In The Name I tell the story of how God answered two “impossible prayers” Jenny prayed. In our recent Identity Mapping cohort Jenny and I had the joy of learning more of the specifics of how God answered her prayer in the life of Tyler Kneiss.
The story starts like this.
In July 2004, when I set my set my goals I wrote: “be a voice for justice in IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools]?” I put it as a question because I didn’t know what I could or should do. But I was open. In November, a letter from the IPS superintendent, Pat Pritchard, asked parents to attend a meeting at the school district building. The night of the meeting it was a rainy, stormy, miserable. Only a handful of parents showed up, maybe fifteen. A representative of Schmidt and Associates, Debbie, shared that Phase Two of the restoration of IPS facilities – that included basics like air condition and accessibility – was being challenge. A petition campaign between the two sides would determine if Phase Two would move forward or not. Volunteers in support of IPS would need to carry petitions. Five regional coordinators were needed to coordinate the petition carriers. They would all need to be volunteers, not paid IPS staff. Debbie asked the ragtag group of parents if anyone would be willing to be a regional leader. No one raised their hand. Then I remembered my goal. I raised my hand. That thrust me into a position of visible leadership in IPS advocacy and renewal.
The petition drive was successful. IPS got overwhelming support. One man, a retired neighbor, told me that his mom had been a single mom; that if it hadn’t been for public schools, he wouldn’t have been successful in his life. There was a groundswell of support. I thought, We need to keep this momentum going. I started a grassroots group called IPS Renewal to catalyze the moment and which I led for a couple of years. We worked to get out a positive message about IPS. I also served on the G.R.A.D.E.S. council made up of leaders from IPS, IUPUI, the Red Cross, NCAAP, and the city who came together to hold IPS accountable and encourage academic excellence. I sat on the Yellow Ribbon Task force that addressed the high drop out rate. By then, Dr. Eugene White was the superintendent. I was impressed with his leadership. He assumed responsibility for where IPS was rather than blaming others. He said it was on him to solve these issues.
Even though I was involved in social activism, my heart’s passion was moving from public advocacy to wanting a more personal and spiritual impact. I coached baseball for four years at Arsenal Tech High School, the high school nearest our home. Jenny and I helped launch an urban Young Life program at Tech. One school year I served as a lunchroom supervisor. I greeted students, monitored the lunch line, cleaned up trash, and broke up fights. By this time my sons Jacob and Julian were at Tech. I saw firsthand its challenges. Sometimes I wondered if we were crazy to send our kids there. We were willing to be on the front-lines, but we longed for more of our friends at Redeemer to join us in weaving their lives into IPS, standing in solidarity with IPS, and working for the good of IPS.
Yet, in spite of these challenges, Jenny and I valued the education and opportunities our kids got in IPS. Jacob went to Harshman Middle School and had the opportunity to be in their Science-Bound program with Purdue University. He went on to graduate as valedictorian of Tech with a full-ride to Purdue in the mechanical engineering program. He thrived under the tutelage of master teacher Dr. Mark Blachly, another committed Christian, who taught math and science. He enjoyed working backstage with the Tech Drama crew led by Mr. Arnold. He ran track and cross country and participated in swimming. Our sons Julian and Judah attended the new Crispus Attucks Medical magnet for their middle school years, transferring to Tech for high school. Julian played basketball for the first time in the 7th grade at Attucks which was cool with its storied history. Oscar Robertson had won the Indiana high school basketball championship in 1956. I loved walking through the halls at Attucks seeing the pictures of the graduating classes. Attucks was started as an all-black school built next to the town dump, to segregate the black from the white kids. But what a school it was in its hey day. I later wrote a poem and painted a watercolor about that history. I donated the painting to Attucks. Last I know it hung in the school office. Judah transferred to Harshman for his 8th grade year. My daughter, Jackie, also went to Harshman.
Over the years, friendships with other IPS families were forged. But we still felt alone in our choice of IPS among our church family. Even though it was a large church in the heart of the city, our kids were almost the only kids that went to IPS schools. They felt excluded from the kids that attended the Oaks. None of our IPS friends attended Redeemer. Our two worlds, church and school didn’t converge.
Jenny began to pray two impossible prayers. She said to God, “Heavenly Father, please have a family from Redeemer send their kids to Tech to be with our kids. Or, if you can’t do that, please bring a kid from Tech to be part of our Redeemer church family.” She felt either would be a miracle, and hoped God would answer one or the other.
He did the impossible and answered both.
Redeemer members, Phil and Francois Edwards, sent their daughter Lauren, who was a gifted math student, to Tech as part of the Science-bound program.
Around that same time a young man named Tyler went off to Young Life Camp. God did a mighty work in his heart, and he came back changed. Tyler started attending Redeemer Indy, even though sometimes he had to ride his bike there. Tyler became a friend to our kids and our family and even joined us on one of our epic road trips out west.
Tyler met a beautiful young lady at IU, Bloomington, and I had the privilege of serving at their wedding.
Jenny and I had the joy of having Tyler, and his wife Anastasia, join an Identity Mapping cohort. Last week I asked Tyler for his side of the story and here is what he wrote:
“It was in the summer after my freshman year at this high school that God would come for me again, taking me by surprise. My best friend Eric was tangentially involved with a group of Christians known as Young Life at this high school. This group was a missionary effort supported by a local PCA church called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, which sought (and still seeks) to bring the light of the gospel to the children in the local public schools. Eric called me in the middle of the night and told me that this group was going on a week-long trip to Georgia, and that some of the cool kids were going, and that they had a spot open for me at the camp. I woke my mother up and asked her if she would mind if I were to travel to Georgia for a week with a Christian group from school. She was okay with it, and we hastily threw a bunch of my clothes in the washing machine. Later that evening, at 4 a.m., a hulking man, a football coach, knocked loudly on my door. We threw my mostly wet clothes in a duffle bag and he stuffed this bag into his trunk, and he sped me off to school, where the bus was waiting for me, the latecomer.
This camp was a kind of collision for my spiritual life. I was hurtling off in one direction until I collided with a body more substantive than my own. The volunteers at Sharptop Cove in Georgia and the leaders of our group of high schoolers were all devoted to Christ. The days were full of activities and entertainment, but the evenings were devoted to the preaching and discussion of the gospel of our Lord. I heard once again the tenets of the faith, that I was a sinner in desperate need of a savior, that God had given His only-begotten Son to atone for my wickedness and ransom me, that as a Christian I now shared in Jesus’ inheritance and am adopted by my Father in Heaven. I realized I had been living a self-contradictory life. While pursuing my own interests, I had neglected the Christian life entirely. I was not praying, not reading His Word, not attending Christian worship. I was living unto myself and drastically needed to adjust my course before revealing myself to be a hypocrite. Of course in hindsight I know my status was as immutably certain as the promises of God Almighty, but I now see this Divine Intervention in my life as my Heavenly Father calling me back to His people. After returning from camp, my life changed drastically. I learned where most of the leaders were attending church and asked my mom to drop me off one Sunday morning. I walked in and sat by myself, listening to the preaching of the Gospel and the singing of praise to God and my heart was stirred to worship; truly the author and perfecter of my faith was continuing a great work in me.”
What impossible prayers are you praying as you step boldly into your calling?