It was early 2014 when a bed opened up at our Houston campus, and we granted an admission day for a kid named Michael Morris. When he arrived, we were in the middle of a work project, and after a brief orientation, Michael was sent to join the guys working with Curt Williams to repair a fence.

Curt asked Michael to run back to a shed and get a shovel, and straight away he broke into an all-out sprint, racing back to the shed where he grabbed a shovel and ran back. Curt looked at him and said, “Michael, you didn’t have to run.” Michael looked a bit confused and said, “Sir, you said to run and get a shovel.”

Later that day, the boys took a break for lunch and when they returned, Michael asked Curt if they got to eat that well every day. Curt asked him what they had eaten for lunch and Michael told him he had two chili dogs. All day, he reveled in the joy of that lunch.

Never before had we heard a boy so thankful for two chili dogs. Michael talked about those two chili dogs until dinner when he was overjoyed to discover what he would get to eat that night.

You see, Michael was born in Liberia in West Africa. He knew what it was to be hungry. He knew the value of a full belly. He came to America at age six and then lived in a home full of kids who rarely got a full meal. When he first came to us, the idea that he did not have to compete for the last morsel was a concept that came with great joy and celebration. It was quite refreshing to all of us, and having a boy like Michael was a stark contrast to the American-born kids.

15-year-old Michael at YRH with Poppa Curt.

15-year-old Michael at YRH with Poppa Curt

Though his birth certificate, generated by the immigration office when he arrived, stated that he was 14 years old when he came to us, we have always suspected that he was a few years older. Even at fourteen, Michael was ready for the cover of Muscle & Fitness Magazine; a human specimen of male development even though he had never lifted a weight. He quickly jumped into the workouts and gained even more muscle.

On his 15th birthday, we went out to congratulate him, and he seemed perplexed. Then we realized he didn’t know his real date of birth, as this particular date had been arbitrarily assigned to him by the same immigration official that guessed at his age.

Michael did well in the program but dreamed of playing high school football, and since our Houston program has an on-site school, that was not a possibility. It was a hard day for everyone when Michael left to go live with a group of Liberian “family” across town. He was able to graduate high school and play football, but the influences of the street soon pulled him into a dark, downward spiral.

Michael has always called Curt Williams “Poppa Curt,” and when Curt began to see his dangerous social media posts, he started to call Michael out. It was a bad sign when Michael ceased to respond. Michael was posing with firearms and handfuls of cash. It was clear that he was running with a very lethal crowd, but all we could do was pray.

Then one day, Michael responded. He shared with Poppa Curt that he was recovering from a gunshot wound. He had been shot during an altercation with a “friend,” and he wanted to meet and talk about getting out. Curt and the director of Youth-Reach Houston, Xavier Bright, immediately set up a time to drive across town and meet with him.

Over lunch, they listened to Michael recount the last few years of bad decisions and poor choices, and then he said the magic words: “Can I go to the Youth-Reach in Alabama?”

It didn’t take long. Curt drove him there, and Michael talked the whole way, putting words to dreams that we had been having for him for years. The Youth-Reach Gulf Coast staff immediately wrapped him into their loving and healthy family community. Michael excelled with a grateful heart. He demonstrated a teachable spirit and listened with the intent to obey. His work ethic is astounding, and his desire to serve the Lord is clear to everyone. Where Michael has most impressed us all is with his servant’s heart. He is the first to step up with both encouragement and physical help.

Recently, we held Michael’s graduation from the Youth-Reach Gulf Coast program, and he has entered the transition phase. The room was overflowing with staff, staff families, volunteers and admirers who showed up to communicate their love and admiration for this amazing young man. As each person tried to voice their words, Michael followed them with his own words of personal gratitude. That’s just Michael, or Big Mike, or Iron Mike or just Mike.

He’s like that.

We are astounded at all the moves the Lord had to make to bring this kid from Monrovia, Liberia to Summerdale, Alabama. This Liberian kid; once without a family, without a home, without even the knowledge of the date he was born, came to us for us to serve him, yet now we know that he came to us as a blessing.

Big Mike is ours—forever a son. Thank you for investing in young men like him and the many more who are on their way to our door.