Here’s a letter we forgot to post as we prepared to celebrate the graduations of our group of seniors–some of whom we have known since elementary school. It’s been quite a summer and it’s not over yet!
Me: “Hey man, just one month til you graduate!”
E: “Yeah, I can’t believe it.”
That’s how he said it. Not in an exclamatory tone, but with somber reflection. It made me pause, wasn’t he excited about this accomplishment? He went on to say that he never thought he would graduate. Then I realized… He didn’t think he would live this long. Now it was my turn to soberly reflect…
I wasn’t surprised. He had grown up in a violent part of North Minneapolis. His eight year old brother was killed by a stray bullet from gang violence which came through the walls of their house. He was thirteen years old at the time. Ever since then he has struggled with grief, loss, fear and survivor’s guilt.
His mom tried frequently to move them out of that neighborhood but was not able to for a long time. He was afraid to go out of his front door for school or anything. In order for him to participate in activities with us, I’d have to pick him up from his doorstep and drop him off there. If he was dropped off a block from his house he would run til he was home. He would call ahead to have his mom unlock the door so he could rush right in and not have to be waiting outside on the street.
We were so thankful when they were finally able to move out of that neighborhood, but violence seemed to follow him. When he was sixteen he watched his girlfriend’s mom be brutally murdered and was threatened by the perpetrator when he was asked to give his testimony in court. This young man was never involved or associated with gangs, never did drugs or committed crimes. He is a good-hearted person. School has always been a struggle for him due to behavioral and emotional issues stemming from obvious reasons. His experiences are common for many of our youth who grow up here in the city.
On my birthday he sent me this text (slang translation in brackets):
“& frfr [for real, for real] like… Iont know where I would be if I ain’t meet you man you really help me a lot on the low [confidentially] god has blessed you so many ways thanks for showing us a positive way to everything not many men like you to show the youth the right thing to do thanks for the motivation & being hard on us when it’s time to amen it’s a blessing to be in your life 1k [I really mean it!]”
So now he’s about to graduate and he can’t believe it. He has been active in our ministry community since he was a child: playing basketball, coming to church, going to camp… He has found, with our group, community, safety, acceptance and even joy. He’s found identity in Christ and purpose for living. He has plans and hope for the future. He will probably always be afraid, but he knows the perfect Love who casts out all fear.