You never know what God is going to do with you.
I met Joe Rubino 12 years ago at camp. I had just graduated high school, and Joe was starting into his first youth ministry. One of my friends was in his youth group, and they were preparing to run a week of junior high camp the following summer. She kept telling Joe, “You’ve got to get Jon Cole to work camp with us,” as they were looking for extra help, especially in the worship band. It was a fun experience. I found out how much I enjoyed getting to act like a 12-year-old and have a real purpose for it. 🙂 Not long, after that, other friends of mine from camp that were also in Joe’s youth group started to lure me across 2 counties into Wooster to start spending time with them. What happened after that was nothing short of amazing.
I didn’t really have a youth group growing up. My family goes to a small church in the country. There isn’t anything wrong with being a small church in the country…it just tends to have less people involved. There wasn’t many youth my age that attended that church regularly. I spent some time at another church’s youth group while in high school, but it wasn’t the same. See, I’ve grown up going to church my whole life. I knew a lot of the intellectual-type answers. But I didn’t realize there was a big part of my faith that was missing: Action.
I started hanging out at Parkview Church of Christ (now Parkview Christian Church) while I was in college. Most of the youth group there was only a few years younger than I, so I blended in well. It didn’t take long, however, for God to start using that time to teach me some things. Joe has a gift of taking Scripture and putting it at a level where you can understand it and apply it to your life. It was like I was starting to understand what faith and serving others really meant, and it blew me away.
I ended up talking to Joe about wanting to take on more of a leadership-type role with that group. I became a “right-hand man in ministry” of sorts for him. And I loved it. Under Joe’s leadership, God was able to start growing me more and more in my faith.
After a few years, Joe felt called by God to take on another youth group in Painesville, and his story showed me it was God’s plan for him to do that. That was a rough transition because he was such a great mentor to me. I wondered if I needed to move on as well…but something held me back. When the next guy came in, I served alongside of him like I did Joe. The church had me doing various other things I was able to do with my skill set as well. I kept pretty busy. Then after a few years, we transitioned to yet another youth minister. At this point, I was wondering yet again whether or not I should stay at Parkview or not. There was something inside me still telling me to stay put.
Brian came to Parkview in 2010. Working with Brian is a fantastic…he has a great sense of humor, and he knows how to utilize my talents. I was able to work with Brian to overcome a conflict I had inadvertently gotten myself into with a service I was to help with and a tournament game with the girls soccer team. We’ve done junior high retreats together, overnighters, videos, and other crazy stuff. It’s been a wonderful experience being able to serve at Parkview.
Over the past couple years, I’ve started to feel another passion rise up inside me: soccer. I started playing a few years back with my neighbors, and I got to start learning the game. Then, I got the opportunity to start working with the Clear Fork girls soccer team. As I’ve been around the team, I’ve been able to use two very important gifts God has given me: photography and encouragement. Anyone who knows me (or has read some of my earlier posts) knows that I am an introvert that loves to be around people. I love to give smiles, high fives, and words of encouragement where ever I can. I found out early on with the team that I could be utilized in a big way because of this. I’m now to the point where in the fall, I get to roam the sidelines with my camera taking the shots that the parents want me to get so they can sit back and watch their daughters play. I get to jump around and cheer and pump up the team and the crowd. In the winter, I get to “coach” their Futsal teams when they play in Wooster, and those in charge of indoor soccer let me hang around and cheer on the girls, too. In the summer, I get to run around helping the coaches set up practice fields and moving equipment around to make their jobs easier while getting some exercise at the same time. Spending time with this team has been giving me a joyful and peaceful feeling.
As a result, I talked to Brian a few weeks ago about how I’ve been feeling regarding soccer and youth group. And last week, we announced to the youth group that after this school year, I won’t be making regular trips to Wooster anymore. This decision was not an easy one, and I fight tears as I type this now. I would not be the man I am today without the guidance, love, and leadership of Parkview Christian Church. They helped me take my faith to the next level, and I will be eternally grateful for that.
Jesus told us to “love God, and love people” (Matthew 22:37-39). And I feel like at this point in my life, God is leading me to bring that love back to where I live and focus more on that.
To my Parkview family: thank you for all the love and support you’ve given me over the past 12 years. So many of you have opened your homes to me because of my travel, and you have given me many words of encouragement. I never would have thought that I would be doing what I do today when I graduated from high school. The youth group I leave behind is in great hands. And I’ll still be around. Y’alls know how to get a hold of me, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, texts, phone calls or email. And I’m sure I’ll still be rockin’ Owl Fest with y’alls, too. 🙂
Pray for me as I journey into the next stage of my life. This isn’t goodbye.
Thanks for reading,