Justen Little’s ARISE Story

Jacob Eckeberger
September 30th, 2016

As youth workers, we have lots of great stories.

We walk alongside students during some of the most momentous times of their lives. We see them grow up and mature from booger flicking 6th graders to independent 12th graders. We laugh with them and we cry with them. We try and answer their big questions and we are there for them when they mess up. There are kids that you expect to do great things for God, and then there are those that God raises up out of nowhere. This is the story of one of those kids from my own ministry experience.

justenThis year’s theme for NYWC is ARISE: Step Up. Step Out.

We need a reminder of how God can take us from the lowest valley, raise us up and use us for a lasting Kingdom impact. Justen Little is an unassuming student that likes to keep things low key. I met Justen through working with the athletes at a local high school. He was a nice guy, but quiet. As an athlete, he liked to let his work speak for itself on the field. Through sports, we built a relationship that eventually led to him saying “Yes” to a relationship with Jesus, and from that point on God began to work at an incredible pace. I do not want to spoil anything, because I would rather you hear how God has worked from him. Here is what he had to say:

Justen, let’s start by you giving us a general idea of your life growing up.

I guess you could say I had a pretty normal childhood. I had lots of friends and played sports. We didn’t have very much, but I guess I never really noticed that. My mom worked long hours to support me and my sisters, and my dad was kind of in and out of the picture.

What about church?

I went a few times when I was younger, but church wasn’t a part of my life. I didn’t really even know what all you were supposed to do in church.

What place did sports have in your life?

Sports have always been my everything. I was pretty good a football and basketball, and always wanted to play at the next level. It was kind of my outlet. I just love everything about playing. My team was my family, and it was my favorite place to be.

When we met, you were a junior in high school, soon after that you placed your faith in Jesus. At what point did you feel God start working in your heart?

Yes. You were kind of different than the other pastor that came and spoke to us, and I liked it a lot. The stuff you were saying about life and Jesus made a lot of sense to me, and I could relate to stuff you would say, so that made me listen closer. Then when we went to see Woodlawn, and we had the decision time, I knew that was all you had been talking about the whole time. God was really showing me something. It was like I felt him talking to me.

Describe your salvation experience a little bit. How did it feel making that step, then being baptized and getting involved in church for the first time?

I had no idea what I was doing! It was all new. All I knew was that the question was asked “Do I want to place my faith in Jesus?” and I had to say “Yes”. I was really glad that you were there to lead me through some of that. Being baptized was the scariest thing in my life, but the best thing too. I hated being in front of so many people, but I needed to show everyone what God had done in my life and that he had saved me.

How did becoming a Christian effect your relationship with your mom?

She was really proud. The best thing was that we didn’t fight as much anymore. We used to barely see each other, and we would fight a lot when we were both home, but I started getting a lot of what you were teaching at church and using it at home, and it really made me and my mom closer. I was trying to tell her all that you were telling me, because she couldn’t go to church because of work.

You quickly went from kind of shy to one of the leaders of the youth ministry, how did that happen?

Basically you challenged me to. I mean, I kind of saw myself as a big brother to the younger guys in the youth, but it was just natural I guess. I was really happy to be there, and I wanted to grow, so I tried to do everything you were teaching us. I was just doing what I thought everybody should be doing.

Then you lost your scholarship. What kinds of thoughts were going through your mind?

I remember just thinking, “Why would God let this happen?” It was like my only shot to go play football in college, and I thought that surely God would help me make the test score I needed. When that didn’t happen I didn’t understand. I tried and just stay faithful because He knows what He is doing. Then I started sharing my testimony and stuff, and I was able to help a lot of people that were having the same kinds of thoughts. Even though I didn’t know what God had planned for me, I knew I had to stay faithful to him.

Then there was the fire. Talk about that a little bit.

It’s still all a blur, but I remember hearing people screaming outside and I smelled the smoke so I ran out. I saw that the neighbor’s house was on fire next to us, and I knew that there were kids in there that hadn’t come out. I don’t even know what came over me man, but I went and kicked the door open and made sure all of them were out and safe. All we could really do then was wait for the fire department, but it was too late for my house. I just really felt lucky to be alive, I didn’t really think about all that we had lost. The church really helped us though, and the community gave us lots of things we needed.

You became the city hero, but you only gave credit to God. How did you prioritize him even when so many bad things had happened?

I mean, it felt good to be recognized by the governor and the mayor, and to have a day named after me, but I can’t take credit. God gets the glory. I had made sure that I gave him the glory for success in sports, and I wanted to make sure that people knew that it was all him. From day one when you spoke to us on the football team you told us that everything we do should be done for God’s glory, and so I just hope that people realize that he’s the one who saves us all. He just had me in the right place at the right time I guess.

 It is really incredible what God has done in Justen’s life, and how quickly he went from no walk with Christ to one of the leaders in a ministry he joined just months before. These students are everywhere, and God uses leaders like you and me to bring that out of them.

My encouragement to you is to continue the good work.

Do not be afraid to challenge students, and push them out of their comfort zones, because when they decide to meet those challenges, God will raise them up for something incredible.

Joseph Fowler has a passion for leading the next generation of the Church, and reaching those who are far from God. He’s a sports fanatic, outdoorsman, pop culture connoisseur, and gamer. Find Joseph on Twitter @TheJosephFowler, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.