Posted on : Monday June 13, 2011

Sam (left) and his father Rob Downs found their relationship flourishing the more they got involved in missions. Inset: Sam plays with a Guatamalan girl on a mission recent trip with BCM/D’s Amped Student Ministry.

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

FREDERICK, Md.— Seven years ago, when Sam Downs was six years old, his father Rob was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. He underwent surgery to remove the primary tumor and three months of chemotherapy to remove the metastatic growths.

It was a challenging time for the whole family, but Sam was deeply impacted, Rob shared.  “I believe that in a six-year old’s mind their father is a superhero who is beyond the reach of illness, weakness, or death.”

When Rob explained his illness to Sam, he shared that Lance Armstrong survived the same disease. “I explained that Lance was a world-class athlete and cyclist before cancer, but had never won a Tour de France. However following his treatment, he set the world record for consecutive Tour victories,” Rob said, explaining that just as Lance had become a better cyclist following cancer, he would become a better father.

Sam replied, “I don’t want a better father. I want you just the way you are.”

The statement challenged Rob. Was he the father he should be?

Fast-forward seven years and Sam is on his first international mission trip. He traveled April 16-23 with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware’s student ministry, Amped, on its annual mission trip to Guatemala.

While there, the team installed stoves in the residents’ homes, adding chimneys that led smoke outdoors—out of harm’s way. Sam used the opportunity to share how God had given his family the strength to deal with his father’s illness.

The trip challenged Sam to be “more devoted to God,” something that has had a residual effect on the whole family.

Pointing to the Apostle Paul, who became “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22), Rob explained, “Sam became a Guatemalan kid to the Guatemalans” when he played with the children.

The difference in culture and language in San Cristobal didn’t stop the seventh-grader from wholeheartedly reaching out to the children. But it did make him question whether he was being “all things” for Christ in his every day life in Frederick, Md.

For the past four-to-five years, Sam has played on a travel hockey team, which has consumed a lot of his—and his father’s—time. Though it has taught valuable skills, such as sportsmanship and teamwork, the father-son duo and Sam’s mother Lora and sister, Nadya, wondered if the busyness caused them to “run without aim.”

So they had a family meeting to discuss the situation.

“We sat down and asked ourselves: Should we change what we are doing?” Rob said. The family decided to take a year off from the travel hockey to pursue what God would have them do.

Out of that decision came opportunities for a father/son ministry that has brought healing and direction—not only for Sam, but also for Rob.

As a young boy, when Rob’s parents divorced, Rob found he also divorced himself from God. He attended church on holidays, but he struggled with his mom giving of her meager resources to the beautifully decorated stained glass Presbyterian church.

Over time, through his stint through the Coast Guard and beyond, Rob fell further away from the church. It wasn’t until meeting and developing a relationship with his new mother-in-law, a Christian, that he and his wife began to pursue spiritual matters.

Ultimately, it was at a non-denominational church in San Francisco that Rob surrendered to Jesus. He told Jesus, “I give up. I’m done running. I’ll accept that Your Word is true.”

It was in this small church of 40-50 people that Sam was born—and where Rob and his wife were mentored through the Scripture.

Later, the Downs moved to Maryland, where Rob now works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the U.S. Department of Commerce. The family attends Summit Trace Church in Frederick, where they have actively been involved in mission trips in Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.

“For four years in a row, Sam has gone on a mission trip,” Rob shared, noting Sam was eight years old when he went on his first trip.

“His passion brought me along,” shared Rob, adding that the family is doing local missions as well. Ironically, it was the shared mission efforts that helped Rob be a better father. The efforts together offered the father and son ample opportunities to talk about God and about what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.

In other words, the missions experiences “help me to see the kind of man my dad is as a Christian, so that I can be like him,” Sam said.

Acknowledging the importance of such opportunities, Rob and Sam are developing a father/son small group for their church and may have opportunity to assist with father/son retreats led by Doug DuBois of the Amped student ministry.

DuBois, BCM/D’s missionary for student evangelism, envisions bringing fathers and sons together so that fathers can take on their God-given role as the primary disciplers of their children. To that end, he is developing a model for families to use on an ongoing basis.

To learn more, contact DuBois at (301) 991-8890 or [email protected]. To learn about Amped and the many opportunities for students, visit online at http://ampedministry.org or www.facebook.com/ampedministry.