I got together with an old friend a few weeks ago. Toney is a friend I met long ago at the Steubenville West conference, and the last number of years of Toney's life have truly inspired me. While we were talking I was moved to share his story with you; He has given me permission to share, and I tell you a small part of his story for no reason other than that it has greatly inspired me and may do the same for you, too.
Toney lives, moves, and breathes selflessness. He works as a youth minister as well as an aide with people with special needs. With those two jobs alone, he has virtually no free time, but volunteers in many different capacities in a few other ministries. He holds Bible studies, plans extra retreats when he knows his teens want them, and holds a Mass, coffee, and doughnuts gathering for teens at 6:45 AM regularly. He goes to work early and stays late simply because he loves his teens and has an immense desire to tend to their souls. He, like many youth ministers you may know, gives far beyond what is expected and asked of him to lead everyone around him closer to Christ and closer to the Kingdom. That all inspires me greatly, but in regards to all the wonderful, giving people who surround me, Toney's story is a little different.
Toney's only sibling Danny was murdered in 2010. A week before his brother was killed, Toney had been called by a parish offering him a job in youth ministry. He was working for a security company at the time and was unsure as to whether he would take the offer or not, but as soon as he lost his brother, he knew God was moving in some way through that opportunity. In the week after Danny's death, Toney was sitting in his room, and while he was sad and angry with God, he felt something change. He told me that he realized clearly in that moment that he had the choice. He could choose good or he could choose anger, addiction, or a life without faith. Toney decided to step up and choose good, most especially for his brother. He knew that the only way to honor his brother's life was to honor Christ and be an example of forgiveness and love to everyone he meets. That brought him to his life of generous ministry today that inspires so many around him. He is able to share his testimony with teens and adults alike, and the impact it has is truly amazing.
While a tragedy like this has never happened to me in my life, I have seen the common outcry of the world to events like this when they happen. "Where is God in such tragedy," people demand to know. A frequent response is to move away from faith, to blame God, or to be angry enough with God to stop believing in Him altogether. I have seen many people have such a reply, and that's why I am even more moved by Toney. He chose to step up in an even bigger way in his faith as his response. He makes me pause to think, "Would I be able to do the same thing?"
Toney's family experiences the extreme pain of losing a family member to violence every day. After many years of heartache and waiting, the trial to bring those responsible for Danny's death to justice is set to happen this month, and I beg you to keep his family in your prayers through this very difficult time.
At the end of our late meeting, I hoped Toney would be going home to relax after an incredibly long day at the church. I told him to go home and rest, and in response he showed me an envelope packed full of Target gift cards. They had been donated for families for Christmas and he was going to go spend his night buying carts and carts full of gifts, calling all his friends who could maybe help lend a truck and a hand and get all the gifts where they needed to go so the less fortunate could have a little glimmer of light in their lives.
Thank you, Toney, for showing me that giving of ourselves as Christ gave to us really is the only reason any of us are here. May God bless you infinitely, my friend.