During a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, my wife and I took a detour off the interstate in order to stop by Northside Baptist Church. I was a Neighborhood Bible Time teen evangelist at this church in 1986. I had not been back to Charleston in all these many years, and I wanted to see again this church where I remember holding a large, exciting youth revival.
As I stood outside the church activity center, my mind traveled back three decades. The passage of time had washed away many details of my week at this church, but one memory remained vivid. One evening, early in the week, in between the time scheduled for games and competition and the time for preaching, I was approached by a teen girl who asked to speak with me privately. I talked to her at the front of this large activity center while the rest of the teens and sponsors gathered in the back for refreshments. The girl told me that she came from a troubled home, and that she felt as if no one cared about her. I told her that the kind people of Northside Baptist Church cared about her. More importantly, I assured her that the Lord cared about her.
She objected, “No, I don’t think anyone cares about me.”
Then she startled me by saying, “I bet you don’t even know my name.”
I was a guest at this church. I traveled to a different town each week all summer ministering to large crowds of teenagers in every rally. I reacted like Nehemiah in the Bible, when the Persian emperor Artaxerxes put him on the spot with a vital question. “I prayed to the God of heaven.” At that instant I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. We were having a dessert competition. The two teams of teenagers each brought cookies and cakes, competing for winning points for the best tasting dessert, the prettiest dessert, and so forth. At the beginning of the rally, I saw the girl with whom I was speaking bring in a large white and green cake. I glanced over at the cake and saw that she had spelled out in green icing on the top, K-E-L-L-Y.
I said to her, “Your name is Kelly.” Her mouth dropped open. Then she began to cry.
It was certainly not my intention to deceive this young lady. Of course, I did not know each name of the over one hundred teenagers that had gathered that night. But God did. I wanted Kelly to know that God knew her name – that God knew all about her and cared for her very much.
Three decades later I still remember Kelly. And I never forgot the simple significant lesson I learned that night. While people may feel neglected or lost in the crowd, as individuals they matter to God. I must confess that when I was an NBT evangelist I was tempted to look only at numbers – crowd size. My objective every week was record-setting enrollment. But every crowd is made up of individuals. Each one of these individuals is the object of God’s love.
No crowd was ever converted to Christ. People are born again one at a time. The good shepherd goes after the one lost sheep until he finds it (Lk. 15:4). Yes, Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), but Paul also wrote that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.” It is all very personal with the Lord.
It is interesting to note that the last sentence the apostle John wrote in his third and final epistle was, “Greet the friends by name” (III Jn. 14). Here, the apostle whom Jesus loved mirrors the spirit of the good shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name” (Jn. 10:3).
He knows your name. He cares for you (I Pet. 5:7).
Charles Wesley, citing Isaiah 49:16, wrote,
Arise, my soul, arise. Shake off thy guilty fears.
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears.
Before the throne my surety stands.
My name is written on his hands.