“I have been given a wonderful opportunity to be part of shaping the spiritual walks of these young men…It’s been an honor to watch them grow from playful, cantankerous boys into men who have learned to take the initiative both in community and in their relationships with the Lord. Our connections with them do not end here. We are there for these guys whenever they need us.” – Jake Horvath
The warm, soapy water sloshed over the side of the bucket as Jake Horvath and John Carswell washed the feet of each member of their Student Ministries small group. These two men saw almost every step as these boys grew from rambunctious 2nd graders to eighteen-year-old men. Washing feet was a symbolic gesture on their last night meeting as a small group – one John and Jake hoped would remind the men of Christ’s example of humble, servant leadership (John 13:1-17).
John first met several of these boys about 13 years ago when he was serving on the Children’s Team at Watermark’s Family Camp in Estes Park. “I wasn’t even sure I liked kids at the time,” said John. “Through serving in Children’s Ministry, I fell in love with this group of kids and decided to work with them as they grew older. I think part of that commitment to them came from not growing up in the church. I learned about the Lord and His Word alongside the kids as they grew.”
A few years before meeting John, Jake was living in Denver and struggling with life. “With no rooting in Christ, I looked for life in worldly success, relationships and partying. It left me feeling empty and alone,” said Jake, “so I talked to my brother, who encouraged me give my life to Christ. I actually trusted Christ in the cab of his pickup truck.”
Jake came to Dallas for a temporary work assignment and soon made the move permanent. “My faith grew as I started running with a bunch of guys at Watermark,” said Jake. “My friends, Bobby Rodriguez and Brandon Avance, were serving in the Children’s Ministry and asked me to join them. I was reluctant but ended up really liking it. There was a need to serve 2nd graders, and that’s where I met the boys in our small group. I also moved up with the boys as they grew. Before I knew it, we were leading these guys in a Student Ministries small group from 6th grade through high school graduation.”
After the boys entered 9th grade, they were hit hard with challenges, from family conflicts and girls to drugs and alcohol. “There was one kid, Christian Edwards, who just put his story out on the table, and it was amazing to see all the other boys start sharing what was going on in their lives,” said John. “The boys never really talked about serious issues before, but they really opened up and began applying Scripture to the things they were struggling with.”
Another young man whose authenticity and perseverance inspired the group is Brandon Landis who, in 2008, was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disorder. The group prayed as Brandon endured two brain surgeries, muscle spasms and changes in his speech patterns. But the boys never treated Brandon any differently. “He remains one of the strongest, guys in the group – the puzzle piece that makes this group fit together,” said Jake. “Even as it’s become harder for him to talk, he’s always prayed out loud in our group. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.”
Both Jake and John have always been quick to share about their own past mistakes when the boys confessed to drinking, struggling with porn or other things. “I know where those roads lead because I’ve been down the same road,” said John. “It was a privilege to show them a better way, and I wanted to be available to listen and share truth in any way I could.”
That authenticity and availability have resulted in amazing moments – like being there to baptize about half of the young men in the group when they were ready to make a public profession of faith in Christ. It’s also meant being part of some crazy pranks and fun experiences, too. “I’ve never been to a bar or a party that was as crazy fun as this group of guys,” said John.
As John and Jake say goodbye as the guys head to college, they agree that discipling these young men has taught them more than they ever expected about God’s love. “I have been given a wonderful opportunity to be part of shaping the spiritual walks of these young men,” said Jake. “I have grown in my faith as a result and seen just how patient God has been with me. It’s been an honor to watch them grow from playful, cantankerous boys into men who have learned to take the initiative both in community and in their relationships with the Lord. Our connections with them do not end here. We are there for these guys whenever they need us.”
If you are interested in serving as a leader in Student Ministries, please contact Ann Marie Mason at email@example.com. If you are interested in serving in Children’s Ministry on Saturdays or Sundays, please visit watermark.org.