The superintendent looked Steve in the eyes.
“Steve,” he said, “the sheriff told me he had never investigated a phone that had been used with more integrity. It was full of positive and encouraging text messages. He went on and on about the love and compassion he saw on your phone. It was like nothing he’d ever seen.”
Steve smiled and breathed a deep sigh as the superintendent placed Steve’s phone in his hand.
While he knew nothing inappropriate was on his phone, he marveled at how God had used this arduous ordeal for His glory.
But for now, let’s back up to the beginning of the story...
As an industrial maintenance teacher at a public high school and a pastor, Steve Moore was committed to teaching his students a trade as well as building authentic, caring relationships with them. His classes were typically composed of boys, as they tended to be more attracted to the machines and the type of work done in the class. But every so often, a girl enrolled in his class. When this happened, Steve would go out of his way to help the female student feel comfortable and valued.
This particular school year, a girl named Olivia had enrolled in Steve’s industrial maintenance class. So, he made an extra effort to connect with her and encourage her. One day, while the class tackled a work-based learning project, Olivia rolled up the long sleeves that usually hid her arms. When she did so, Steve noticed several scars on her forearms—scars that looked as if they resulted from cutting. He didn’t say anything, but Olivia realized that he had seen her scars. Later, Olivia confided in him that she had tried to commit suicide a few times. Steve felt comfortable letting her talk and share whatever was on her heart because another student was in the room to witness the exchange. He wanted to provide Olivia extra support, so he gave her his wife’s cell phone number. His wife would often work with some of the female students at their church and was willing to be there for Olivia in whatever way she could.
At the beginning of every school year, Steve gave his cell number to his students in case they had any questions or needed extra support. Like all of Steve’s students, Olivia had his cell phone number. Every time she would text him, Steve would make sure to group his wife into all correspondence to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Additionally, Steve always encouraged open discussion in his classes. He often left his Bible or a devotional on his desk and welcomed any inquiries from students about his faith. He never wanted any questions to go unasked...or unanswered. At the same time, Steve made it clear that his answers were his opinions based on his experiences and his personal relationship with God. Eventually, Olivia started to stop by Steve’s desk and ask questions about Jesus and the Bible. She told him that she was either an atheist or agnostic, but she was still interested in what he had to share.
As the school year went on, Olivia began to trust Steve and his wife more. The stronger her trust in them grew, the more she shared with them. A few times Olivia began crying during Steve’s class as she shared her struggles with him. Each time she broke down, he took her to the school counselor to receive extra support. Throughout this time, Steve and his wife regularly tried to keep connected with Olivia, inviting her to events or concerts at their church. They wanted her to feel loved and a part of a positive environment because they didn’t know what type of environment Olivia might be exposed to at home.
One day, Olivia came to class beaming. When Steve inquired about her new disposition, she proudly rolled up her sleeve to show him a tattoo covering her scars. She explained that she had gotten the tattoo because she didn’t want to be known for the scars anymore. The tattoo was an outward symbol of the changes occurring inside of her. God was working in her heart, bringing healing and hope.
Unfortunately, the enemy was at work as well. A few of Olivia’s friends who claimed to be Wiccans had drawn symbols with evil connotations on her bedroom walls. Olivia asked Steve about some of these symbols, so they talked about what they represented. He told her that he believed having these symbols in her room was not good for her and suggested that these friends might not be a positive influence on her life. This advice eventually circulated to her friends and one of their moms. Like others in the school, these friends and this mom were aware that Olivia and Steve had been building a friendship. The mom didn’t like that a Christian teacher was talking with Olivia, so she took the opportunity to level a charge of an inappropriate relationship with a student against Steve.
A few days after the allegations against Steve were reported, the principal came down to Steve’s room and told him they needed to talk. Steve followed the principal to his office where the sheriff sat waiting for Steve. The sheriff informed Steve that a parent had accused him of having an inappropriate relationship with a female student.
Initially, Steve felt shocked and confused.
“Me?” he politely asked.
All of his life, Steve had worked hard to be a man of integrity. He intentionally tried to act in such a way that inappropriate motivation or behavior would never be suspected of him. And yet there he was, like Joseph before Potiphar (Gen. 39), being falsely accused.
After Steve took a minute to collect his thoughts, he decided to trust God, respond with grace, and put the burden of proof in His hands.
The sheriff then went on to say he had to confiscate Steve’s cell phone to search for evidence of an inappropriate relationship.
Steve held out his phone and said, “Absolutely.”
This response surprised the sheriff. “You’re just going to hand over your phone?”
Steve calmly told the sheriff that he had nothing to hide. He then asked if he could talk to his wife before he surrendered his cell phone. With the sheriff’s permission, Steve called his wife. She tried convincing him to reconsider handing over his phone just in case something on it could be misinterpreted or could appear incriminating. But, he reassured her that no such evidence existed. Furthermore, he felt that God was telling him to surrender the phone willingly. After Steve finished his call and handed over his cell phone, the sheriff divulged that he already had a warrant for the phone. He just wanted to observe Steve’s reaction when asked to willingly surrender it.
In the following days, Steve’s wife urged him to reach out to CEAI for help and support. CEAI representatives supported him, offered advice, provided encouragement, and prayed with and for him during this scary and challenging time.
The investigation went on for several weeks. During this time, Steve was allowed to continue teaching. His principal knew Steve was a man of integrity, believing him when he claimed his relationship with Olivia was never inappropriate. Also, Olivia was allowed to stay in the industrial maintenance class, but she was instructed to cut off any other form of communication with Steve and his wife.
As the weeks dragged on, Steve and his wife struggled with fear and worry at times. But their close friends and family continued to reassure them that the truth would prevail.
Finally, the day came when Steve was called back to the principal’s office. This time, just the superintendent sat waiting to meet with Steve. The superintendent gave Steve his phone and told him that the investigation was over. All accusations against Steve were proven to be false. Steve also learned of the sheriff’s positive remarks about his phone at this time. Even though Steve knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, he still felt relieved to know the ordeal was over.
But the story didn’t end there…
As an innocent victim in this whole situation, Olivia had been robbed of valuable and meaningful communication with Steve and his wife for weeks. But, God was still changing Olivia through their ministry. As a result, Olivia did not respond to the negative consequences of these false accusations with anger and resentment. Instead, she decided to honor Steve and the positive impact he had on her life by nominating him for an industrial maintenance teacher’s award offered in her state. Olivia spent several hours composing a letter of recommendation. She wrote about the many ways that Steve had cared for her, encouraged her, and made her feel valuable and known.
The result? Steve won the award!
What the enemy meant for evil, God used for good.
Steve’s story demonstrates that when we live a life of integrity, we can stand on God’s promises and trust that He is in control. Steve chose to trust God even when he didn’t understand or deserve the challenge he faced. Instead of getting angry, He responded to the false accusations with grace, believing that God would expose the truth. Like Steve, if we allow our lives to be used for His purposes and trust that God will act on our behalf, He will be glorified.
Shawn Washburn, the father of four great kids and one energetic dog, lives in Cleveland, Ohio. You can find him at shawnwashburn.com, where he hosts the Engineering Your Business podcast and helps business leaders optimize their people and processes.
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