Sixteen-year-old Ethan would be the last one to “leave the nest.” Mark and Joy Thompson wondered how they could make his final years at home a meaningful time. So, they proposed three options to Ethan. “Would you like to study a certain Bible topic once a week as a family, watch a series on something about the Bible as a family, or would you like to use that night to do a Bible study with some of your non-Christian friends?”
After a short silence, Ethan responded, “The last one. Do a study with my friends.”
“Wow. OK. Cool,” Joy thought.
Ethan was tasked with speaking to his friends to gauge interest. A while later, when one of his friends asked about God, Ethan proposed the idea of doing a Bible study. His friend expressed interest, so Ethan quickly asked a few other guys. By evening, each one had indicated a desire to study the Bible.
The next day, Joy sent a note to all the parents letting them know what the boys wanted to do. She heard back quickly from them all, each one positive about the idea. So much optimism from both the young people and their parents took Joy by surprise, reminding her that God had been working in the situation long before the idea of a study was proposed.
“So much optimism from both the young people and their parents took Joy by surprise.”
Mark and Joy purchased The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus to guide their study. Each teen was sent home with their own copy so the parents could take a look at it and give their approval. Once again, the Thompsons received positive feedback, so they made plans to meet as a group.
At the last minute, a couple boys decided they wanted their girlfriends included in the study, so the study began with 8 teens, 6 guys and 2 girls.
The group would arrive at the Thompson home after school. “Can I tell you the noise and energy and hunger of six teenage boys and two teenage girls in a small dining area? Crazy, but so fun,” Joy describes.
Early on, the group said they wanted to have “tests” about what they were learning to ensure they understood. Joy joked about giving them stickers for the right answer. “Yes!” came the answer. So, with great laughter and fun, Joy came up with a chart that included stickers and prizes. Each session had a review game.
It reminded Joy of teaching VBS. “Noisy, team playing, being crazy answering questions from the last teaching, putting stickers on the poster… they loved it,” Joy said.
The group started out meeting once a week, but soon, once a week wasn’t enough. One fellow joked that he’d like to live at their house–go to school, play his sports, but then come back and do the study every night.
“What is happening?” Joy thought to herself at times. It astounded her how eager these students were to study God’s Word. Sure, they enjoyed hanging out together and eating homemade dinners. But she also recognized that more was going on behind the scene. Many were praying fervently for these young people. Others were giving the Thompsons money to help pay for the considerable amount of food they were going through; another took it upon herself to prepare a dessert for every meal. Clearly, the Lord was doing a work in many lives.
Starting in Genesis, Mark began sharing the story of the Bible. Each teen got a Bible and early on, Joy made a point of teaching them to use it. Since the stickers and chart had gone over so well, she decided to add sword drills to their evening. “It sounds nothing like what you would expect kids with driver’s permits to like, but what a joy to watch them now find passages in their Bibles, something that was completely foreign to them before,” Joy shares.
“They began to view the Bible as a place to turn to for answers.”
Early on, it became clear that while the students knew a few stories from the Bible, they had very little idea of what God was doing in those stories. As God the Creator unfolded in their minds, they were amazed at his power. Micah began to incorporate a phrase into his conversations: “Well, if God can make trees, then… [fill in the blank with all the thousands of other things he can do].”
Barrett frequently remarked about how much sense the Bible made. The group began to view the Bible as a place to turn to for answers.
When they discussed the story of God calling Moses to rescue the Hebrews from Egypt, Mark asked: “Would it be dumb for Moses to trust God?”
“It would be dumb not to trust God,” Micah replied.
When the sacrificial system was explained, one comment was, “I’d have to give a sacrifice every five minutes!”
Bit by bit, the Thompsons progressed through the Bible, receiving constant feedback: on the sinlessness of Jesus (“Dang! He’s a trooper!”); on the deity of Christ (“Wait. I thought Jesus was a separate thing. So Jesus is basically God walking the earth?”); and on the Trinity. (“We need to discuss this for like, hours until we figure it out.”)
“Does that mean I believe?”
The weeks of study provided many profound moments. One night the question was asked: “Do you think we are believing? I was thinking about this the other day. If God talked to me through this lamp (like Yahweh talked to Moses through the burning bush), I would do it. I would trust. Does that mean I believe?”
The statement came only halfway through the study, but even by then, it was clear that all the members of the group were believing what was being taught. By the end of the study, Mark and Joy could confidently say: “All seven kids have believed that only through Jesus’ sacrificial payment of death on the cross and his resurrection they are forever safe in Jesus’ arms. Praise the Lord for rescuing them!”
Since finishing the creation-to-Christ material outlined in The Stranger, the Thompsons have been teaching the group what it means to walk with God.
Barrett stated: “I want to be confident in my thoughts and confident in my decisions to do right.” Joy realized that, without knowing it, Barrett wanted to understand what it meant to live in the fact that Jesus has paid his debt.
Another recent conversation reveals the willing and tender hearts that have grown amongst the group:
Mark: “So because the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of what’s to come…”
Barrett and Ellie: “…our goal is to please Him.”
Barrett: “We don’t have the right to sin.”
Sarah: “It’s being selfish [to sin].”
Barrett: “All this…makes me feel I want to do this [tell others about Jesus] when I grow up. I just keep thinking about it. I just need to put it into work.”
Mark and Joy hope that by sharing their story, others will be emboldened to step out in faith to share the gospel with others around them. May we all look expectantly to the Lord to do great things through us and in the lives of those around us.