FROM PEER PRESSURE TO PREACHER BOY Eighteen-year-old David Bridgeforth has become a pastor to his friends and classmates—literally. Part of Breakaway’s Year of the World-Changer.
by Christy Heitger-Casbon
David Bridgeforth always knew he was different, and that was fine with him. As a sixth-grader he proudly wore a tie to school and carried a Bible and a briefcase rather than a backpack. Dubbed “Preacher Boy” by his peers, David got ripped on, beaten up and pushed down more times than he can count.
Finally, after enduring months of teasing, he’d had enough. He ditched the fancy duds in favor of baggy pants and oversized T-shirts. He also left his Bible and his conscience at home. He began disrespecting his teachers, blowing off schoolwork and skipping class. Before long David’s grades—and self-esteem—plummeted.
By the end of seventh grade David was barely recognizable to his family. A shell of his former Christian self, David had hit rock bottom. His mom, a strong Christian woman who loves her son dearly, was at her wit’s end. David could barely stand to look at the deep disappointment on his mother’s face.
If Mom is this upset, David thought, I can’t imagine how disappointed God must be with me. His stomach knotted with guilt as he prayed for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Ultimately, David concluded that sometimes in life it’s better to stand out than to blend in. At the start of eighth grade David embraced his individualism and his faith wholeheartedly.
Encouraging Hope David dove into Bible study and youth ministry, regularly attending church retreats, camps and conferences. Intrigued by the amazing youth-to-youth ministries that existed in his area, David was motivated to do more. Reclaiming his faith brought meaning back into his life, and he wanted to share it with others. He hoped to help lead his peers to a life with greater significance.
“I can relate to inner-city kids,” says David, who was born and raised in a poverty-stricken area of Indianapolis. He knows the struggles, fears and insecurities many of his classmates face daily. He also knows their despair.
“They look around at their seedy neighborhoods, run-down school buildings and [seemingly] apathetic teachers and wonder, Is this all my life will be?” David says. But he insists that their lives can, indeed, hold far more. He strongly believes that with God by their side, every one of his peers will go on to do great and amazing things.
“I want to give them hope for a better life and a better tomorrow,” David says. “Because if they can envision a better life for themselves, then they can achieve it!”
As David’s involvement in youth ministries grew, so did his desire to lead others to Christ. David’s pastor couldn’t help noticing David’s intense hunger to serve the Lord, so he began to mentor David and teach him one on one about ministry. Always the first to arrive at church on Sunday and the last to leave, David faithfully and thoughtfully studied God’s Word.
“I realized that God wanted me to spend my life sharing His love and preaching His Word,” David says.
Giving Guidance David has a gift for ministering to his peers. As high school continued, he was no longer the geeky kid who was ridiculed. Instead, his classmates sought out “Preacher Boy” for guidance on such personal problems as suicidal thoughts, domestic violence and unplanned pregnancies.
After several years of religious studies, David became an ordained minister on his 18th birthday. Since that day his desire to change lives has only strengthened. He continues to preach regularly on Sundays, but he has also taken his spiritual messages outside church doors. He often talks to youth about issues such as self-esteem, student leadership and the importance of pursuing a vision in life.
“Giving is addictive,” David says. “Once you start doing it, you can’t stop. It feels so good.”
Pointing to God David cringes when he thinks about his rough seventh-grade year, but it’s a reminder of how hard it is to resist the pressure to change in order to fit in with the crowd. That’s precisely why he’s determined to share both his story and his message of God’s love with anyone who will listen.
David likes to look into the eyes of his young congregation and tell them, “You’re special because God made you that way! Enjoy who you are. Love yourself. Believe in yourself—just the way God loves and believes in you.” Then he holds their gaze for a moment and declares with conviction, “There’s greatness in you!”
Some kids roll their eyes and blow off the comment; others take it to heart. One day last year a high school student approached David after one of his lectures and told him that this was the second time he had heard David speak.
“I want you to know that you’ve changed my life,” the student said. “A year ago I felt so alone, like my life was useless. I was failing all of my classes, cussing out my parents and teachers, abusing my body with drugs and alcohol. Then I heard you speak, and somehow you made me feel like I had something to offer the world, if only I’d give myself the chance. I didn’t think I was worthy of love—especially God’s—but you made me realize that that’s not true. You gave me the courage to turn my life around.”
It’s stories like these that keep David smiling—and preaching God’s Word. And by spreading God’s hope, peace, comfort and love, “Preacher Boy” is engaging his peers and changing the world one student at a time.
Invest in yourself, the world is waiting on your Contribution!