“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me, Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23.4
I want to share a story of one of our kids which is typical of the work we do. His eight year old brother was shot and killed three years ago, victim of a stray bullet from nearby gang violence. A woman in our church was his teacher at school and introduced me to him and his brother. In all the media and community attention they had received, no one was trying to help these boys deal with what they were going through. He was afraid to leave the house. He struggled with guilt over what had happened to his little brother. He would only do something with me if I picked him up at his doorstep and returned him there when we were finished. He began coming to practice and playing basketball with us. This led to camp in the summer and to church.
On Facebook and with his peers he often expresses himself in vulgar and shocking ways. This behavior is so unlike him…in person, his is a friendly and open, albeit hyper, personality. I believe this behavior is a way to cope with the violence which surrounds him. In addition to his little brother, he has had several shootings occur near where he lives, some of them involving acquaintances from school.
Our group has become a safe place for him to be. With us he can play, hang out, even talk about mature issues teenagers face in an affirming environment. He is encouraged to be the positive young man that he is and not try to act tough or “street”. Neither he nor any of the boys are allowed to speak or act disrespectfully towards themselves, others or one another when we’re together. Our hope is that this carries over into their conduct when they are away from us. For a few times a week he has found community, a safe place where he belongs and people care about him. Through his involvement with us he is experiencing Christian community and having fun… being mentored, playing basketball on a team, coming to church and going to camp. His demons have not left him completely. The other day he was at his friend’s house and during an argument among the adults someone pulled out a gun. He disappeared for a while before I was able to find him and bring him back.
Recently at church I had gone around the room and asked each person if Jesus’ death and resurrection was personal to them, if it was real. When I got to him he looked at me blankly and said “I don’t know”. A few days later I was able to follow up with him. We were talking about the incident with the gun and I asked him the same question again, “Is Christ real to you? Do you know He is with you always?” And he replied that yes he did know that. I asked, “So when that gun came out, were you afraid? Where was God then? He told me how he felt that God was with him watching out for Him and when I asked, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because I believe that He died on the cross for my sins and that He lives in me, I learned that at camp.”
Thank you for your gifts and prayers which enable us to provide community for young men like him this summer. If you’d like to see pictures of our summer check out our Facebook page.