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What could these disparate folks possibly have in common: John the Baptist, Mahatma Gandhi, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, John Lennon and Betty White? They were all reared as only children… as I was. Although this is not the time nor place to do a “deep dive” on this cast of characters, most experts agree on the basic characteristics of “unaccompanied souls” like me. “We” tend to be independent to a fault, are overachievers, appear wise beyond our years, can keep ourselves amused, don’t care much for sharing and “think outside the box.” I presently identify with most of these descriptions. But it was much different growing up without siblings. In my country of birth, I was surrounded by cousins, the neighbor’s kids and a litany of children with whom I played in the streets daily; the fact that I was the only child at home went mostly undetected. The scenario, however, turned somber upon moving to the United States, given we had very little family and no friends, besides not being able to speak the language. All of a sudden I felt alone and unwanted in a foreign country; I became an only child with a need to socialize in a “hostile” environment. So, why not join a gang?
Safety in numbers, acceptance, and to feel part of a family are some of the of reasons why youth join gangs. And these three were very important to me as an adolescent on foreign soil attempting to cope with major personal changes and minimal family support. So I joined a “gang”… of sorts. You see, back in my day, the main discipline problems in school included chewing gum, running in the halls, talking and getting out of line. Today they include assaults, bullying, drug abuse, sexual abuse, shootings and vandalism. Thus my gang became, in many respects, a safe haven for a displaced kid, given our biggest “misdeeds” at the time included throwing garbage can tops on roofs late at night and hiding in the trunk to avoid paying at drive-in movies. In essence, I was adopted into a temporary family until capable of finding myself and continuing on to college; overall, this “benign gang” became a very positive and fruitful experience.
But that was it. As soon as I left home and began my academic and professional career, the need for acceptance and intimacy took a back seat. Whether it was being involved in athletic endeavors both at the amateur and professional level or working over three decades as a federal law enforcement officer, the idea of having to function as a teammate was not palatable to me. At the heart of team sports and law enforcement activities is relying on each other for both winning and survival. Yet, I preferred to be “a lone wolf,” favoring to function isolated from the safety and comfort of the group. For me it was playing tennis instead of second base or working undercover instead of being part of SWAT. I was not into sharing credit or blame. And my family suffered as a result, for the work practices bled into the home. In the end, my son likewise became an only child, missing not only siblings but the joy of an involved father.
Thus, upon accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, it became evident that church participation and fellowship was a necessary component in order to grow in the faith. I was reminded of Old Testament verses such as “iron sharpens iron” and “two are better than one” as well as “bear one another’s burdens” and “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” as quoted in the New. Still, at first I chose to sit in the back of the church expecting God to come to me. It was not until I recognized that the joy of Christianity flows from intimacy with Jesus and fellow believers that the Gospel came to life in my heart. A man of few friends and many acquaintances slowly began to create a monumental shift in his life with the help of the Holy Spirit by allowing other Christians into his circle of influence.
Men on a Mission
Then several years ago I began attending an evening Bible study with a group of brothers, many of whom were very successful professionals. In short order relationships began to flourish, and as I took stock of my life, it became evident that the most influential individuals in my life, besides my loving wife, came from this gathering. They became my accountability partners, my Bible teachers, my “sounding boards,” my “buds.” Hanging out with them and exchanging our victories and defeats was much more exciting than sneaking into a drive-in movie. In time, we started smaller study groups, which allowed us to have very intimate moments usually not experienced among men. And at the center of it is God and His Word. We refer to ourselves as “Men on a Mission,” utilizing our talents and treasures to help others while delving deeper into Scriptures to give us the proper direction. We serve the resurrected Christ, a “man” on a mission and God’s only Child. And so, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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