If pastors are notoriously under appreciated, this is often even more the case with youth pastors. This examiner would like to take a moment to pay tribute to a youth pastor that made a big difference in this examiner’s life during a very formative time. Throughout high school, one of the biggest spiritual influences on me was my youth pastor at Kosciusko’s First Presbyterian Church—Travis Horton.
Unlike many youth pastors, Travis seemed to have a genuine desire to really connect with his kids, not merely be a teacher or an authority figure to them. When he first moved to town, he would let me come over to his house every week. Before I had a car, he volunteered to pick me up and drop me off any time there were youth functions going on.
When I got my driver’s license and began looking for a car, Travis offered to sell me his 1992 Mercury Topaz. Though the market value was well over a thousand, he offered it to me for $250. We insisted on giving him $500. The car lasted me till I got to college. Looking back, understanding more about the value of money, I realize he basically gave me the car.
Travis’s sermon, that still sticks with me, was when he asked, “Do you have a ‘though’ kind of faith or an ‘if’ kind of faith? Do you say, ‘I’ll serve you, God, if you’ll bless me’? Or do you say, ‘Though he slays me, I will trust him?’”
Travis introduced me to a deeper walk with God and also to a more zany sense of humor. Travis had a very dry sense of humor, but once you picked up on it, he could be absolutely hilarious. A memorable moment at his house was when I was hanging out one evening. A telemarketer called, telling Travis he’d won a free vacation. We were pretty bored, so instead of hanging up immediately, Travis decided he’d have a little fun with the guy. In order to secure the trip, he would just need to give his credit card number over the phone. Travis picked up quickly on the fact that it might be a scam, so he wasn’t about to give that information over the phone. So long as customers express interest, telemarketers have to remain on the line and answer questions. They’re not generally allowed to hang up. Travis asked the guy to mail him some information.
“We don’t have time to do that. We have to know tonight if you’re interested in claiming this trip,” he said.
As they continued to talk, the story changed from Travis having definitely won a free trip to his having a very good chance of winning a highly reduced trip. But even claiming that hinged on him giving his credit card number over the phone.
“Well, are you interested?” the man asked.
“Yes, I’m interested,” Travis said.
“Then can we have your credit card number to register you?” the man asked.
“I’m interested, but I want you to mail me some information about this before I give you my credit card number,” Travis said.
The man again explained how he needed Travis’ number immediately. They went round and round like this. Finally, the telemarketer, in frustration, hung up on Travis!
Never before or since have I witnessed a customer getting hung up on by a telemarketer. Travis, enjoying the fiasco quite a bit, looked on his caller I.D. and called the man back.
“Why’d you hang up on me?” Travis asked. “I’m interested.”
I really don’t remember how the episode ended, but just the fact that he turned tables and managed to annoy a telemarketer to the point of getting hung up on remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Travis and I would occasionally hang out at fast food places to talk about life. One local restaurant, Lindsay’s Delights, was one we went to a number of times. The walls were adorned with interesting pictures. A man sitting on a haystack. A field of flowers, etc… When we’d wait on our food, we’d play a game in which we had to take turns telling the story behind the picture.
We’d make up outlandish tales to pass the time, explaining who took the picture and why it ended up in Kosciusko. Travis loved to get into silly meaningless debates to get you to the point of being at a loss for words. Laughing, he would say his goal in life was to “beat people to a mental pulp.” Whenever he’d go anywhere that had a visitor sign-in registry, he’d always sign, “Vladimir, from Russia.”
Travis taught me most by his example. If he felt like he’d wronged you, he’d waste no time getting an apology note in the mail. That made a big impression on me. Once when he took us to the zoo, he threw candy and other food to the beavers. I protested that it was bad to do that because the sign prohibited it. He seemed to blow me off, and I kind of got in a huff about it. The next morning, I received a card with a picture of a beaver on it that said I’m sorry.
When, as a junior in high school I whined to him about my love for a girl who wasn’t reciprocating, he helped me get my eyes off myself and my own plight. “I complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet,” he said. My junior year, when I’d tried out for the high school soccer team and failed, Travis was right there, to help get my mind off the embarrassment.
Travis made sure the youth group always had plenty of activities going on, whether it was paintball, a trip to Liberty Land in Memphis, a trip to The Park in Jackson, or a work project somewhere around Kosciusko. His first summer there, he took us whitewater rafting to the Ocoee, the same place our previous youth director had taken us all those years before. This trip was a disaster from all outward signs. One of the church vans broke down and so we had to rent two cars. Travis, being 24, was too young to rent a car and so some of the other chaperones had to handle that. It rained the whole next day as we tried to set up our tents at the campsite.
Tim Muse, the First Pres. assistant pastor at the time, had written out a detailed itinerary for every aspect of the trip, but when we got back and reviewed it, we laughed to realize not a single thing had happened according to schedule. We squeezed everything in, but not at the “appointed” time; in retrospect, it was good fun.
At the hotel the second or third night of the trip, one of our guys was horsing around in the hall and broke his toe. Another kid had to be rushed to the hospital on the drive back to Mississippi—he had such a bad case of the flu he needed an I.V. What a way to get acquainted with a youth group the first week on the job! Some men would have bailed out after such an inaugural week, but he persevered. Without the mishaps, I doubt the trip would be as memorable as it is.
The following summer, he took us to Beautiful Feet Ministries, a homeless mission in inner city Fort Worth. While we were there, I got to see a side of the world I’d only read about before. I saw homeless men and women, people who smelled funny, acted funny, had a different outlook on life. That week gave me an opportunity to give my testimony and share my faith with people I’d normally be scared to talk to. I prayed with a drunk man one night after an alter call had been given at an outdoor Barbecue/worship service in the neighborhood. My horizons were broadened.
The following month, we attended Gold Rush, the conference that stuck out in my mind for years to come as the time and the place where God really spoke to me clearer than he ever had before. I was challenged to have authentic faith, the kind that would lay down its life for Christ. We were challenged to be like Cassie Bernal and Rachel Scott, girls that had become martyrs at the Columbine shooting earlier that spring.
Christmas break of 1999, Travis took us to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for a youth conference hosted by Josh McDowell and Darrell Scott. Spring break every year, we’d usually go camping in Arkansas. During the summer of 2000, he took us to Panama City, Florida to attend RYM (Reformed Youth Movement). Later that summer, he again took us whitewater rafting and camping. Christmas break of 2000, he took us skiing in the mountains of North Carolina during a retreat at a camp called Ridgehaven.
Travis boldly did what few youth directors in town had succeeded in doing thus far: he integrated the black community. Through Travis’ recruiting, two black kids that lived a few blocks from the church became regular parts our youth group. Travis and his wife moved away from Mississippi the summer after I graduated, but though it’s been over a decade since Travis and I have seen each other, seldom a week goes by that I don’t think of him and recall something he taught me. I still appreciate the work he did, often unnoticed, while working at First Pres. in Kosciusko. I hope he knows he made a difference.