Even so, it was still a surprise when God literally placed Griffin Panezott right next to him.
Tyler had attended his first MOVE conference the summer before his freshman year and was ready to tackle the challenge on his Kingdom Worker Card that read: “Choose a club, team, or group at your school to be a part of or support this fall. This group is your mission field!” It just made sense to Tyler that he was going to make the football field his mission, but he didn’t anticipate a specific teammate. Due to alphabetical order, Tyler and Griffin were often side-by-side at Salem High School – including their lockers – and they were both on the offensive line on the football team.
“When I first met Griffin, I honestly didn’t expect to have a relationship with him,” Tyler said. “But as the year went on he was usually the person I talked to the most because we were next to each other.”
Greenford Christian Church – where Tyler’s dad Keith serves as the student minister – hosted a Fifth Quarter Party for the football team. Later, Griffin told Tyler about what a good time he had and that conversation turned to an invitation to Wednesday night youth group. Multiple positive experiences led Griffin to attend Sunday mornings, too.
“That party renewed my view of Christ,” Griffin said. “That was where a lot of change started because it was a bunch of friends having fun together. Nobody was in any cliché and it felt like everybody cared about everybody – it was cool and it was also a lot of fun. Tyler was always the one that made me want to keep coming back.”
Griffin and his dad Mark had disconnected from church for a few years. Mark’s job required him to be on the road a lot and it was difficult to find a church that fit their family’s needs. Tyler’s invitation and daily walk with Griffin was the vessel the Holy Spirit needed to plug Mark and his son back into a church family.
“Seeing Griffin get back into church was one of the best days of my life – other than him being born,” Mark said. “It was a rebirth for him and me both. Greenford does a phenomenal job with the youth program and I look forward to every Sunday.”
Griffin decided to be baptized in May. He said he wanted to celebrate his new life in Christ and show his community that he was a different person.
“I used to be negative and I hated everyone,” Griffin said. “I’d just say whatever popped in my head, and I only trusted family. Now I watch what I say, and I want to help others. I’ve been able to forgive and realize that people make mistakes and I shouldn’t be closed-minded about it and hold onto the past. I don’t know where I’d be spiritually if it hadn’t been for Tyler. He’s like my brother.”
Tyler and Keith have enjoyed witnessing positive changes happen for Mark and Griffin – especially their father-son relationship which is stronger now more than ever.
“It’s been such a cool domino effect to see how God has worked in that situation,” Keith said. “Mark is now one of our volunteers and we love his involvement.”
This summer, Tyler and Griffin were together at MOVE and by the end of the week they were ready to make Kingdom worker decisions. The speaker led an illustration where students could show their decision to dedicate their lives to Christ and “leave it all on the battlefield” by pinning their name to their back. Keith said he’ll never forget that experience.
“That was such a cool moment because I’ve been able to witness the journey Griffin has been on,” Keith said. “God moved in his heart and he went from someone who wasn’t involved at all to experience major change. His overall demeanor is different – he’s more upbeat and positive – he’s engaged in youth group conversations, he’s a door greeter and just recently I saw him go and sit by a new kid who came to church.”
Tyler and Griffin are currently in their sophomore year of high school and dreaming of futures in ministry. In the meantime, Tyler said his eyes are open to whoever God will place next to him.
“I’ll always have somewhere to do Kingdom work,” Tyler said. “I’m going to try to bring as many to Christ as I can.”