Part of the Family

Part of the Family

Matt Lynch’s telephone rang. On the other end of the line was Austin McKinney, one of the tenants in the rental property Matt and his wife, Sandy, own next door to their own home in Marshall, Texas. Austin and three family members had been in a car accident four hours away in the small town of Ranger, midway between Fort Worth and Abilene on Interstate 20. They were returning to Marshall from Amarillo when the car in which they were traveling twice rolled over at 73 miles per hour before slamming into a median. The car was totaled, but nobody was seriously injured.

Matt checked the time. It was 6 p.m. A schoolteacher with a 45-minute commute every morning, Matt knew that if he made the trek west to pick up Austin and his family, it would cause one long night, followed by a much longer day. He never hesitated. He hopped in his van and began the long drive to Ranger.

It was the first time Matt rescued Austin. It wasn’t the last.

••••••••

Growing up in Douglasville, Georgia before moving to Florida in his early teens, Austin never had it easy. He said his mom did the best she could and his grandparents have always been great, but he never really had a father figure.

“I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to be a man,” Austin, whose parents never wed but had an on-again, off-again relationship for most of his life, said. “I came from a broken home. I have a broken background. Growing up, I told myself I wasn’t going to become a statistic. Most people I know who came from a broken home end up in jail or dead. I said that would never happen to me.”

Austin McKinney porch

“I just kept thinking ‘Now what have I done with my life?’ I turned my back on God. I was full of guilt and shame. I knew I needed God in my life.” – Austin McKinney (photo credit: Alyssa Rummel)

But, it did. After moving to Florida, Austin started hanging out with guys that he called “the wrong people.” Eventually, he ran away from home and began living with a friend.

“I was hanging out with bad guys and doing drugs,” he said. “I thought they were my friends.”

One December day in 2011, he and those same friends hatched a plan to rob a local drug dealer that Austin was having problems with. They never did get into the dealer’s residence, and never saw or confronted him. But police officers caught Austin and his crew and he was charged with attempt to commit home invasion robbery with a firearm and a ski mask.

“It’s a big charge,” Austin said. “It’s punishable with up to life in prison.”

He didn’t get life, but he did get sent to jail. Behind bars, Austin accepted Jesus as his Savior.

“I remember praying, ‘God, I’ll quit smoking and quit drinking. I’ll do anything you want me to do, if you just help me now.’”

A year into his sentence, he was released with three years of probation.

Seventeen months after regaining his freedom, Austin willingly broke his probation. He had been given a chance he never had before, and no set of consequences was going to deter him from grabbing it.

“I moved out of state to be with my dad,” he said. “I had never had a great relationship with him, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it.”

•••••••

Austin and his dad moved from Michigan to Marshall in 2015. Soon, his dad was gone again, and Austin moved in with his cousins next door to the Lynches.

“It was kind of a volatile family,” Matt remembers. “Austin showed up at their house one day. He moved in, and we just kind of invited him over to get to know him. He would come by and we’d just shoot the breeze, because he didn’t have a father around.”

The car wreck in Ranger came just six days shy of Austin’s 21st birthday. Unable to reach anyone else willing to help, Austin called Matt.

“He was the only person who’d come and pick us up,” Austin said.

On the way back to Marshall, Austin sat in the front seat talking to Matt. Eventually, the conversation turned spiritual.

“I’m not a reach-out-and-preach- at-people person,” Matt said. “But God was nudging me, and there was no better opportunity than this to talk to them about the Lord. Austin was very open and receptive to the conversation. We talked the entire way back about salvation and what it means to be saved.”

“He wasn’t in my face about things,” Austin recalled of that conversation. “We just had this conversation about God, and Matt got on my level. We both talked and listened to each other.”

That next Sunday was Austin’s birthday, and he joined the Lynches at Mobberly Baptist Church’s Marshall campus. He rededicated his life to Jesus that day, and was baptized at Mobberly the next week.

Austin was making a change in his life. The cousins he was living with wanted no part of those changes.

“It just didn’t work out,” Austin said of his living situation. “That’s when Matt and Sandy invited me to come and live with their family.”

•••••••

Inviting people in need of help to stay with them isn’t anything new for the Lynches. When pressed, Matt and his 12-year-old daughter, Emily, rattled off the names of a half dozen people over the years who have stayed with them for anywhere from a couple weeks to a year-and-a-half.

“Sandy is the epitome of a Good Samaritan,” Matt said of his wife. “I was raised from the standpoint of looking out for yourself first and then other people after that. But not Sandy. She is an orphans and widows person.

“It took me awhile to get accustomed to that, but once I did, we embraced it,” he said. “God seems to steer people in our direction.”

One person the Lynches took in was a high school student who had a rough home life. Another was a college student. Some were friends that just needed help. Most were experiencing hardship, financially or otherwise.

“The ones that are really in need are the ones that we take in,” Matt said.

The result is a household often in flux, with people moving in and out, and all of the adjustments that come with it.

Emily’s older brother, Hunter, frequently gets displaced from his bedroom, sometimes having to sleep in a spare bed in Emily’s room. Even with all the adjustments, Emily wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love it when we have someone come stay with us or we have kids move in next door,” she said. “Having someone live with us is like us going to church every Sunday. We’ve always done that.”

“The kids really are kind of cool about everything,” Matt said. “We’d tell them, ‘OK, we’re going to have someone staying with us,’ and Emily would matter-of-factly say, ‘OK.’  It’s all she knows. We’ve been doing this since she was four or five years old.”

Emily’s heart for others extends far beyond the walls of her home, though. She and some of her friends at school have formed a group aimed at building relationships with classmates who do not have a relationship with Jesus. She  just wants everyone to know Jesus.

•••••••

Austin McKinney arms folded

“Moving in with (the Lynches) was a lifestyle change. It was clean and productive. Sometimes it was fast-paced and hectic. But, it was a change that was well worth it.” – Austin McKinney (Photo credit: Alyssa Rummel)

As they invest in the lives of the people they come to know, the obvious reward for the Lynches is the change they see in others’ lives. Of all of their guests, nobody’s life changed more than Austin’s.

“Moving in with them, that was a lifestyle change,” Austin said. “It was clean and productive. Sometimes, it was fast-paced and hectic. But, it was a change that was well worth it.”

When Matt told Austin that the Lynches wanted Austin to move in with them, Matt wanted to make him feel at ease. It was easy, Matt told him. They would just move a bed into the home office and he could use that room as his own bedroom.

“I’ve never had a bed,” Austin told him. For the previous few months, he’d been crashing on his cousin’s couch.

Austin began to find his niche at Mobberly, growing spiritually and serving wherever he could. He also began to build a bond with Matt, something that was pretty new for him.

“You know, I would always reach out to older men, seeking a father figure. Whenever they would get close enough to where they could mentor me and say, ‘No, don’t do that, Austin,’ I would push them away. I’d tell myself that I’d done this on my own this long, I can keep doing it myself.

“My dad would call me names and belittle me. Matt never did that. When I was in the wrong, Matt was never quick to throw stones. He didn’t get mad at me every time I messed up. But he would gently instruct me.

“Matt has been one of the best father figures I’ve had, along with my granddad” Austin said. “My granddad and my grandmother have always been really good to me.”

Still, there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, and Austin and the Lynches have undoubtedly had their moments. Austin admitted that the Lynches would walk on eggshells around him because he harbored anger issues. Often, they were afraid to say things to him because they had no idea how he might react.

“We didn’t want to live like that,” Matt said. “I explained to him that we are a family and that he was a part of this family. I remember saying, ‘Get over it and be a part of this family!’ We had to explain to him that we wanted him up in the morning eating breakfast with us, because that was our family time. If we were doing devotionals, we wanted him there with us. He was with us in everything we did.”

Austin soon took a job at a local restaurant and began hanging out with a co-worker. That friendship led him back into the world of drugs and alcohol. When Matt confronted Austin about it, Austin lied, breaking the most important rule in the Lynch household. Matt gave Austin one last chance to tell him the truth, and Austin came clean. Then Austin dropped another bombshell: he was going back to Georgia to live with his mom.

•••••••

As it turned out, Austin wasn’t in Georgia long. One day after he arrived, a police officer ran his ID and the parole violation showed up. He was headed back to jail.

Austin spent a couple weeks in a county jail before he was transferred to a Florida penitentiary. During the drive to Florida, the van driver popped in a Christian rap CD.

“I started listing to the words, and I started crying,” Austin said. “I just kept thinking, ‘Now what I have I done with my life?’ I turned my back on God. I was full of guilt and shame. I knew I needed God in my life.”

Austin remembers the conversation he had with the van driver like it was yesterday.

“I asked if he could get me a napkin because I’d been crying,” Austin said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll get you one, but first I need to tell you that God says that He loves you and He’ll never leave your nor forsake you.’”

Over the next two hours, the prison van driver and the prisoner shared a conversation that once again opened Austin’s heart to God.

In total, Austin was incarcerated for 11 months because of his parole violation. During that time, Austin kept his face buried in a Bible. He attended chapel services twice a day. Matt and Sandy corresponded with Austin during his entire stint behind bars.

“At first, he was really surprised that we continued to stand behind him,” Matt said. “When it came time for him to be released, we told him that we wanted him to come back. We knew that there was a huge change that occurred. He was actually ministering to people in prison.”

Austin was released without further probation, and he went back to Georgia to be with his family. But after a few weeks, he returned to his home in Marshall with the Lynches. When he returned, the people at Mobberly were waiting for him with open arms.

Austin McKinney Matt and Sandy Lynch

“I explained to him that we are a family and he is a part of this family. We wanted him up in the morning eating breakfast with us, because that was our family time. If we were doing devotionals, we wanted him there with us. He was with us in everything we did.” – Matt Lynch (photo credit: Alyssa Rummel)

“The thing Austin was most worried about after he was released from prison was how the church would treat him,” Matt said. “He walked through the door like a celebrity. It was crazy to see the number of people that came up and hugged him and told him how much they missed him. That brought him to tears. It was amazing.”

“It made me feel good,” Austin said of his reception at Mobberly. “Like this is how the church should be. I felt like I was actually in the family of God.”

Austin jumped headfirst into any ministry opportunity he could find. Often, they were at Mobberly. Often, they weren’t.

“When he found Christ, he caught fire,” Matt said. “If you stopped in Wal-Mart, he was going to preach to you. He ministered to homeless people.”

“He found someone on the street and started ministering to them,” Emily said with a grin.

Austin is engaged to be married now, and he recently moved to the Sacramento area to be with his fiancée. His relationship with the Lynches will endure.

“I’ve developed a relationship with them and it continues to grow, because they look at me as one of their own,” Austin said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t know God like I do. I feel like God put them in my life because He wanted to show me what a family could be like.

“They were parents to me. Every time I went off the track, they were right there to nudge me back on. They have three children, and I look at them as brothers and sisters.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I have no doubt he is my brother,” Emily said.

“Absolutely, he is family,” Matt said. “If anything ever happened – and this goes for anyone who has lived with us – all they would have to do is show up on the doorstep. No questions asked. They all just become part of the family.”

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