I met Ray seven years ago while volunteering at an elementary school when he was nine years old and in the fourth grade. He was the typical kid who caught my eye: rambunctious, bold, bit of an attitude, bright, but often in trouble because of his impetuousness. He fit the profile of most of the boys at this school: stressed home and community environment due to poverty, crime and violence, no father at home, no positive male role model in his life. We did not hit it right off… he wasn’t much interested in me. I was interested in him though and I made pains to get to know him. It was about a year later that his younger brother was shot and killed, an innocent victim of gang violence outside of his home.
I continued to seek ways to connect with Ray. I was able to spend a lot of time with him and get to know him and his family. He was deeply affected by the loss of his brother. As the oldest, he felt somehow responsible. As a result, he carried around this guilt which would manifest in strange ways, never malicious or violent, but always self-destructive. He was always afraid that something like what happened to his brother would happen again to him or one of his family members. It has been his mom’s goal to get the family out of the city, but six years later they still live in the midst of an often violent community.
Miraculously, in spite of his home address, Ray has been able to manage a spiritual relocation on his own. Over the years, he has spent a lot of time with me: playing basketball every winter and spring, going to camps every summer, one on one outings with me or group trips with our other youth, service projects, church on Sundays, etc. Every time I roll up to Ray’s house in my van and he runs out to hop in, he is transported out of the neighborhood, even if the activity or planned event is still in the city. He’s instantly in a different place, emotionally and spiritually. His protective walls go down. His language, behavior, attitude… they all transform. Sometimes it takes awhile to change from street Ray to the Ray I know, but he transforms into this young man who knows he is loved and feels safe.
Today Ray is a young man… sixteen years old and in high school, well on his way to adulthood. He has some pretty rough edges but you know what? In his own fashion, he knows and loves the Lord. He’s still in school and has good prospects for graduating and doing something with his life. He’s never been in jail and does not use drugs or associate with gangs. And he’s alive. Considering the environment he’s had to grow up in these are very significant achievements. It’ll take a lot more work to help him begin to realize his potential, but we’re not going anywhere, and neither is the Lord.
When I think back over the years we’ve been here, I think of all the Rays… all the kids, all the hours, all the various events and activities… It all comes down to relationship. Making a difference in kid’s lives must begin with relationship. Making an eternal difference in their lives begins with introducing them to Christ. That’s what camp in the summer helps us to do. Like Ray, we have many kids who just need to get out of their environment for a moment to build a new everyday reality for themselves in Christ. $300 for a week at camp will help them do that. We’re asking you to consider a one time gift apart from your regular giving to contribute to this ministry of changing kid’s lives this summer. Every little bit helps. On behalf of Ray and others like him… thank you, and God bless!