More of “That Guy”

How a kid with buck teeth and a bad stutter experienced Jesus

I don’t enjoy thinking of embarrassing experiences from my childhood, let alone writing about them. But dredging them up is good because I not only remember the pain but also the people God used to help me pass through that pain. It is one of these people that I want to tell you about. He may not have known it at the time, but this young man’s kindness to me, a boy suffering from a crippling speech impediment, showed me a tangible picture of Jesus.

To truly understand the significance of his kindness you must first understand how much my stuttering problem tortured me as a boy. I so badly wanted to be a part of something, to have friends, and it seemed like the only way to these things was through the very tool of speech I was helpless to employ. To those who have never struggled with such a handicap it may seem trivial and even comical—but for a boy dealing with this pathéma, it was my torment and my anguish. Little League may have introduced me to baseball, but the cruel mockery over my stuttering that I received from teammates and even coaches was, in a word: traumatizing. 

A regiment of young Christian soldiers where I felt I could have a band of brothers to go on adventures with and find some belonging? Sign-me up! 

My first foray into a well-known boys club at a local church had a couple of incidents of the snickers and teasing that scared me away from it, too. My own older brother, who was my bosom friend at home, would unconsciously distance himself from me when we were out, finding his place among the “cool” crowd. He wasn’t trying to hurt me, I knew that, but it still hurt. My awkward appearance and my stutter kept me outside of those cool circles. Wounds from the hurts I suffered as a little boy truly did require Jesus’ healing when I became a young man—but it helped to have just a few people who showed me pity and patience and compassion along the way. 

There was a combination of things that attracted me to Christian Service Brigade (CSB) as a boy. The regimentation and esprit de corps were some of them. Patches and uniforms and ranks and flags were my jam. Then there was the work: sure, you could join CSB without qualifications, yet you had to work to receive recognition in it, so there was an aspirational aspect to it. A regiment of young Christian soldiers where I felt I could have a band of brothers to go on adventures with and find some belonging? Sign-me up! 

I’m not sure when I really snapped out of the stuttering. There are times even now as a creative director who in large part speaks for a living that I can feel it crawling in the back of my throat. I remember that at Brigade there was one young man, just an older boy now in hindsight, who was a tall, athletic kid who seemed to be the perennial captain of one of the teams in the dodgeball games. A real champion in a green uniform shirt. He not only picked me for his team consistently, but he didn’t make me feel like I was a less worthy of befriending because I had buck teeth, a bad haircut, and spoke like Porky Pig. These small mercies that not even my own brother thought to afford me, one “greater” than my brother, this older boy was unknowingly lavishing upon me. To me it was like George Patton picking little Andrew Beck to pilot one of his Sherman tanks. 

Beyond the uniforms and badges and activities that might have attracted me to it at first, I went to Brigade for as long as I could for that guy. The years have eroded even his name from my mind, but his character remains. It is a reflection of the character of Jesus, who did not shun the unlovely or unlovable—and God help us, we need that in our country right now more than ever. Many of the mass shootings we have seen in previous years are being done by men that grew up in neighborhoods and in families and in churches that were not much different from my own. But for the grace of God and the love of a few people who loved Christ, I and many like me may be facing the same temptation to destroy the society in which we found no solace, no success, not even a drop of mercy. We need destinations like Brigade where there can be more of “that guy”, because there are many, many more of me’s.

Andrew Beck, 31, is a Brigade alumni. He is now a partner at Beck & Stone, a New York-based brand consultancy specializing in non-profit institutions, and the proud father of five sons: David, Samuel, Maximilian, Peter, and Leo.

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