There is that line from the movie “Field of Dreams” where they say, “If you build it, they will come.” That was long gone baseball players to a diamond in the cornfields of Iowa, however, I feel like we have launched our own version of that with our 12-passenger van, “if you buy it, they will fill it up.” Since being tasked with purchasing a van by our board in March, Chris hunted, compared and brought home a 12-passenger van. The very first day he took it out to pick up boys, it filled to capacity and has been full of boys every trip since. We were never quick to acquire a van because of the expense, added insurances, gas and questions about where to keep it, especially in the winter, but we reached a place of necessity and so will have to trust God to help work out the additional concerns associated with it.
One reason the van has been seeing so much action is that Chris is fielding two basketball teams-one middle school and one high school- for the spring AAU season. While there are some negatives regarding the climate and culture of traveling basketball, the season continues to provide the thing we are in business for: relationship building with young people. It is those relationships that allow us to introduce them to the love of God that we know through Christ Jesus.
Sometimes I wonder how long Chris will have the stamina and perseverance necessary to keep building these kinds of relationships that allow him to speak into the lives of young people. I was recently reminded of everything that he goes through to build and maintain these relationships with so many young men with complex lives and wounded hearts. He came home one night to tell me the story of their tournament day. His team had been moved up a class in the tournament, due to lack of teams at their level and had been utterly blown out in the first game of the day. Some of the boys can cope with that kind of thing, while in others, that kind of trouncing triggers lots of emotion and touches into places of hurt and woundedness.
By the second game, one of our long time kids was just barely holding on and by the end of the game left the group, acting out some of his frustration. His older brother, who grew up with us himself, kept talking to Chris, telling Chris to get in his little brother’s face and straighten him out, confront all his behaviors, etc. Time after time that day, Chris had to tell the older brother, “No. I know your brother. I know how he works. If I go confront him now, he won’t be able to listen. He will explode and our relationship will be broken. It has happened before. He needs to be left alone right now.”
All day, Chris had to rebuff the elder brother’s wishes. Chris kept reminding him that he had been the same way at that age. By the middle of the last game of the night, which the team was winning without the help of our missing boy (a team leader), our wayward player came to Chris with red eyes, asking if it was okay if he joined his team to sit on the bench and support them for the rest of the game. Another victory for Coach Chris in his life of building and keeping relationships going in the storms of life and hurt that blow through the lives of the young men we serve! You would have to travel far and wide to find anyone who has the ability to love and build relationships like Chris –his unique combination of spiritual maturity, patience and wisdom in how to negotiate a world many could never enter much less navigate for so many years is really so unusual. I give thanks to God for the way that our ministry has allowed him to use his unusual gifts to build the kingdom of God here in Minneapolis.
We are serving two extra dinners each week after practices and often one or more breakfasts or lunches on game days, so we are always grateful for your gifts that keep us here playing basketball, driving full vans, serving up food and pointing always, we hope, towards the Bread of Life. I wish you all could have seen our house church yesterday–Fifteen young Black men praising God with such enthusiasm—what a gift and blessing that I get to be part of God’s work here—such joy. We are grateful for your continued gifts and prayers.