Jesus once told the story of a man that owned a hundred sheep. When one of his sheep came up missing, he left the other ninety-nine in order to search for it. Eventually, he found the one that was lost, and Jesus explains that the joy he felt over the one recovered far exceeded his joy over the other ninety-nine safe at home. Now, this story offers a remarkable hope. But if you are anything like me, you really run the risk of missing it, and the reason for such is because you misunderstand your role in the story.
Paulo Ricardo joined us in December of last year. In his first five months with us, we saw some cool things happen in his life (as we’ve mentioned in other blogs). But in May/June of this year, he hit a rough patch. Without going into too much detail, his commitment to his job and girlfriend started to take precedence over his commitment to us. Both staff and student made a point to challenge this trend in his life (through words and discipline), but he continued wading further out into deeper waters. It was during this phase that I started doing some investigating and discovered that things were worse than I had thought. Now, my tendency in such moments is to come in and save the wandering sheep by interposing my will. After all, I am the shepherd who is responsible for the sheep, aren’t I? But it was at this point that a wise man encouraged me to see my own limitations in Paulo’s story. He pointed out that while I can love Paulo, walk beside him and even serve him by offering a structured environment in which he grows in accordance with his decisions to follow after Jesus, I cannot make his decisions for him. Through this conversation, the characters of our little drama fell into place. Paulo continued in his role as the lost sheep, but I suddenly found myself recast as one of the ninety-nine (one previously found albeit), which vacated the shepherd’s role for the only One fit to assume it, Jesus. Accordingly, my approach toward Paulo changed. I gave clear responsibilities and consequences as opposed to manipulative sermons or victimized pleas. Shortly thereafter, the day arrived when he had to choose between his job and the house. Staff and student alike shared their assessment of the situation and encouraged him to press on with us, but he decided to leave. That was in July. The next two months were excruciating for him and painful for us. We remained accessible, but we waited for the Lord to bring him back. Two weeks ago, He did just that. Paulo came home, broken and repentant. He’s now back with us and, in some tangible ways, more committed than ever. And I find myself left with both a lesson and a deep sense gratitude to the One who brought Paulo home and never tires of doing the same with me.