BY TIERCE GREEN
I’ve only had two breakfast meetings with Mark Norris, but both have gone into enjoyable and inspiring extra innings. This is the guy who is knocking it out of the park with 33 The Series at the Estelle Unit in the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, as well as with the men at Fellowship of Huntsville Church. On this morning, I assumed the two of us would talk about what was happening in the prison or with the men in his church, but Mark is a natural connector and he had something else in mind.
I walked into Dosey Doe Music Cafe and Mark was standing in the entry with a friend whom he had invited to join us. As I approached from the side I could see that this guy was missing his left arm. When introductions were made I extended my hand across his body to shake his right hand, but when he turned I saw that he was missing his right arm as well! It was only awkward for a brief moment. I said, “Dude, you set me up! I could tell you were down one arm, but by the way you were facing I had no idea you were down two!”
Jon Sheptock was born in New Jersey in 1976 with a very unusual affliction—he had no arms and a short right leg. This was too overwhelming for his birthparents, so the evening he was born this precious but unwanted baby boy was turned over to the State. Six months after being placed in foster care, Joanne and Rudy Sheptock adopted Jon. God had led them to create a home where unwanted and disabled children could feel loved, safe and secure. The boy who once had no parents would now have a loving mom and dad plus 33 siblings!
There was a dark side to his journey—the stares, abandonment issues, excruciating self-doubt, and incessant ridicule. In his teenage years, he had a particularly hard time knowing where to fit in. It was in those darkest hours that he began to contemplate suicide. But instead of giving in to hopelessness and fears, Jon put his faith in Jesus. It is truly amazing to see how God has helped him adjust and develop alternative skills to deal with the everyday things of life. These are skills that he teaches to wounded warriors and others with physical challenges. Among so many other things that most of us take for granted, Jon drives a car, feeds himself, opens doors, and can go to the bathroom by himself. Jon and his wife Staci have been married for 17 years. They have three daughters, ages 14, 9, and 7. Jon even learned how to change a diaper with his feet!
As amazing as his physical adaptability is, Jon is so much more than that. His joy, perspective, peace, motivation and winsome spirit in the face of extreme adversity flows from his faith in Jesus. He truly owns Philippians 4:13 (NIV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But he is quick to point out the importance of understanding that promise in the context that it was written, especially the lines just before it. Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV) says, “ … I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Doing all things through Christ who strengthens me is dependent upon learning to be content, not in circumstances, but in Christ.
Jon is the lead singer of a band called One Percenters. This also happens to be the name of an outlaw motorcycle club, but Jon's band has redeemed it, getting their inspiration from the story Jesus told about the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the one that was lost. Jon and his band take the gospel into prisons and other places bringing hope to the hopeless and good news to the lost. With Authentic Manhood Houston, I’m always thinking about equipping and mobilizing men to use 33 The Series and launch groups in the community to help men discover the life they are created to live, specifically challenging them to stop waiting passively for their church or someone else to create something for them to do. Here is Jon who has a legitimate excuse to sit on the sideline and wait to be waited on, but he is fully engaged.
I had breakfast with a couple of champions today. One of them clearly displayed more abilities than disabilities as he skillfully used his left foot to drink from a standard coffee mug, grab his fork to eat an omelette, and pick up a napkin to wipe his mouth. Both of these men are rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, and courageously leading men. They are investing eternally in prison, in the community, and in their church. We shared stories of God’s love and provision, his grace and forgiveness. We talked about how we must expose more men to the real Jesus. Whatever it takes. No excuses.