“If you don’t stop fighting, you’re going to die!”
Last week I had to have a “facts of life” talk with one of our boys. He’s 13 years old and in the 7th grade. He’s a great kid, but he is struggling. His single mom is having difficulties raising him, although she worked two jobs so they could leave the shelter they were living in. He’s big for his age, man-size, which makes him a target. He’s a target for gangbangers in the street because they want him in their gang. And he’s a target at his school because all the wannabe gangbangers want to get a rep by fighting him… and there’s the problem. He has to fight all the time. Every time he does, he gets suspended from school, whether he starts the fight or not. He doesn’t seem to get the support he needs at school to protect him from situations where other boys threaten and attack him. He always wins, which makes him more of a target, which invites more fights… it’s a vicious circle and he’s trapped in it.
He’s become conditioned now to fight when challenged or taken advantage of. He needs to get out of that environment. If he continues on this path, at some point somebody will introduce a gun to the situation and somebody will get seriously hurt, likely killed. Either that or he will be expelled from school, become a dropout and join a gang… which will likely lead to long term imprisonment. He’s only 13 years old.
I have seen this happen before; and it ends in death or imprisonment. A few weeks ago, during a basketball game, he got shoved to the ground by somebody on the other team and he jumped up and hit the boy. This was a first after two seasons on the team. His consequence was having to leave the team. We are still in relationship and I still do things with him, and he still does things with the group. But I told him if he fights again, anywhere, I’m done with him. I’m not gonna watch him go down a path of self-destruction. He is learning about guilt, conviction, consequences and repentance. His mom is at her wits end, and his father is not at home, but I think I am the first person he is listening to. I am helping him see a way out of this inevitable cycle of violence. We (the basketball team, church) are his extended family, his community. This is the kingdom of God.
I read a book recently where the author was describing what the kingdom of God looked like in the first century, in the midst of Roman oppression and religious persecution. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was not an idyllic existence for first century Christians, nor is it for any of us who follow Christ today. What the author pointed out was that the kingdom of God was manifest in the ability of believers to live abundant lives in the midst of social and spiritual turmoil. Lives characterized not by wealth, living comfortably or the absence of oppression or problems; but by shared community, love and inner peace. The kingdom of God was connection to others who loved God yet were living through shared experiences dealing with pain and suffering. The supernatural quality of the kingdom of God among believers was that they could maintain and experience Christian community in the midst of the worst of persecution and oppression, even as such acts were occurring every day, to everyone.
I had an epiphany… that’s what we do here. We create Christian community among people who have no experience of Christian community, or God’s presence. This allows them to experience and participate in that community in the midst of the struggles and horrors they may experience every day. It doesn’t go away, but it’s not about the absence of struggle. It’s about the presence of Christ in your life in the midst of going through the struggle. This is what I want this young man to experience. This is what will change his life. This is the great difference maker. This is what we offer to all of our young children, teenagers, young adults, parents and families… the opportunity to come out of the world, and be part of the kingdom of God.