I suspect that summer goes by too quickly for any parent who is sending her first child off to college. But what a beautiful summer it was! In spite of our record-breaking heat, we enjoyed so many blessings of being with kids and lifting up the name of Jesus. We had our little track squad participate in the Minneapolis Park and Rec summer track program and got to see the fellows win races and have fun learning a new sport. All three of our camps were times of growth and discovery and God was present in all the planned and unplanned aspects of the camps (including our son Ezra fracturing his collarbone on the last night of Manhood Camp during a too-thrilling game of Romans and Christians.) We had a chance to go camping for a few days as a family and to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park. We spent time as a church this summer preparing to send some of our young men off to college.
But one memory from the summer calls me frequently to prayer and reminds me why we continue to press on in our call to serve Jesus here in the city. One morning in the last days of May our phone rang. We haven’t changed our number in 24 years for a reason. As is often the case, it was a young man we hadn’t heard from in almost eighteen years, a boy who, when he was ten years old, had been in one of Chris’s Bible clubs at Park Avenue Church. We lost touch with him after his family moved out of the neighborhood, but Chris had heard reports of James over the years—gang life, violence, jail…. James was calling to reconnect. He had recently returned to Minneapolis from living elsewhere for several years. He came by to visit and told us his story. After leaving south Minneapolis, his family bounced around the metro area for years. His growing up was rough—addicted parents, abuse, no stability or security. It broke my heart when I heard him say, “Chris, those couple of years of knowing you was as close to a father as I ever had.”
After fathering a child in Connecticut, James began to choose life. He helped care for his son. He returned to church. He looked for work. But, he had come back to Minneapolis after a falling out with his baby’s mother because his twin brother was here—the only other significant relationship in his life. He showed us a folder filled with sketches and some prototypes and a patent pending—he had designed a number of educational toys and child items during his son’s infancy. He hoped to find work and even pursue his dreams of designing and inventing. We prayed with him and rejoiced in his desire to follow Jesus and live a life he and his son could be proud of.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I am on the front porch, praying with James before church, as the tears rolled down his face. Because of his gang tattoos(which are even on his face), because of numerous threats to his life received at venues as commonplace as the grocery store, because he had been chased and shot at and people near him had been endangered, because once you have a gang identification you are a marked person even when you want to live in peace, it had become clear that he could not make his new start in Minneapolis.
So often I wonder what would be possible if we had all kinds of money and resources…but we did what we could—we bought him a bus ticket back to Connecticut. It all happened so quickly—danger was so imminent—I didn’t really even get to say goodbye. Somewhere out there is a young man who is trying to find his way in the world and follow Jesus against so many odds. I pray for James often and hope we hear from him again one day.
Thank you for your gifts and prayers which enable us to continue to serve Jesus and our neighbors here in south Minneapolis.