Sometimes people, even Christians, need something very encouraging to get them through adversity or times of discouragement. Needing this right now, my husband and I made the trek for our 29th year straight to Lads to Leaders, the largest youth event among churches of Christ. A tool that allows congregations to keep the autonomy of the New Testament church while joining together for fellowship and training programs, Lads to Leaders is coming out of the Covid months with about 2/3 of its participants now back at convention and fully engaged. There were several brand new congregations represented and lots of churches were back bigger and stronger than ever before. Best of all, nothing was missing in the zeal-and-anticipation category. Christians simply cannot be present at any of the conventions without being blessed.
In the year 2013, my husband and I traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii to talk to the Christians there about family. Our contact was Pisa Soli, a faithful woman of God, mother to Malachi (who at the time was 8 years old) and a skilled nurse. While there, we met Flori Barber, new Christian, wife to Rafe, and mother to four-year-old Ali’i. (You see the boys in the photo.) Both Pisa and the Barbers were transplants to Honolulu from American Samoa, where Pisa’s father was a gospel preacher and planted one of the first Samoan congregations. Pisa had been instrumental in converting Flori to the faith.
Through a series of events, both the Barbers and the Solis (and the extended Soli family) have moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where the West Huntsville family is blessed by their sweet fellowship and examples. We have 23 Samoans now who are faithfully in our midst every time the doors are open!
This year at Lads, I watched both Malachi and Ali’i give excellent speeches from the Joshua one admonition “Be strong and courageous.” in winner’s circle speech. That means both of these young men have already won their speech divisions in previous years. Also in winner’s circle was AJ Soli (Malachi’s cousin) and Gideon Soli (who won first place this year in winner’s circle!–wow!), Pisa’s little brother. All told, an approximate (…you always have to approximate with big Samoan families) 20 West Huntsville Samoans were involved in competing or judging events at Lads this year.
Best of all, Ali’i’s dad, Rafe Barber, is one of the newest Christians at convention this year. It’s what we were praying for when the decision was made for this good family to come to Huntsville. It has been a long time coming, but we are so very thankful this family is complete in Him. It was the lifetime dream of Flori and Ali’i and now it’s the best of blessings for two little Barber siblings born since the move to Huntsville. My heart is full. God’s providence is full for those who are strong and courageous.
When I say a series of events that brought these families here, I mean several things that have taken courage for these lads participants this year. I mean a very sick newborn who could not get proper care in Samoa, a desire to be in the West Huntsville family, the process of leaving Pentecostalism, a stint abroad in the Gulf war, the death of a patriarch, the sibling care of younger siblings who are left behind by their Father’s death, the will to be part of the West Huntsville family, the loss of a job, the willingness to come and live–11 people–in a tiny little cabin for three months while finding employment, the desire to be a part of the West Huntsville family, etc…etc…
We are so beyond thankful that these Samoan kids and parents and siblings and cousins, and now even friends who are fellow Christians, are a part of our family. But, the amazing thing I have learned is that there are hundreds of stories like this one that bring people together in the church and, ultimately in this transforming program. Everyone brings a story to the cross. EVERYONE. All of our stories are sin-stained and adversity blotted. But that Joshua promise of a never-forsaking God when we find our strength and courage is what motivates us to keep going when things are looking their bleakest in this lifetime. The garden of Gethsemane was pretty bleak. The devil thought, for sure, he’d won this time. The grave was impending for the Lord and our only hope was about to be placed in Sheol. But there was the courage that said “Not my will, but Thine.” There was the strength that said “Father, forgive them.” And there was Sunday morning’s empty tomb.
On that Sunday morning, our stories were forever salvaged in Him. I love Lads to Leaders. But mostly, I love the Lord.
Here are these two boys today: