He is Christian
Everyone in the youth group at Central Assembly in Springfield, Missouri, knows Christian and loves Christian. Why?
Maybe it’s his quirky, contagious smile or his brilliant green glasses below a mound of some pretty impressive wavy auburn hair? Perhaps it’s his non-intimidating physical frame? Or could it be that if some visitors arrive and don’t know anyone in the group, Christian will likely be the first person to come up and say “Hi” and introduce himself?
There are a lot of reasons Christian is so well-liked, but maybe more than anything, he simply lives up to his name.
“He’s so loving and always so friendly,” says Josh Seaman, Family Ministries pastor at Central. “He makes everyone feel warm and welcomed.”
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Christian has autism. In his early teen years, he had a lot of negative emotions and frustrations that expressed themselves in a variety of negative ways, such as screaming, cursing, and swearing coupled with destructive behavior.
Christian’s behavior didn't make things easy on the people around him and he struggled to understand himself or how to deal with his anger and bitterness.
“I had bad behavior issues,” Christian admits quietly.
But in 2019, when Christian was 15, he was given his first Bible.
DECISION FOR CHRIST
Reading his Bible helps Christian to focus and deal with outside situations as his senses can become overstimulated in active public settings. But as he frequently states, he likes his Bible.
“I got a prayer notebook from my (adoptive) mom,” Christian says. “I love reading the Bible — you feel so nice after you read, feel refreshed . . . you feel so great!”
In 2020, after reading his Bible for months, Christian decided to accept Christ as his personal Savior during a church service.
Although it would be Hallmark movie-esque to say that Christian’s struggle with outbursts and profanity ended the moment He gave his life to Christ, that’s not the way things happened. Much like many others, Christian’s decision simply marked the first day of his Christian journey to spiritual maturity.
In 2021, Christian’s adoptive mother realized Christian needed a different level of care than she could provide. It was determined that Emily and Kevin Styles should become the host family for Christian.
The Styles family, who see it as their ministry to work with children who have had difficult life experiences, have been involved in this type of ministry for 15 years.
“When Christian first came to live with us, he had to work through some things,” Emily says. “He got upset and dealt with jealousy, but every time he started to struggle with something, we reminded him to give it to Jesus.”
With the move to live with the Styles family came a transition to a new church home, Central Assembly, where Christian began to integrate into the Central Youth group.
Although loud noises, including music, are overwhelming to Christian, he’s been provided preferred seating, breaks when needed, hugs, and opportunities to talk things through in prayer. Other than that, he has had no problem assimilating.
“Christian recognizes and knows everybody,” Seaman says. “He talks with kids, engages with them, and for a lot of students, just ‘being seen’ is so important and Christian does that.”
“A lot of times, when he sees someone looking sad, he asks to pray with them . . . you can see kids’ faces instantly change and brighten,” Emily Styles says. “He can reach people in a way other people can’t.”
Church camp is often the highlight of many kids’ summers. This year, church camp was a highlight for Christian.
Joining other kids who experience sensory overload in some way, Christian participated in the camp services in an upstairs room where the service was on a large TV monitor at a reduced volume. He says that it was during a prayer time after the service that something remarkable happened.
“I was upstairs in the big room, and I was just praising Jesus and praising Jesus,” Christian recalls as his arms raise. “And then I spoke in tongues. It was good. It was so great. It was so awesome . . . I never speak in tongues, but the Holy Spirit came upon me . . . I love speaking in tongues — God filled me up with great things.”
Styles says that Christian had been praying for a while to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He also doesn’t see prayer limited to “church” or speaking in a heavenly language as a “one-time” experience.
“I pray in my prayer closet in my room where I can worship God and pray to do great things for the glory of God,” Christians says, adding later, “I can’t wait to speak in tongues tonight at home!”
“Christian will tell you he has autism,” Styles says. “But I know that no matter what diagnosis someone may have or what they may have been through, God has a purpose and a plan for every single person.”
Seaman says that he regularly overhears students commenting on Christian.
“I heard kids at church and at camp, admiring how Christian goes all in in what he does in serving God,” Seaman says. “And I’ve heard from kids personally, ‘I want to be like that (like Christian).’ He’s a great model and great encouragement, because he’s their peer — someone their own age — and I think he challenges and inspires them.”
Styles confirms Seaman’s observations, noting how she too has overheard teens talking about and admiring Christian.
Elli, a high school senior who has attended Central all her life, says Christian has been a positive and uplifting influence in youth group and in her life.
“Christian is such an amazing person, showing so much of Jesus and God throughout everything he does . . . showing me that no matter who you are, Jesus loves you and cares deeply about you,” she says. “No matter how rough the day might have been, I can always count on Christian . . . and without a doubt, always asking to pray for me.”
But as far as Christian is concerned, all he wants is for others to know Jesus as he knows Jesus.
“I want people to follow God,” he says. “I want them to be great and not struggle, to read the Bible, to praise God, and live for the glory of God.”
Lead Photo: Emily Styles, Christian, and Pastor Josh Seaman