Certain in Faith
Our goal in Summit Student Ministries is for our Surge (middle school) and Edge (high school) students to be able to own, verbalize, and defend their faith by the time they graduate from high school.
As leaders, we spend a lot of time wondering if what we’re doing is working. Much like their parents, we wonder if the middle and high school students even hear half of what we say, but when Micah, our Herndon Student Minister, and I sat down to interview sophomore Ethan Wattles, we didn’t have to wonder. We got to see first hand the work God is doing in the lives of our students.
Six weeks ago, the SSM staff got a message saying that Ethan had ruptured his quad tendon and would be going in for surgery. This injury would require nine months of recovery. It was less than a week before the regional championship track meet in which Ethan was supposed to compete—a competition that would have qualified him for the state championship. To say it was a bummer would be a huge understatement.
“I believed God could do a miracle, but I didn’t think he would,” Ethan says. After the injury, he read Luke Chapter 7 where a centurion knows with certainty Jesus can and will heal his servant. In Luke 7:9, Jesus says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Because of his great faith in Jesus, the centurion goes home to find his servant healed. In his moments of doubt, Ethan prayed for faith like the centurion.
When he saunters into the Summit offices for our interview, there are no signs of injury. His second MRI revealed nothing but a sprain, and just like that, nine months of recovery turned into two.
Ethan committed his life to Jesus over a decade ago in the backseat of the family car on the way home from his aunt’s house. He knew that Jesus died for his sins. He trusted his parents and they trusted Jesus, so it made sense to give his life to Christ and be baptized when he was 5 years old.
Toward the end of 8th grade, Ethan’s understanding of Jesus started to shift. He wore the mask of a “perfect Christian” boy when he was out-and-about, but at home, he struggled with selfishness, anger, and pride. The stress of athletic and academic performance pulled his focus away from relationships—most importantly, his relationship with Jesus.
Ethan realized he couldn’t be perfect on his own. He needed Jesus. While he was still in middle school, he started talking about the duality in his life with his Surge leaders, which alleviated much of the stress and shame. His Connect group embraced his vulnerability, which fostered an environment of trust and openness. Being able to confess and discuss his thoughts and feelings lifted a burden off of Ethan, and it freed him up to start praying and really listening to God.
Ethan started high school and moved up to Edge. Gradually, all of the things he had known about Christianity became more practical and applicable to his life.
A couple of months ago, Ethan started praying about baptism. He asked his Edge leader, Jake Junot, if it was OK to be baptized again. This led to a series of conversations that spurred Ethan to be baptized for a second time.
“I felt like I had changed a lot since then,” Ethan says, referring to the first time he committed his life to Christ. “I felt like I have taken more ownership since then. I feel like the cornerstone for my faith now is my relationship with Christ, not my relationship with my parents.” Ethan is quick to add, “It’s not like because I’ve decided it’s my faith, they have nothing to do with it.” He acknowledges that his parents are still a huge influence on his walk with Jesus.
Ethan didn’t need to be baptized again, he chose to because it made his relationship with Jesus public. When he came out of the water, it created accountability, confidence, and community. “I don’t feel like getting baptized a second time makes me a better Christian,” Ethan notes, “and I don’t believe everyone should go get baptized a second time, but for me, it was a personal conviction.”
When asked what his advice would be to middle and high school students in regards to their relationship with Jesus and the step of baptism, Ethan says, “Be willing to talk about it to a leader or someone else and understand everyone goes through it and no one is perfect.” Talking about your relationship with Jesus, and all the questions that come with it, breaks down the walls that create isolation, encourages accountability, and brings you closer to Jesus.
Laura Freeland is a superhero. Her superpower? Efficiency. Recently, she quit a decade-long career in marketing to spend her days hanging out with teenagers as the Herndon Student Ministries Coordinator. She also met her husband while they were both volunteering as Edge leaders!
Summit Students helps connect middle and high schoolers with other students, develop their relationship with Christ, and discover where they fit in the work of God and the world around them. Find more information here!