By NANCY FLOWERS
“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in His holy habitation,” (Psalm 68:5).
It is Tuesday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. and, just like every weekday afternoon, John Williams cranks up an old school bus and drives the short distance from Trinity Presbyterian Church to McLeod Elementary School. He is on his way to pick up 20 boys, in grades kindergarten to fifth, who look to him for the guidance, respect, and love they would seek from their fathers, if their fathers were a part of their lives. He calls them sons—Sons of the King.
John and his wife, Amanda, have four children and three grandchildren. He could be thinking about freedom from childrearing or about climbing the corporate ladder. But instead he has chosen to spend his life loving, shepherding, and teaching boys from at-risk homes, children who have little influence of a godly father, or of a Bible-centered church. This wasn’t an impulse decision. Several years ago, he and Amanda knew the Lord Jesus had been calling them to ministry but weren’t sure about their next steps. Then John visited Desire Street Ministries in New Orleans.
“I was there for a couple of days, and I heard the founder, Mo Leverett, talk about the desperate nature of the neighborhood he lived in, the fatherlessness and the crime and the poverty,” John says. “It was then that the Lord first began to put a desire in my heart to minister to children.”
John and Amanda, members at Trinity Presbyterian for 20 years, prayed for months about what they should do. They began teaching third and fourth grades in Sunday school. John, along with his sons and son-in-law, reached out into the community, founding North Jackson Martial Arts and teaching karate two nights a week. John worked days as a salesman, but he was praying and searching, knowing the Lord was calling him to a deeper commitment to children. His conversations with leaders of ministries to Jackson’s inner city kids helped to clarify things for him. Both John and Amanda knew the time had come for him to step out in faith. He resigned his job of 19 years to establish Sons of the King.
“All kids are ‘at-risk,’ but these are far more at-risk than others,” John says. “Probably 50 percent of our boys come from single parent homes, and 50 percent of those don’t even know their dad.”
The bus creaks into the parking lot of Trinity Presbyterian, which offers its facilities to Sons of the King (SOK) as a ministry outreach. The boys stream out of the bus, glad to be released from a long school day. John slaps hands with them as James Logan, assistant director of SOK, takes advantage of a warm December day and leads them to the playground. One boy, written up the previous day for talking back to his teacher, sits on the bench as his penalty, though he is clearly upset about it. James sits and talks with him.
James and his wife, Megan, are also members at Trinity. He was a teacher and defensive coordinator at Clinton High School, but came to John about a year after SOK was established because he and Megan felt a call to some type of ministry. James exchanged his full-time position at Clinton High for a part-time teaching position at Clinton Christian Academy, and joined John at SOK, bringing his experience in leading large groups of boys. The two men also lead a Child Evangelism Fellowship Good News Club at McLeod, where they proclaim Christ to 100 children each week.
“I don’t assume these boys are all saved,” John says. “One boy, who has been with me for three years, came to me crying and asked, ‘What do I got to do to know Jesus? I want to know Jesus.’ That’s the purpose of our ministry, so these boys can come to faith in Christ.”
Though SOK is limited now to boys at McLeod, both John and James would like to grow to include boys at Chastain Middle School, and eventually high school boys.
“We need people and resources to reach more boys,” John says. “We also want to continue with these boys as they get older.”
After a half hour on the playground, James and John take the boys inside for devotional. They sit at round tables and listen to John while James walks from table to table pouring water and scooping out large handfuls of popcorn. John reads a passage from Luke 2, and explains to them about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. He teaches them theology without dumbing-down the message or the theological words. The boys munch their popcorn and listen to John talk about the shepherds abiding in the fields when they heard the glad tidings of the Baby’s birth.
“The angels began praising God, and they were probably singing,” he explains. “Angels are like special-ops—they’re strong and mighty—and they’re singing. Don’t ever think it’s not manly to sing in church. If these warrior angels can sing, then we men can sing.”
John explains that salvation through Jesus is a free gift from God. “We think God owes us something, but that’s a lie from the pit of hell. God doesn’t need us, but out of His mercy He created us in His image.” He looks around. “Do you know what an image is?”
“It’s a picture,” yells out one of the boys.
“Yeah,” John says, “it’s kind of like a picture. It’s a reflection, like when you see yourself in the mirror over your bathroom sink. We’re all made in the image of God. Our fellowship with God was broken in the Garden of Eden, but Jesus restores us to fellowship with God. You’re only saved if you know Christ as your Savior, if you’ve repented and been made right with God.”
Tobias pipes up. “Hey, is Jesus’ mama still living?”
“No,” John says, “but you can read in Luke 1 what she said after the angel told her she would have the Baby Jesus. She talks about rejoicing in God her Savior. The Baby Jesus would be her Savior, too.”
“Wait,” says Christian, “she’s His mama, and she’s still got to be saved?” All eyes turn to John.
“Yes,” he answers, “Jesus came to save even His mother. And, Christian, that’s a great question. That’s how we learn the truth.”
After John prays, one of the boys asks, “Can we say our Verses?” and in hip-hop style, the boys sing-say the words from Luke 2. They all sing out with strong voices. When they finish, one of them hollers out, “Can we do all of ‘em?”
The Verses are more than a dozen scripture references James taught them in Summer Club, SOK’s 9-week summer program, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Most of the boys can say nearly all the words, but only Joshua knows them all.
Following devotional, the boys are put in small groups with volunteer tutors who help them with homework. The tutors are from all walks of life and all ages, from college age to grandparent age. It is SOK’s greatest need, volunteers willing to commit their time to come on a regular basis. Most of the volunteers are white, as are John and James, while all of the boys are African-American, but those differences matter little when the focus is sharing the gospel in love. John admits that some of the boys’ mothers were suspicious at first.
“When you reach out as a white person in the Deep South, there is suspicion,” he says. “But love is the universal language. Once you bust through all of the old ways and they understand you love them, barriers go down.”
The boys are playing in the church’s gymnasium when an argument breaks out. “Hey!” John’s voice booms. “Come here!” The boys, heads hanging down, shuffle over to their director. “How would Jesus treat people?” The boys mumble, “How you want to be treated.” When SOK began, the boys were so undisciplined that John feared the tutors would lose heart. But now, due to the strong and loving guidance from John, James, and their volunteers, the boys, for the most part, are respectful and obedient.
Simeon Robbins, a gifted musician and member at Redeemer Church, comes to lead the boys in music, as he does every Tuesday. On Mondays and Thursdays, John and his son-in-law, David Howie, teach the boys Shotokan karate, and on Wednesdays the boys learn art from Anna Segrest, talented artist and member at Trinity.
Though the program is still too young to accurately measure its impact on the school and the families, the boys’ understanding of the gospel message is easy to see. Treyvon, when he hears that an article is being written about Sons of the King, asks, “Is it so more people can come here and learn about Jesus?”
Yes, Treyvon, that’s exactly right.
To learn how you can help with Sons of the King, visit www.tpcjackson.org/sok/.