless in his pursuit of getting to know me and minister to me. The text read “What’s up brother!? How are you? I heard you are wanting to help out with youth stuff.” Uggghhhh, what had I gotten myself into this time. Little did I know, this was one of those moments in that seemed completely insignificant in the grand scheme of my life, but the impact it would have on the course of my life is nothing other than divine intervention. I was caught between a rock and hard place on this one, I could have told him I couldn’t help and go against what I told Sally, or I could say yes even though it didn’t sound all that appealing to me at the time… I said yes.
Little did I know that saying yes would significantly alter the trajectory of my life. I start off with just volunteering for Wednesday night small groups and was planning on dropping it after the semester was over, if I could make it that long. Something happened though that caught me completely off guard, I found myself prioritizing Wednesday nights in my life. And then instead of dropping volunteering at the end of the semester, I started volunteering for more. Soon enough I was going to student bible breakfasts on Thursday and Friday mornings, helping out in Sunday School, and I even helped lead a mission trip that summer. One night on that mission trip I was talking with a distraught student about the pain and suffering she had seen in the community we were working in. I prayed with her and afterward she asked me, “Austin, what do you want to do with your life?” I remember at that moment I questioned everything I thought I knew about my future. I was good at math and science, but those were by no means my passion. It hit me like a ton of bricks, being here with these students, pouring out into their lives with the love of Christ, seeing them wrestle with their faith and moving from “knowing about Jesus” to “knowing Jesus”, this was my passion! The Lord was speaking through that student that night, and the next morning I talked with the youth director and senior pastor of our church about wanting to pursue the calling of Youth Ministry in my life.
There are many reasons that I truly love my job as a youth minister, talking with students about our Lord Jesus and how he can change their lives just like he changed mine, I love leading groups of students to places both abroad and nearby on mission trips, I love being a person a student can come to with hard questions and heavy burdens, but most of all I love following the Lords call in my life. I thought I knew what I was supposed to do with my life, but ever since I found out what God’s plan was for my life I couldn’t imagine a day in my life doing something else. God was working in my life with that text message that Friday morning of October 12th. Prevenient Grace is when God’s grace is working in our lives before we even know it. I always had a hard time understanding that concept. But now after being in youth ministry for almost 3 years I am just now seeing the work that God was doing 5 years ago in my life. God is at work in your life right now and you might not even know it, or like me you might be pretty unreceptive of it. But maybe saying yes to that text, that invitation, or that nudge you feel in your heart just might lead you to the passionate life God has designed you for.
My name is Austin Leeviraphan and I was born and raised in Norman, OK. I am the Associate Director of Student Ministries at McFarlin Memorial UMC. I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Oklahoma.