May 2019

I’d like to tell y’all about Joe.

I met Joe because I was looking for kids to fill out my elementary basketball team.  This was two years ago. He was friends with some of the kids on the team and when I came to pick them up one day he was out in the alley playing with them.  I asked his friends about him, then approached him with an invitation to play.  He said he’d like to so I had him introduce me to his mom and after she gave consent I brought him with the other boys to practice.

Joe is not an athletic kid.  He spends most of his time playing video games.  He attends one of the harshest schools in the community.  A kid doesn’t go there unless he is unable to attend anywhere else due to severe behavior and emotional issues.  Joe is bi-racial, a blend of white and black parents  and the kids don’t let him forget it.  He lives with his mom and younger siblings and dad is not in the picture. I don’t know Joe’s whole story, but his past includes abuse and family violence.

Over time I gradually began to get a sense of Joe.  I knew the potential for extreme behavior was there because of where he attended school (that was fine with me, he’d fit right in with the rest of the guys), but he never had any episodes with me.  It was obvious he was a troubled kid.  He was very wary of me but the presence of his friends and other kids reassured him.

Gradually we got to know each other.  He liked what we were doing as a group so he committed to spending time with us and I had a chance to invest time in him.  We had lots of time to observe each other; at practice, on outings like bowling or sports events, or just riding around in the van.  We slowly began to establish a relationship of trust.  He was often hungry when he’d jump in the van.  I knew he began to trust me when he would ask me for something to eat instead of waiting for me to offer it to him (I always keep a box of granola bars in the car). Where initially he was silent around me he began to express his curiosity about me, my family, my work…  That was the first time I told him about the Lord.

Joe seemed perfectly fine with me, but I knew from episodes at school he’d tell me about that violence and turmoil were just under the surface.  He tested me.  We had an incident… a rebellion of sorts which resulted in him and a few others being suspended from the team until I worked it out with their parents and they were ready to apologize. This happens with kids and it is an important time.  They want to see if I’m for real, if my offer of community and friendship is genuine; but they also want to test my standards for behavior.  His response would let me know if he was buying into what I was selling or not.  He decided to apologize and submit to discipline.  Not all of them did.

After several months and having passed this crisis I brought him to camp where he had lots of fun and was again introduced to the gospel.  At camp the kids have an opportunity to invite Christ into their lives but Joe declined.  He said he didn’t understand. Later when I had the boys together I explained the gospel message to them but Joe was not ready to make a commitment to Christ.  When we got back home he continued to stay regularly involved.  Apart from school we were his only activity outside of the home.  As our relationship grew he participated in overnight activities and this winter went on his first trip with us to Wisconsin Dells.  We consistently spent time together a couple of times a week. We had become a fixture in his life.

Over Easter I invited the boys over to dye Easter eggs with me and Lisa.  While we were doing it I explained the Easter story to them.  For some, including Joe, it was the first time hearing it.  I asked the boys if they wanted to join me in inviting Christ into our lives, and they all said yes, except Joe who said no.  I asked the boys if they believed Jesus had risen from the dead.  They all nodded except Joe who said: “I’ll only believe it if I see him right here in front of me.”  I told him that’s exactly what one of the disciples said and told him the story of Thomas.  I then asked the boys to join me in prayer if they wanted to, and Joe bowed his head…

Summer is coming soon and with it our season of camping. As you can see with Joe, the camps we do play a significant role in our ministry and brings a much needed respite to our kid’s lives.  It’s a chance to get out of their neighborhoods and experience nature and do new things.  It’s a singular opportunity for our young people to escape the trauma and stress which surrounds them daily.  We are asking you to give beyond your regular giving, or make a one time gift to enable a child to go to camp this summer.  It costs $300 to send one of our kids to camp.  Any amount helps! Thank you for your gifts of prayer and support!

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