Eugene Cho

What I would say to Manti Te’o if I were his pastor…

manti

There might be something to learn for all of us in this story.

You might not be a sports fanatic like I am (but let’s not forget: Jesus above all things including football), but you may have heard the story of an incredible college football player from Notre Dame named Manti Te’o. If you follow sports and especially college football, you know that name. He was one of the final three Heisman Trophy finalists and won eight postseason awards this year becoming “the most decorated collegiate football player of all time.” In short, a football stud.

But over the past year, he gained even more attention for two particular personal tragedies that took place in his life – both within the same week time frame.  First, his grandmother passed away and then, his girlfriend passed away just hours after he learned that his grandmother passed away:

Te’o had talked openly during the season about his supposed relationship with a former Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, whom he claimed in a South Bend Tribune article to have met in 2009 after a football game. Kekua was said to have lost her battle with leukemia on Sept. 12, just hours after Te’o learned that his 72-year old grandmother had passed away. The story of how Te’o dealt with massive personal tragedy became front and center in his rise to national consciousness… [USA Today]

Like others, I was gripped and compelled by his story. I may or may not  have shed a tear after one of his interviews.

So, what’s the problem? In an unbelievable expose, Deadspin (a sports blog) revealed that Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking and Inspiration Story of the College Football Season Is A Hoax.

Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper…The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

After the news broke, Manti issued this personal statement:

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.

“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. “I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. “In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.

Listen, I’m not here to bash Manti. I’m not here to ridicule or mock him. I’m not even suggesting that Manti is lying or that his statement is not accurate but we can all agree that the whole story is absolutely bizarre and the total truth has yet to be fully revealed. But because I’m a believer in people – and more so – because I believe in the power of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration, I want to see Manti do well – not just as a football player – but as a man…as a human being…and as someone who often speaks of God.

If I were Manti’s pastor…

While more details will emerge in the future,  I wondered what kind of advice I would give him if I were Manti’s personal pastor. (Manti, being Mormon, is supposedly a deeply religious person.) Here are the four pieces of advice I’d give him:

1. The truth shall set you free.

Be honest. Be truthful.
Not half truthful. Not half honest. Not part truthful but completely truthful.
Completely honest – to the details.

Everything. Completely.

You owe this to yourself, to your supporters and fans, to your college, to your team, and to every single person that has been gripped by your story.

Truth is important because ultimately, it removes any possibilities of half-truths to be utilized as weapons from people whose motivation might be to hurt you or to bring you down; Truth is important because it has the power to remove the stronghold of deception in your own life. Confession, repentance, truth, and forgiveness are beautiful things. These are all gifts to us. They have the power to lead us towards a path of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration; They enable a path not only for God’s forgiveness and grace but also enables people on a path towards forgiveness as well.

What’s been difficult and painful (and infuriating) with the entire Lance Armstrong ordeal hasn’t just been the likelihood that he doped and cheated for so many years but that he kept maintaining and insisting on the deception that he was truthful and innocent – even at the expense of accusing others of lying against him.

In the end, truth prevails so don’t let truth be your nemesis, let it be your advocate.

Let truth be your liberator and not your oppressor.

2. Don’t play the victim card.

You are a grown man.
You are a big man.
You are a smart man.
You are a leader.
You are a follower of Christ.

It’s not to suggest that you are a perfect man as we’re all learning and growing. But part of growing as an adult, as a man, as a leader, and as a follower of God – in our character and integrity – is to own up to our mistakes.

Making mistakes – however big or small – really suck. They are painful – especially when we hurt others through our mistakes. But limit the suckitude: own up, learn, grow up, confess, repent, and move on – however slowly.

In short: Don’t play the victim card.

3. Watch the company you keep.

You’ve heard this. You’ve likely shared this in your talks to others.

Be careful who you surround yourself with.

Even those who you love might not be the best people to surround yourself with in all matters and decisions.

Be astute. Be prayerful. Be discerning. Be sharp. Be wise.

When you’ve hit rock bottom, people will want a piece of you. When you’ve reached a pinnacle in power, influence, and wealth…more and more folks will want  a piece of you. Therefore, be wise who gets a piece of you – both on the low points and high points of your life – and everywhere in between.

Through this ordeal, you’ll lose friends, fans, and supporters – (especially if you’re been complicit in some way). But through this ordeal, you’ll also learn to be that much more careful about who you surround yourself with – obviously not just online but in real life. And you’ll discover the friends and community that can help you through your life – even the lowest points of your life.

And in all things: Test the wisdom and advice from others through the lens of Scriptures, your faith, your convictions, the Holy Spirit…even the advice I give you.

4. Trust God. Your better years are ahead…

God loves you. Period.
God’s grace is bigger than your failures. Period.
God is bigger than the ferocity of the storms of our lives. Period.

God loves you – not for your football career but for you.

Trust God. Receive God. Walk with God. Go with God. This is the foremost thing. Even if you’ve lost everything, you’ll be on solid ground if you still have the truth of God in your life.

Believe this because this will be tested in your life.
Oh, you will be tested!

But this “embarrassing” situation does not have to define your life. It does not equate the end of your life. It is not the purpose of your life. You’re 22 years old…you still have your entire life before you.

Walk in truth, character, and integrity. Walk in faith.

Transformation does not happen overnight. Transformation is arduous and laborious but you can begin the process of transformation today. Take one step; then another and soon, these steps join together to be a path of restoration and redemption.

You are a fantastic football player. You’ll have an amazing football career. You’ll make a great deal of money. Steward that well. Be generous. Be gracious. But God did not create you to only play football. You’ll have an opportunity to influence and impact many people – not only through your strengths but also through your weaknesses; Not only through your accomplishments but also through your failures.

Remember, God and His grace is greater than your failures.

But through it all…keep your eyes focused on Christ.

Those would be some of my advice. How about you?

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9 Responses

  1. daredub says:

    Crazy story. Good list if you can get past #1.

  2. Victoria says:

    Fantastic words to live by for all of us. Thanks, Pastor Eugene!

  3. […] Eugene Cho says, “Be honest. Be truthful. Not half truthful. Not half honest. Not part truthful but completely truthful. Completely honest – to the details.” […]

  4. Barton says:

    It deeply troubles me that as a pastor, you wouldn’t ask him to repent of his cultic Mormon faith and follow the true Jesus Christ.

  5. Great advice for anyone! Thanks for sharing this clear minded perspective.

  6. logos says:

    To the generation who was not raised with virtual reality this seems like a laughable event. Whether the girl was real or not- Te’o gave his love sincerely and freely.

    This is tragic because you have generation of young people seeking authentic love and everywhere they turn its existence is denied. They don’t see it in the media, (quite often not in their parents), they witness a rejection of love for convenience and pleasure and yet they are starving.

    If we want this next generation to live in reality we have to give them a reality that is worth living in.

    “To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself.” Benedict XVI

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One Day’s Wages

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As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer.

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