One of the greatest thrills of being a pastor was to see young (sometimes ornery) men in our youth group grow up to become mature, challenging leaders in the ministry. One of the finest young men I had the privilege of watching metamorphosize into that role is Justin Facenda.
Justin grew up at Northside Baptist in Charlotte and was a teen during my first few years there. Justin was not a loud, front-and-center kind of guy. He was simply one of those “average” teens who was faithful to the services, navigated the politics of attending a Christian school and had a personality that could be part “imp” and part “scholar”. His youth pastor was Ben Rudolph and Ben poured a lot of who he was into young men like Justin. In fact, they have similar personality traits — though Justin is far from being a clone.
When Justin graduated from Northside Christian Academy, he went to Piedmont Baptist College in Winston-Salem, NC. I was actually quite shocked. For some reason, I hadn’t caught on that he was seriously considering vocational ministry and Piedmont is definitely a school designed for that. For a while, I thought he was going because one of his friends was going.
While Justin was at Piedmont, the Lord took over his life even more completely and I watched with pride and fulfillment as he matured into a confident leader with a heart for working with young people. He interned for us one summer and spent time shadowing the staff and Ben. He preached a sound sermon and showed character that frankly, was unusual for a guy his age.
He met a beautiful and dynamic young lady at Piedmont, Carie Edwards, and they fell madly in love and got married. Justin joined a nice country church and worked for a time there as a youth pastor and it was during that time that I had the privilege to be the chair of his ordination committee. Justin went through a rather grueling afternoon with flying colors. Though I frankly don’t remember a lot of details from the numerous ordinations of which I’ve been part over the years, I distinctly remember Justin’s transparency during that process and I’ve also seen it emerge in other ways since then. One of the things I admire most about Justin is his sensitive heart and consciousness of the Holy Spirit’s direction in his life.
Shortly after his ordination, a good friend of mine (and a former colleague as he was on our church staff when I was at Berean Baptist - now Grace Fellowship - in West Palm Beach), Dr. Gary Colboch contacted me about needing a youth pastor. Gary had moved to Hartzville, SC to pastor an impressive church — Emmanuel Baptist — and was doing an outstanding job. He needed a sharp young man to lead the youth and the first name that came to my mind was Justin.
Several weeks later, I received news that Justin and Carie were on their way to Hartzville. It has been my blessing to see Justin and Carie blossom into outstanding team members there and I’m amazed at all that he has on his plate as he works with their Christian school, youth and church. Since moving there, the Lord has blessed Justin and Carie with two beautiful sons.
Justin has been on my mind recently for a couple of reasons that I’d like to share with you. First, Justin has to be the joy of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leo Facenda, as they see the rewards of their leadership in his life played out in his ministry. This is every Christian parent’s dream and I can only imagine how proud that they are and it is a challenge to me as a father to be faithful in my role with my children. Additionally, I am constantly challenged by how Carie is Justin’s #1 cheerleader. If you are Facebook friends with them, you’ll see her frequently sending him notes of encouragement and posts of love. They have this special abbreviation/acronym — URLOKED — which I have no idea what it means, but it always makes me smile when I see them sharing it with each other. Ministry is hard — sometimes it is VERY HARD. To see this young family pulling together as a team and to see Carie so sweetly encouraging her husband is a true blessing and an example to others.
Finally, I’ve been thinking about Justin recently because I know this is an extremely busy time of the year for him. Fall is rough on youth pastors and Justin puts together a huge halloween alternative outreach and evangelistic outreach during October that is quite impressive. There’s a lot going on in a typical church’s calendar during October anyway and I can only imagine that the Facenda’s are facing full plates of activity right now. So I’ve been praying for them and admiring them from afar as they do the work of ministry with passion and enthusiasm.
Justin is one of those guys that makes ministry “worth it” in many ways. I know that he is probably already feeling the same pride in some of the young people that have already passed through his ministry at Emmanuel. I’m proud to be his friend and am thankful that the Lord has put his family in my life. Keep an eye on Justin Facenda. I think the Lord is just beginning to use this man.