When Matthew first arrived at Epworth with his two siblings, he was a very different kid than he is today. A tall, skinny and quiet teenager, there was an underlying anger and insecurity about him, which was not surprising given the reasons that brought him to Epworth in the first place. Even the way he held himself conveyed discomfort, and the staff in his cottage were not sure they would be able to pry him out of his shell.
And as it turned out at first, they were not able to. After a short time, Matthew requested to leave Epworth, determined not to open himself up to the healing and help that Epworth could offer him. However, a few months later, he was back. While he was away, his circumstances reminded him of why he had come to Epworth before. This time, he was determined not to let history repeat itself, and that meant he had to give Epworth a chance.
When he came back, Epworth’s campus minister, Pastor Meg Cook, encouraged him to find an outlet for some of the anger he had about what happened to him during his childhood. Matthew always loved music, so writing lyrics and jotting down ideas for spoken word performances seemed like a natural fit for him to release his energy. He wasn’t too resistant at first, even though he didn’t quite understand why Pastor Meg was nudging him to write. He picked up a journal, and started putting his lyrics and thoughts on paper.
At first, the lyrics were angry and pretty rough around the edges. Pastor Meg and cottage staff Travis Diaz worked with him, and told him the most important thing to do at first was just to get out what he was feeling. Sometimes Matthew would bring lyrics to them on a napkin, or a piece of scrap paper, or a memo on a phone. They would help him sort through what he was feeling and trying to say, and before long, the rough lyrics turned into actual songs. Beautiful, heart-felt songs that gave a voice to all of the emotions that stirred inside Matthew.
One Sunday, not long after he embarked on his song writing journey, Pastor Meg was sick and could not make it to church. While she was out, the Epworth staff began a team effort to lead the Sunday service. To everyone’s surprise, Matthew offered to help be a worship leader for the service in Pastor Meg’s absence. The teenage boy who was once so reserved that he would rarely speak to others, stood in front of the entire congregation and read the announcements then continued to help lead the residents and staff in their weekly worship.
Things were blossoming for Matthew at school, too, and his musical talents were not going unnoticed there. Walter Graham, the choral director at Matthew’s school encouraged him to try out for the choir. Not only did Matthew try out, he was chosen as a bass singer for the South Carolina state choir! He had come a long way from the quiet teen with angry lyrics.
His transformation from the child he was when he arrived to the young man he is today became most apparent at Revolution earlier this year. Revolution is a United Methodist Church event where youth from across the state can gather for a weekend and discuss issues relevant to young people, explore their relationship with Christ, and meet other teens from all over South Carolina. Matthew decided Revolution would be the weekend where he would perform for the over 2000 people in attendance, and showcase all the lyrics and spoken words that he had been working on so diligently.
He was not without fear, however. Pastor Meg was his cheerleader once again, and reminded him not only of how far he had come, but also of the message and example he was setting for all the other children both at Epworth, as well as those he would meet at Revolution. The other boys in his cottage looked up to Matthew, so much so that they had t-shirts made for the weekend that said “Security,” self-appointing themselves (in a tongue in cheek way) as Matthew’s security detail. Matthew performing at Revolution elevated him to celebrity status in their eyes, and Matthew did not want to let them, Pastor Meg, or his school choir director down.
When the moment came, Matthew shined. In fact, when he stepped out on stage at Revolution, there were tears in almost everyone’s eyes. The shy, angry boy that had arrived at Epworth a couple years ago had completely been transformed into a leader and an example for his peers. As he started his performance with a rendition of “Oh, Happy Day,” the crowd swayed, and Pastor Meg, Travis, and all of Matthew’s cottage staff beamed with pride.