My greatest joy in ministry is when someone comes to Christ, and I fervently pray that the Lord would put me in situations to use me that way. But sometimes, especially in this setting, it’s the seemingly innocuous incidents which have a huge impact on someone’s life.
I spent time with one of our young men a couple of weeks ago…B. He had spent a lot of time with us growing up, more than most because he was also a close neighbor. I was able to mentor and disciple him for many years through programs and trips, my presence in the neighborhood, but mostly our relationship. Like all of our young people he lived a complicated and highly stressed life which led to many shortcomings and some bad choices… but he made the most important one. To accept Christ and not follow the streets. He has lived through struggles and continues to try and find his way, but while many of his peers are imprisoned, in the streets or dead, he’s still in the game. I asked him how he managed to stay out of the worst of street life and not get caught up in gangs. He said, “It was you Chris. I remember how you did E. that one time you caught him with a gun and I decided I was never going to be involved with guns.”
I didn’t remember at first what he was talking about, it was a long time ago. One of the boys had come to one of our activities with a fake pistol, waving it around proudly. All the boys crowded around to see it, but I stepped in and snatched the pistol and gave the boys a stern lecture about the dangers of such behavior, not only from street violence but from the police, who had recently killed a boy who was holding a fake gun, thinking it was real. I was really angry and impassioned but so were the boys. I thought they might fight me or leave and not come back. I took the gun and disposed of it and the whole thing blew over.
To have B. tell me this was a seminal event which helped shape his outlook on life was a shock to me, but well timed. Our young boys these days, as a result of Covid, neighborhood violence, distrust of police, and riots, are living disassociative lives. It is easy for them to not feel connected to anything and so they do not care about anything. They are susceptible to destructive and self-destructive impulses. It is a spiritual battle whenever I am with them, to encourage them to see themselves as being a part of society, belonging to their communities, families, schools… and themselves. It starts with a group of friends, like our basketball team, and their relationship with me… and through me, with Christ. We have involved conversations about morality, what’s right and wrong; and a lot of times it seems like they are not listening to me. It is hard for them to accept that the criminal things they see people do in the hood are morally wrong; but when police, government and rich people do the same things in mainstream society, it is ok. This is what society is teaching them.
So, I live for those innocuous incidents. I pray up for them. These seemingly insignificant, but at the same time emotionally trying, moments change lives. I pray for the gift of wisdom so that I may respond to any given situation which may arise. I pray for the B’s we encounter, that they might muster enough self-interest to avoid making any serious mistakes, so they can grow up and have a good life. We work and pray that they might know Christ, so they might have Life.