WILDWOOD – Reggie Dabbs has been one of the most sought-after public school and event speakers in the U.S. for more than two decades. Dabbs relentlessly chases his personal passion by sharing a powerful story of tragedy, redemption and hope with millions each year. This fall, Dabbs will be joining IGNITE 2017, and he couldn’t be more thrilled. Dabbs sat down for an interview to share his upbringing and ministry, as well as what he plans to share with IGNITE.
When he was eight-years-old, Dabbs went to his first parent-teacher conference at his elementary school and noticed that all of his friends’ parents were much younger than his. On the car ride home, he yelled from the back seat, “Why y’all so old?” He learned that his parents had fostered him, and that his birth mother had other children, but he was considered a “mistake.”
“That was the first time I felt like I didn’t belong,” said Dabbs. Growing up Dabbs struggled with severe depression.
“But hope did come,” he said. “I found out my mom did love me because she gave me away to her favorite teacher at school, Lelia Dabbs. My mom’s tenth grade teacher loved Jesus and taught me everything I know.”
A defining moment changed Dabbs’ life when he was 12-years-old. One evening when he struggled with suicidal thoughts, his foster-care father, Bill Dabbs, walked into his room and said, “I can’t give you my blood. You’re not my son. But if you let me, I will give you my heart until the day I die.” According to Dabbs, that’s exactly what he did.
“He was a humble man,” he said. “He was a school janitor. And he was my hero.”
That night sparked Dabbs’ faith in Christ. He saw how his foster-care parents loved Jesus and watching their lives spurred him on to a relationship with God.
Relay: Why did you begin your youth ministry?
Dabbs: I don’t want anyone to grow up like me and I want everyone to run into a janitor like I did. If I could just be that janitor, I’ll be alright. Hope changes everything, and if it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.
I grew up in the church, going to conferences, listening to speakers, and I thought, “I could do that” when I was about 14-years-old. I decided to follow my dream and the one thing that kept coming back to me was, ‘no one would have to grow up the way I did and I could help somebody not have to hurt the way I did.’ That was my whole purpose, and it still is, even today.
Relay: What message will you be bringing to IGNITE?
Dabbs: No matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve done, Jesus can get you through. The title of my message will be, “He did it for me!”
We are going to go on a journey, part of which happened on December 7, 1988, when a kid was in an earthquake and his dad dug 39 hours to find him, and I’m going to tie that into God’s love for us.
Relay: What do you hope kids and youth leaders will come away with from the experience?
Dabbs: In one word, “hope.” No matter how close they are to Jesus, there is always hope, no matter what they’re going through. If they can leave with hope, I’ve done my job, with Jesus’ help.
Relay: Why is IGNITE important?
Dabbs: Any time you can get a group of kids together under the banner of Jesus, to look around and see different colors and ages worshipping God, it’s encouraging to them. It’s important for the body of Christ to come together in a place like that because then when it gets hard, kids still know that God will help. Kids will go back to that when times get tough.
Relay: What would you tell pastors, youth leaders, and church members as to why they should participate in IGNITE in any way possible?
Dabbs: We have go to build the next generation of leaders or else we die. If there is no one opening a door saying, “This is what Christianity is” and “This is what loving Jesus is like,” kids will find somewhere else to go. For the adults looking at kids, we have to give them an opportunity – a platform to see Jesus and see God’s work in people’s lives.
A lot of churches are small, and might only have a handful of young people. For them to walk into a room as big as IGNITE would blow their minds and help them dream and see a bigger picture than the one they’re in. For the adults, we have got to set the platform so kids can be great. Look at me, if a teacher and a janitor didn’t open their home and hearts to me, I know I would not be alive today. We don’t need to see the end result, we just need to love kids where they’re at.
Don’t miss the second price break for IGNITE 2017! Register now at www.ignitenj.org and reserve spots for your youth. Save time, avoid hassle, and print off permission slip letter drafts and templates for youth and parents.