Tommy Pierro’s Legacy: He Showed Up

Years ago I wrote a post called Everybody Needs a Jim Frew which was about my Dad’s best friend who passed away tragically and unexpectedly many years ago. This week I too lost one of my best friends, Tommy Pierro, after battling serious health issues including cancer this past year.

Tommy Pierro was an amazing friend. We met Tommy and his wife Naomi in 2005. They picked us up from the airport during our second trip to interview for a job at Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle. After we accepted the position and moved to Long Island, he was the first one to arrive to help us unload the moving truck.

Through the years we became very close. We loved going to Yankees games together, hardly ever missed meeting up at Miller’s Ale House to watch UFC cards late on Saturday nights, and went to a live Bellator MMA card together. We did youth ministry together for 6 years, and he was the model youth worker. But my favorite thing about him … he was Uncle Tommy to our girls. As they were growing, and as we were serving in ministry, Adriana and I knew that we really needed other loving, caring adults to be in our daughters’ lives. Nobody did it better than Uncle Tommy. He was a staple at family gatherings, was at every major milestone in our girls’ journeys, and would always find a way to be at Natalia’s softball games. We would see him walking across the field with his chair with a little side table and his bag of snacks and a coffee.

Tommy’s nickname was Rock, and he lived up to his name through his consistency, steadfastness, faithfulness, and servant’s heart. If I had 3 words that captured what made Tommy so special to so many people, they would be simply: He showed up.

As I said of Jim Frew, everybody needs a Tommy Pierro. And yet, as I have reflected on Tommy’s life over the past months, and more specifically, over the past couple of days since he passed, I would suggest something more. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Tommy is that even if we may not all have a Tommy Pierro, we can all BE a Tommy Pierro. We can show up. Simply being there for people is, I believe, just as, if not more, powerful that anything we can say.

When I learned Tommy was in the hospital, I made the decision that I was going to be there for him, just as he had always been there for us. I wanted him to look up from his hospital bed and see me walking into his room, sometimes totally unexpectedly, just as we used to look up and see him walking toward the softball field. Sometimes our conversations were deep and profound, more often they were simply just two guys talking about life, family, sports, and making each other laugh.

Some days he was completely unconscious and unaware that I was even there, but I showed up. I wanted to be there to give Naomi a bit of relief, to give her some company, to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and to pray with her. I wanted to be there in case Tommy awoke and needed anything. I wanted to be there in case some monitor started beeping and the nurses needed to be notified. I wanted to be there if none of the above happened. I simply wanted to be present with my friend.

I told him so many times over the past months during countless times being with him in the hospital, “I love ya dude!” I am thankful that we had so much time together over the last months of his life. It was painful to see him deteriorate, but it was a precious time and an honor to be with him as he was always there for us.

Tommy, thank you for your friendship and the impact you had on our lives. You left an amazing legacy that we will cherish. I love ya dude! I will miss you terribly. I will do my best to honor your legacy by showing up, and by telling your story and inviting other people to love Jesus by showing up for others like you did.

Until we meet again, cheers!

Let’s Ride Discipleship Road Trip 2017 Day 5

Home sweet home! Today was the final day of our whirlwind discipleship road trip. We drove the final 448 miles today. After getting up and showering at the YMCA we finally found the Holy Grail that we had been searching for this entire trip. Krispy Kreme! O. My. Goodness! We went back to the church, packed up, ate the most delicious donuts on the face of the earth, then loaded up and departed at 8:45am. We drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, then had some Bible study and discussion about how God built a bridge to us, and how we are called to the ministry of bridge building as well. We watched the movie Ragamuffin and worked on our Scripture memory passages from the trip. We arrived home at 6pm, cleaned the shuttle, and sent some happy students home to some happy parents and siblings.

15 people. 2,217.50 miles traveled. Stayed at 4 churches. Visited 5 different sites that tied in with our daily themes. Bible reading, prayer, worship, Scripture memory, and lots of conversations. Amazing time #LetsRide2017 Discipleship Road Trip!

Let’s Ride Discipleship Road Trip 2017 Day 4

Today we only did 134 miles of driving; a nice, relaxing day without the long drives we have done the other days of our trip. We got up at 7am and drove to The Founder’s Inn hotel and spa for showers. We then returned to New Life Church, cleaned, packed, had breakfast, loaded up, and departed at 9:30am. We had our personal devotional time during the half-hour drive to New Covenant Church in Hampton, VA where we unloaded and setup for tonight. We then worked on our memory verses during the 30 minute drive to Colonial Williamsburg. We spent 4 hours touring and exploring the historic town. Afterward we had our small group discussion about our theme for the day, Legacy. We then went to my Aunt Patty’s home where she and her family had prepared dinner for our team. My Grandpa Mahaffy also came by and everyone got to meet him. While the team was hanging out after dinner, Grandpa and I went out for a bit and stopped by to say Hi to my Aunt Susan and Uncle Alan. The students played with their chickens, played games, had a bonfire, roasted marshmallows, then my cousins came back to New Covenant with us and we enjoyed playing Manhunt and games in the gym. After making sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch we had some team time. Carol shared a word with us, then we prayed together before heading off to bed. 

Let’s Ride Discipleship Road Trip 2017 Day 3

533 more miles traveled today. This morning all the boys got up at 6am and drove to get showers at the YMCA in Asheville. The girls chose to get a bit more sleep. We then packed, cleaned, ate breakfast, loaded up and departed at 8:15am. After a 7 hour drive we arrived at The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC where Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first persons to successfully fly an airplane. Our theme for the day was Vision, we following our visit we had some great discussion during our drive to Moyock, NC where we stopped at Southland for Eastern Carolina BBQ. We then drove over the border into Chesapeake, VA and passed by our old family home, and Natalia and I popped by to say hello to our dear former neighbor Miss Frances who has been having some recent health issues. We then drove to New Life Church in Deep Creek, VA where we are spending the night. New Life is the first church I served at in full-time ministry. After settling in I was so blessed to have two of my former students, Rachel and Jeremy, come by. Rachel shared a greeting, then Jeremy Miller, who is now a pastor at the church, spoke a great word to our team. We are really lookingforward  to more sleep tonight than we have had on either of our first two  nights, since we don’t have to drive far tomorrow. We are having a great time! 

Let’s Ride Discipleship Road Trip 2017 Day 1

This morning our crew of 15 left Shelter Rock Church and began our 5 day discipleship road trip. Each day we have a theme, Scripture reading, meditations for everyone to contemplate, journaling, small group discussion, and Bible memory verses. We then visit a historical site or museum that connects with our theme for the day. Today’s theme was Justice and we visites the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA. We discussed the terrible injustice of slavery in history, where we continue to see slavery in the world today, and what God expects of us as Christians. We then drove to Belle Vernon, PA where we are staying at a wonderful church. After getting settled in and making lunches for tomorrow we gathered together for sharing, worship, a word from Santhosh Paulus (one of our leaders) about his work of fighting human trafficking through his organization, Cycling for Change, and prayer. It was a great day, and we have 390 under our belt. 

Look Who’s Talking!

lookwhostalkingI am passionate about small groups. They are the backbone of the youth ministry that I lead. I am not personally leading one of our student small groups at the moment, but I do visit our groups each week and take time to observe and connect with our students and adult leaders. Here’s a principle that I shared with our leaders recently. I call it the “Look Who’s Talking” Principle. 

I am a teacher by gifting. I love standing in front of a group of people and communicating. But when I am leading a small group, I have to remind myself that my role is different. The primary role of a small group leader is not talker, but facilitator. The reason I love small groups is that they give us a chance to help students learn in a more effective way than simply sitting in a chair and listening to an adult talk to them. Ouch! As a teacher, that hurts just a little bit. The truth is, students learn best, not by listening to us talk to them, but through experiences, and in the small group setting, through the experience of sharing what they are processing as it pertains to the topic.

A small group leader is not primarily a sage imparting wisdom, but a miner extracting wisdom from students through asking good, open-ended questions, listens carefully, and gets students involved in the conversation. Yes, adult leaders can share insights and experiences occasionally, but that should be an exception, not the rule. When leaders do all of the talking, students are relegated to the role of passive listeners rather than active participants. As leaders we must ensure that students are engaging in the conversation through sharing their thoughts with the group and listening to their peers. If you think in terms of the old Pareto (80/20) principle, as leaders you should be doing 20% of the talking, and students should be doing 80%.

If you are a small group leader, or if you have a few leaders in your group, take some time after small group to reflect and ask if students were engaging, or if you were doing too much talking. As a principle, remember the title of the 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking.” If there were a video recording, or even just an audio recording of your small group meeting, whose voices would you hear? Your goal should be to ensure you hear a whole lot of students’ voices (dare I say, all of your students?) and very little of yours. It’s tough, but it’s the best thing you can do for the spiritual growth of your students.

Money Matters for Students

“Kev, money just burns holes in your pockets.” I remember riding in the car with my Grandpa as a little kid when he said that to me. I had just received a few bucks and I desperately wanted to spend them on something that wasn’t very important. Money wasn’t in instant supply when I was a kid, so when I got some, I had a thousand things lined up calling for it when I did get it.

I don’t know about you, but as an adult I wish someone had taken the time to really talk to me about how to manage money when I was a kid. Certainly people like my parents pointed me to the Bible and tried to steer me on the right path, but I don’t recall ever having a detailed, intentional explanation of financial matters until I had been married for several years. One of my uncles was a financial advisor and took some time to sit down and talk with me about how to budget, save, etc.

At Shelter Rock Church, our student ministry vision statement is to see students become fully-devoted, passionate, life-long followers of Jesus. Each of those three parts of the statement are important. We want students to understand that Jesus being Lord of our lives means that He is the center of every relationship and everything that we are involved in. We want students to experience that life with Jesus is not boring, but the greatest adventure you could ever imagine. And we want equip students to honor God all the days of their lives. To that extent this year we are going to be talking with our students about handling money.

I am really excited that this semester in our small groups we are going to be taking all of our students through Generation Change, the student version of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I believe equipping our students so intentionally and strategically in this area of their lives will really give them a great head-start and empower them to live their lives free to be and do everything God has planned for them.