Youth Group Robbed, But Continues Journey in Faith
“When we got back to the van, I couldn’t believe it — nearly everything was gone!” says Youth Pastor Drew Medrano, the disbelief still echoing in his voice. “All we had left were two duffel bags, the rest of our suitcases had been stolen!”
For years, Lauro Hernandez, senior pastor of Pathway of the Cross (AG) in Lubbock, Texas, has been unsuccessful in persuading the church’s youth to attend the National Youth Convention and (for those who qualified) to participate in the National Fine Arts Festival (NFAF) that takes place simultaneously.
Finally, with the help of Medrano, the church’s new 17-year-old youth pastor, eight of the church’s 15 youth members decided to bite — seven of them participating in NFAF and one coming along in support. It was a big commitment.
Pathway of the Cross is part of the Assemblies of God West Texas and Plains Hispanic District. In addition to being a pastor, Hernandez is the secretary-treasurer for the district. The church is far from a megachurch, with about 125 to 145 attending Sunday mornings, so it was no small financial decision to travel the 1,100 miles to Louisville, Kentucky, for the week-long (Aug. 1-5) convention and festival.
“They decided to attend the convention and began fundraising the second week of April,” Hernandez says. “And over the next three months, they raised $7,000 to make this trip possible.”
Medrano says the youth were excited and nervous about this first-ever trip to the national convention.
“The young man who was going to do his short sermon at nationals was really nervous about it,” Medrano says, as he recognized the difference between district and national presentations.
But three-quarters of the way to Louisville, being nervous about their fine arts presentations was at least temporarily forgotten. The group, consisting of Medrano, eight youth, and four accompanying adults traveling in a rented van, stopped at a fast food restaurant in St. Louis for lunch. When they finished, they noticed police in the parking lot — someone had broken into the car parked right next to their van!
Seconds later, Medrano and his team realized that their van had been “chipped” and broken into as well. As leaders spoke to the police, who offered the reassurance that “this kind of thing is always happening around here,” the teens, many of them weeping, formed a circle and began to pray. Their performance outfits, changes of clothing for the week, even some of their phones and wallets were all gone!
At first the leaders debated about just turning around and going back home — what would they do without changes of clothing, their presentation/performance outfits, or money for food? But then the students finished praying with an overwhelming resolve to continue on.
“Already the theft had become a blessing,” Medrano says. “We became united through prayer and God confirmed in our hearts His desire for us to continue on.”
Medrano had contacted Hernandez, who was already in Louisville to participate in the General Presbytery meetings that occur prior to the convention and NFAF, explaining the situation to him, but adding that they felt they should press on to Louisville.
“They had worked so hard, then to have everything stolen — they were really discouraged,” Hernandez says.
When the group arrived at their hotel in Louisville, some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Medrano says that they were very thankful for the free toothbrushes they received from the hotel guest reception desk.
Not long afterwards, Medrano was told that Pastor Hernandez was looking for him — something was up.
If having nearly all their belongings stolen left Medrano in disbelief, what Hernandez had to say took his breath away! People who had heard about the youth group’s loss had taken up a collection and in a short time raised $5,200 to give to them!
“I was in shock,” Medrano admits. “I called everyone up and told them to meet me downstairs. When they were all there, I told them how a blessing can come from anything the enemy throws at us — and then I told them about the gift. There were tears and it was just a beautiful moment . . . it was all really overwhelming!”
Later, the group was asked to appear before the district superintendents and executive presbytery, including General Superintendent George O. Wood for prayer and celebration. Wood then asked the young man who had been nervous about presenting his short sermon at nationals, to share his short sermon with them — quite possibly the most intimidating audience any student could face.
“He did a great job,” Hernandez says. “He spoke to those superintendents and executives just like they were his congregation.” Needless to say, the young man’s fears and nervousness about presenting his sermon at NFAF vanished after that!
Medrano says that the group made a trip to a nearby mall followed by a stop at a discount store to get the clothing and other necessities they needed to get through the week. It became a time where they each personally experienced God’s provision — a time they will never forget.
Although the Pathway of the Cross Worship Dance Troupe and Short Sermon presentations went very well at festival, they did not take top honors. However, perhaps no other youth group came away with a better experience or had a greater impact made upon their lives.
According to Medrano, what first appeared to possibly forever end any aspirations of attending the National Youth Convention and Fine Arts Festival has instead been transformed for good. Not only are the students who went to the convention and NFAF this year anxious to attend again, students who didn’t go are already voicing their desire to attend the 2017 convention in Anaheim.
“The closer you are to God and the bigger the plan you have to achieve what He has for you, the more you’ll be attacked,” Medrano observes. “But don’t worry about it, the battle is already won, and God’s bigger than anything that will come!”