Back in the late 1980s, I went to a small rural High-School with a grand total of about 400 students over all 5 grades. This was back in the days when the Province of Ontario forced students to stay in school until they were 18 and had finished at least 6 university preparation courses, called the Ontario Academic Credits (OAC) before entering university. I don’t know about most schools but where I come from, OAC was more commonly referred to as Grade 13.
When your high-school is in a rural community, miles from the nearest urban centre it has to cater to students of all skills and abilities, so while about 20 students a year graduated from Grade 13, we also had a number of students who finished after Grade 12 and went on to community colleges and still another set of students who just focused on technical skills and went on to vocational schools or entered the work force directly. Drake was one such student.
Drake had a learning disability similar to dyslexia and some form of mental illness, probably Asperger’s Syndrome or some other form of autism. Drake lived in foster care because he came from a broken home. Both his parents were alcoholics who just couldn’t handle his illness and his father had a tendency toward violence. I met Drake on my first day of High-School in the wood-shop. He was quiet, obviously uncomfortable in the new surroundings and it didn’t take long before I realized he was different. We didn’t have much in common so we barely spoke and because I was on the academic track in school we didn’t have any other classes together.
When we came back from Christmas that first year Drake was a different person. He still had his learning disability and a mental illness, that hadn’t changed, but he was no longer the timid and awkward young man I had met the preceding September. Drake was vibrant, excited and ready to take on the world. The first day back from Christmas he approached me in the hall outside wood-shop and announcing; “Let me tell you about Jesus!”
As you can well imagine, Drake’s new found boldness didn’t go over well with the secular and agnostic crowd but his enthusiasm was infectious and probably as a result of his mental illness, he didn’t seem to notice when people were turned off. Drake joined our Campus Life (Youth for Christ) club and brought with him a level of engagement that put the rest of us to shame. Over the next year and a half I had the pleasure of watching Drake go deeper in his faith and learn to temper his approach. He never lost his enthusiasm though and I was there when his sincerity was instrumental in leading others to a deeper understanding along their own faith journeys.
I don’t know what it was exactly that caused Drake to make such a dramatic change. I do know that his foster parents were Christ-followers and he spoke once about the contrast between weekends with one of his parents and what it was like to return to the peace and quiet of the foster care environment. When Drake finally met Jesus I think he found love and acceptance, peace and grace in a way that spoke to his troubled mind and helped calm his soul. At the end of our second year of High-School Drake aged out of the foster care system and moved away. I have no idea what happened to him and I haven’t thought about him in nearly 20 years but he came to mind recently when I was studying the story of Jesus and the woman at the well found in John chapter 4.
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. [John 4:28-30]
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”[John 4:39-42]
The Samaritan Woman was an outcast both to the Jews and in her own community. When she met Jesus she found grace and acceptance of a type she had never experienced before. Drake was also an outcast both in our school and from his own family. Mental Illness had made it difficult for him to be a part of anything normal. But when he met Jesus he found acceptance that he could not keep to himself and for the first time in his life Drake was able to make friends.
As I look back now, even though I haven’t seen or heard from him since I was 15 years old, I am both happy and a little bit proud to count Drake among my long lost friends. I’m looking forward to meeting him again on the other side of heaven. On that day we will both experience complete healing and restoration from our sins and all kinds of mental illness, we’ll worship God together “in spirit and in truth” and it will be nothing short of glorious.
Here’s to Drake, and all the other “Samaritans”, outcasts and the just plain ‘different’ people, we might meet in our lives.