Reformed Quarterly Volume 9, Issue 1
Left to themselves, RTS middlers Jeff Moes and Eric Cook probably wouldn’t have given each other a second glance six years ago. After all, what does a blond, conservative Dutchman, brought up in a sheltered church environment, have in common with a dark-haired, mid-Westerner from a broken home, with few church ties and no desire to serve God?
A lot, it turns out, if God is in the act. Although from totally different backgrounds, they have the same powerful vision for youth work and formidable gifts to make it a reality. Eric is an evangelist with a heart for the children of the street, while Jeff’s talent is discipling “church kids,” coaxing them out of apathy to a life of ministry.
Before they met, each had already had great success in youth ministry, leading many young people to Christ and challenging them to a mature Christian walk. God knew, however, that together they would be dynamite. But getting them together was no easy task, as you will see.
ERIC: A TROUBLED YOUTH
Born just outside Cleveland, Ohio,in the small rural community of Middlefield, Eric had a normal childhood but grew into an insecure teenager. Although his family attended church, Eric quit going when he turned fourteen. When his parents divorced during his junior year of high school, he left home and went to live with his grandparents.
The only bright spot in Eric’s life seemed to be basketball. At six feet – four inches, he was tall and painfully thin, which added to his poor self-image, but his height made for a good basketball player. Seeing his name in the newspaper also boosted his ego. “Because of the tension at home, I sank everything into basketball; it was my life, my identity – being good at something,” remembers Eric. “I spent hours practicing, often until midnight, to escape having to deal with problems at home.” After high school, he received an athletic grant in basketball to Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. But the years of sadness and tension had taken their toll, and Eric began to experiment with alcohol. He learned that getting drunk and partying also boosted his self-esteem and brought him friends and attention.
With studies failing, he even lost his love for basketball, and because he was no longer willing to practice and stay in shape, after a year and a half he had to give it up. Eric began to feel sorry for himself, blaming everyone but himself for the damage his drinking problem had done to his life.
“I was going downhill fast,” he confesses. “I had no purpose in life, no answers. I was a poor student, and I was trying to run from my family. When I began having blackouts from heavy drinking during my junior year, I knew I had to get help. What is the meaning of life,” I asked myself, “and what am I doing with mine?”
One night Eric was walking around the track at Thiel. Bouncing in his head were truths he had learned long ago in Sunday School and Bible School. Suddenly he looked up into the sky and said, “God, I have no idea whether you are real, but I need to find the truth.”
From that moment on, Eric determined to find out more about God, although he could not bring himself to give up the party life. He began to attend a campus Bible study, watching these Christians –losers, in his eyes– very closely. Finally, the following summer, Eric committed his life to Christ.
After his conversion, Eric’s main challenge was conquering alcohol, although he maintained he was merely a social drinker. But two Christian friends confronted Eric about his drinking and subsequently devoted their energies to helping him quit.
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the help of friends, Eric’s life turned completely around. His grades improved, and he made the Dean’s List both semesters his senior year. He became a leader in the campus Bible study and shared his faith regularly.
After graduation, he became the youth pastor at Meridian Presbyterian Church in Butler, Pennsylvania. Under his leadership, the youth group expanded from fifteen to forty. When the church suffered an unfortunate split in 1984, he found a job as a counselor for emotionally disturbed teenagers at a children’s home in Butler — a demanding, but rewarding, job.
However, after a year at the children’s home, both Eric and his new wife, Jayanne, longed to be in church work again, but they did not know where God wanted them. They had been attending Westminster Presbyterian Church in Butler and had become very good friends with a fellow named Jeff Moes and his wife Beth.
JEFF: A MODEL CHILDHOOD
Born and raised in a Christian family in the conservative Dutch community of Holland, Michigan, Jeff was brought up in the Reformed Church of America and, from his earliest remembrance, his life was wrapped up in church activities. Because of excellent Sunday School teachers and youth ministers, Jeff accepted the Lord in the fifth grade and felt God’s call to the ministry while in high school.
Active in sports, during his senior year in high school Jeff was captain of the baseball team and Most Valuable Player. After graduation he attended Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, where he also played baseball and majored in Christian Education.
Jeff transferred to Wheaton College his junior year and became involved in the Christian Service Council (CSC), a multi-ministry organization involving about two-thirds of the Wheaton student body. His first year at Wheaton, Jeff worked in the inner city ministry of CSC; by his senior year he was sitting on the group’s cabinet and overseeing some 400 kids, coordinating all the ministries to the inner city of Chicago. The task was immense; Jeff visited six or seven ministries at least once a month, in addition to studies.
Upon graduation, Jeff became the Minister of Youth and Christian Education at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Butler, and a few months later married his wife Beth. He was the church’s first youth pastor and started out with six young people. When he left five years later, the group had grown to seventy!
The secret to the group’s success was a well-defined philosophy of youth ministry, which Jeff, Beth, and fourteen others devised, the focus of which was discipling. They organized a core group of six youth leaders whom they trained and discipled for a year. These youth were then able to disciple other youth while they each led a Bible study and continued their training.
Another key to success was the highly-organized visitation program designed by the youth staff. They divided a group of some two hundred contacts, and each staff member was required to write a letter, call, then visit each of the names on his list. Tremendous evangelistic opportunities opened up through this aggressive program, and Westminster’s youth matured in their faith as they ministered to the needs of these unchurched young people.
The group was also given ample opportunities to share their faith. They built their own mission program and became involved with ECHO (Emmanuel Church Help Outreach), a mission organization. During the summer, the young people worked for the elderly and the poor in the morning, then visited shut-ins and did open air evangelism in the afternoon. The hours were long and demanding — 8a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week for six weeks — but the youth loved it.
Every year, group leaders took the young people to a poverty-stricken area in another state to repair homes for a week. Jeff also took them to Jamaica through Ministries in Action to help construct a health clinic and a manse.
But it wasn’t all work. The group had great fun — white-water rafting, wilderness trips, rock climbing, and trips to amusement parks. The healthy balance between fun and ministry has paid off; more than twenty young people from the group have gone on to Christian colleges, and four have committed themselves to fulltime ministry.
CROSSFIRE IS CONCEIVED
In 1984, Jeff’s ministry at Westminster was growing so fast that he and his pastor began to envision reaching street kids through a drop-in center in the economically depressed area of downtown Butler, where the church was located.
Meanwhile, the friendship between Eric and Jeff had been deepening, and they discovered they had a common philosophy of ministry. Jeff suggested to the session that Eric — with his psychology and sociology degrees — would be perfect to run the drop-in center, and Eric was hired as Minister of Community Outreach.
Their plan was simple, but brilliant. Use the discipled youth at Westminster to help evangelize street kids at the coffeehouse. As the youth became believers, they could be integrated into the church youth group, discipled, then sent out to bring more street kids in. Jeff would work at the drop-in center part of the time getting to know the street kids, and Eric would work with the youth group part-time, making friends and getting them excited about the drop-in center ministry.
The two lost no time in making their dream a reality. They bought and totally renovated an old pool hall right in the center of the downtown area. Almost a small gym, the area was big enough for pool tables and for running games like kickball and dodgeball.
Within a month it was filled with street kids–long hair, jean jackets, unchurched, smoking — sixty to one hundred of them every Friday and Saturday night. The outreach center was a success!
But, suddenly, the future of the project seemed doomed. The church, for various reasons, felt it could no longer fully participate in the project and lessened their financial support. Although Jeff still continued to help by providing ideas, contacts, and materials, prospects for the center looked bleak.
But Eric felt that God had called him to this ministry, and he could not leave it. So, in 1985, he decided, with the church’s blessing, to leave his staff position at Westminster and incorporate; thus, Crossfire Ministries, Inc. was born. Six men from the church continued helping the ministry and became board members.
That first year was extremely difficult, with the burden falling squarely on Eric and Jayanne. Eric knew nothing about directing such a major operation or how to raise support for a $50,000 yearly budget. He was forced to trust God absolutely. Jayanne worked as a nurse to support them while Eric struggled to keep the ministry afloat.
The workload was exhausting. The center was open every evening, staffed by Eric, Jayanne, and only five volunteers. And this was no Sunday social; staff members regularly broke up fights and confiscated knives.
But Eric’s faith in God was rewarded. In the four years he headed the ministry, he saw many teens — from broken homes, on drugs, suicidal — come to know Christ. Skeptical of the Crossfire staff at first, they soon came to trust the workers. Often those who hated the staff vehemently became the most loyal, winning over the tougher kids.
Over the years, Crossfire expanded, beginning a prison ministry, tutoring programs, Bible studies, discipleship, social activities, and a food/clothing ministry to indigent families.
Today Crossfire is still a thriving, innovative ministry in Butler, with a volunteer staff of about twenty and a twelve-member board.
Jeff and Eric both left Butler for RTS at the same time, although neither influenced the other’s decision. Jeff is in the M.Div. program, and Eric is enrolled in M.Div. Missions.
But ministry is in their blood; consequently, neither has been sitting idle during seminary. His first year at RTS, Jeff led the junior high youth group at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Jackson and now pastors full-time at a Presbyterian church in Utica, a small town near Jackson.
Eric has raised his own support and has spent his seminary days ministering at the Rankin County Correctional Institute near Jackson. During the school year he is a part-time chaplain, and last summer he was a full-time staff member, working mainly in the maximum security section. He has even initiated a program in which Christian inmates can share their faith with youth groups touring the facility.
Here are two men, different in almost every way, yet brought together under the cross of Christ. In its shadow, with God’s leading, their differences have not been a hindrance; rather, they have been a catalyst for God’s mighty hand to work healing and redemption.