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Saint Bernard’s Glow Brightens Teen
A mission trip transforms a sullen teenager into a follower of Jesus.

Our kids have always laughed lots, partly because they get their sense of humour from my wife's side of the family, whose motto is this: "It's all funny until someone gets hurt. Then it's hilarious!" Jeff is our youngest, a tough kid, handsome and strong, the teenager all the little kids love and the kind girls phone to discuss math problems with. His laugh was enough to bring the house down when he was a kid, but went missing when he turned thirteen. Life for a teenager is as serious as a cracked rib.

I [decided to] run away from home. And take Jeff along.

To complicate things, the boy was struggling in school. He was late on assignments as often as United Airlines. A teacher called to tell me that if he could issue marks below zero, he would. Imagine telling your friends you have a minus 23 in Chemistry Not an F, but an H.

I received a welcome phone call one day. It was Compassion, the child development agency, asking us to go to the Dominican Republic on a short mission trip. I prayed about it for one-third of a nanosecond, then eagerly said yes. I would run away from home. And take Jeff along.

The teacher caught wind of our escape plans and called to accuse me of taking leave of whatever senses I had left. I considered telling this teacher that I learned about six percent of what I now know in the classroom, but thankfully I went with a saner response. I am a Christian and sometimes I am relieved to find myself acting like it.

"I'm so glad you care about him," I said, "but I'm really concerned about his spiritual health." I did not say, "I don't want his schooling to interfere with his education." I'm thankful I didn't.

That night I waved the plane ticket in front of Jeff like a carrot. "Smarten up, listen up, and catch up on assignments or I'll give this to a complete stranger, maybe even the next girl who calls." He smiled ever so slightly "I will," he promised.

We were met at the airport in the Dominican Republic by Pastor Bernard, who has a glow about him like he works at a nuclear power plant. Bernard doesn't say a lot, which is one of the first signs of sainthood. Jeff latched onto him during those ten days. He listened to Bernard's stories of God at work. He watched Bernard tell others of Jesus.

In a village devastated by a hurricane, Bernard translated for a crowd of smiling people. "They want you to know that their houses are gone but it's okay. The church is still standing." Jeff kicked at a rock and shook his head. We saw children who subsist on food they've scrounged from the dump, kids with hollow eyes and bloated bellies. When we said good-bye, it was amid tears and ample hugs.

If you were to ask me about the happiest moment of fatherhood, I might mention the night soon after we returned. Jeff's marks were up a little. And the laughter was back. Along about midnight I smelled something, so I crept to the kitchen to see what it was.

The boy had cracked half a dozen eggs into a bowl, covered them with a pound of shredded cheese, and thrown an entire package of Canadian bacon into a frying pan. "Dad," he said, "I'd like to sponsor a kid. It's thirty-five bucks a month, right?"

I tried not to let him see my tears, then decided it didn't matter. I'd just watched my son go from talking about Christianity to doing it. From following those who follow Jesus, to following Jesus for himself. I guess hope always catches us a little by surprise.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. Phil’s new book is Family Squeeze: Hope and Hilarity for a Sandwiched Generation.  Visit his website at




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