Other boys his age teased him, leaving an emptiness of hope and purpose in his life.
But when Nick heard Billy Graham speak at the 1986 Crusade in Washington, D.C., he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, and his heart and life were transformed.
Today Nick stands tall, spiritually and physically, but he still spends time with middle schoolers, modeling the positive influence that God can have in their lives.
Nick tells his story:
I grew up in a very loving house, with a mom and a dad. My mom became a Christian in Austria, where one of her friends led her to Christ. My dad was not a Christian. He’s a great guy, but he was running his own business and was just really busy all the time. I remember getting dragged to church.
[I thought] if dad didn’t go, then why did we have to go?
I remember getting dragged to church.
Getting into middle school, I did not have the same kind of stature I do now. I was pretty short compared to other folks. I had these brown plastic glasses and wore my backpack on both shoulders — which now is cool again, but back then was not done.
[Now I'm] six foot seven! I grew a lot in high school and then five inches in college. It’s pretty crazy. But [in middle school] I just remember not really feeling like I fit in anywhere, and not only that; there were two particular guys in my life. They were the bullies who just seemed to want to make life pretty torturous for a couple of people, myself included, for no good reason.
They were the bullies …
These two guys just decided that I would be fodder for them, just to kind of pick on and make themselves feel better. From my seventh grade year through my eighth grade year, these guys would just come up behind me and shove me, make fun of me. I got put in a gym locker once, you know, the classic.
I wasn’t the only one, but I sure felt like the only one. I just remember feeling, “I can’t wait for eighth grade to be over. If I never get any taller or any bigger, and these guys never get tired of beating up on me, then I’ve got a long road in front of me.”
I was mostly angry and confused. I was like, “What’s the point of all this? Is this what I have to look forward to?”
I thought, “I’ve got a long road in front of me.”
I remember having one friend at that point in time. His name was Miles. In our free time we’d just hang around and get beat up together. One particular day in February or March of my eighth grade year, Miles was not there. I’m not trying to get a violin to play in the background, but I was sitting there eating lunch by myself and this kid came over.
I’ll never forget. He never made eye contact with me, never even looked at me. He just kind of shuffled his feet. He came over from a group of people he was sitting with, looked down at the ground and said, “I don’t know if you’d be interested at all, but there’s this cool thing going on at the Capitol Center tonight,” which is where the Washington Capitals used to play hockey.
[He said,] “I don’t know if you’re thinking about going, but you should go.”
“There’s this cool thing going on at the Capitol Center tonight …”
It wasn’t like he said, “You should go with me.” It wasn’t like, “I’ll give you a ride,” or anything like that. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. It was the power of the invitation. Somebody said they thought that I might be interested in something. Somebody was at least taking an interest in me.
So I went home that day and told my mom: “Can we find out what’s going on at the Capitol Center tonight?” She called and found out it was a Billy Graham Crusade.
I didn’t really know what that meant. My mom had a pretty good idea. Even though she is German in descent and had only been over in the United States for 10 or 15 years, she knew who he was. We went, and sat way up in the nosebleed seats. The staircases going up and down were like at 85-degree angles.
It was the power of the invitation.
I don’t remember who was playing music, but when Billy spoke, what hooked me was I understood what he was talking about. He presented it in such a way that it was not beyond my grasp as an eighth grade kid.
He spoke about sin, I have no doubt, but it wasn’t so much about sin and forgiveness really as much as it was about hope and purpose in life. And I just remember there was such a void of hope and purpose in my life. I mean, it was truly God-shaped; it was only one that God could fill up, and at that moment when he was speaking, that’s when it all just clicked into place.
I’d been trying, for as long as I’d been cognizant of trying, to fill that void. He had just said, “Come on down,” and I remember being so filled up with the hope for hope, the hope for purpose, that I just left my mom. We didn’t have cell phones then, and there’s like 18,000 people.
When Billy Graham spoke, I understood what he was talking about.
I just ran down those steps and got to the floor. And I think it was two or three people, volunteers, kind of talked me through it a little bit … That’s when I prayed to receive Christ and to receive that forgiveness and that hope and that purpose.
The forgiveness stuff, you know, I asked for that and I understood sin, but I didn’t feel at that time that sin was as paramount in my life as this void of hope and purpose was.
I remember being filled up with the hope for hope …
It was just amazing. This kid who’d come over and just shuffled his feet and told me about it, and just gone back to his lunch table, for whatever reason, I didn’t seek to reconnect with him.
We had like two or three months in middle school left. But I’m just thinking were it not for a kind of half-hearted, nervous, stammering invitation–a half invitation–almost a notification that this thing was going on, who knows where I’d be.
It’s a story I use with the middle schoolers I work with now all the time. [They're] so concerned if people like them or not.
[They're] so concerned if people like them or not.
I read this article once: They did a study of middle schoolers and had them record how many times during a typical day they heard–either from teachers, friends or people around them–a negative comment or anything positive or encouraging.
They came back and said that for every one “good job,” “I appreciate you,” “you’re doing great,” or anything like that, for every one of those, they heard 17 “you’re an idiot,” “you’re a jerk,” [statements].
I see the same cycles happen over and over again. But that’s why I volunteer with them–to help these kids be harbingers of change and turn things around at their middle schools.
Somebody followed up with me [after the Crusade] and got me plugged into a morning Bible study that met once a week before school. They did pancakes, and we talked and stuff.
Later on in high school, our church hired a full-time youth director. And that’s when I had, for the first time, someone taking me aside and saying, “How are you doing? What you are understanding and not understanding?” which was great.
At the end of my senior year, we had decided to go on a mission trip … My dad, he realized that I was leaving for college at the end of that summer and said, “I want to get some time with you. I’d like to go on this trip with you.”
Every night we slept on the hard wooden floor of this chapel. But the third night we were there, my dad spoke up and prayed to receive Christ. Other teenagers had been sharing with him.
He basically just said, “I’ve seen this community care for another community, for each other, and I know it’s because of Christ.” That was one of the seeds of student ministry for me, when I saw the impact that teenagers can have on adults. That was all way after the Crusade, but the ripple effects are all still in my life obviously.
[My dad] said, “I know it’s because of Christ.”
I was a youth pastor for the last two years of college. [Later] I was the middle school director at a church for four years. I still volunteer with the middle schoolers. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of trying to help students find and have a deeper walk with Christ.
For sure, we all have bullies around us, people who haven’t grown out of that, and there’s lots of stuff in our own lives that we haven’t grown out of. God allowed me to go through what I went through in middle school so that my heart would be sensitive to the issues that middle schoolers are going through.
Without the Crusade, I don’t know about Christ. I loved the church I grew up in, but when I went to church, I think it either was just too complicated for me to understand, or I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
Without the Crusade, I don’t know about Christ.
There was something special about the Crusade where it felt like something pretty important or amazing is happening here. There are 18,000 people here, just to hear a guy speaking. What has he got to say?
Obviously your pastor’s sermon on Sunday could have more impact than a Crusade does, but for this person, at that moment in time, at that place, that was it.