“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4.9
This is my earnest prayer for the boys and young men in our ministry.
Last week I met with some of the men who have come through our ministry. They all wanted to know, “What’s the occasion?” But I told them there was no special occasion, I just wanted to see them all together. This group came up together with me in 5th grade. They are grown men now with families and jobs and their own affairs to take care of, but it was nice of them to take time out to sit down with me. They are a reminder of the fruit borne of our labor of love here.
September is always a reflective time for me… coming on the heels of an active summer doing camps and activities; a break before things get busy with school and the fall schedule. I think a lot about how our kids are doing and the effectiveness of our ministry. Our kids live under the constant threat of gun violence, and the pervasive presence of crime, drugs and gangs; with little support for school or extracurricular pursuits. How do we help them navigate all that? Their lives are full of stress, with no peace or contentment.
Does going to camp help? Going with Chris two or three times a week, does that help? Playing on a basketball team, doing activities, going to church… does any of that help? The boys and young men we work with are at the highest risk for issues which will impact their lives negatively. It is documented that constructive pursuits and positive relationships have an impact on at-risk youth, but does God make a difference? I know He does!
All the young men who have come through our ministry, no matter where they are at now, point to their involvement with us as having been a high point, if not a pivotal point of their lives. Many are now gainfully employed as skilled laborers, teachers, businessmen (and women), and many are still trying to figure things out; but everyone who has come through this ministry comes away touched by it. They have encountered the Lord in a personal way.
And it doesn’t happen always at church, bible study or even camp… it’s in the van, in the neighborhood, at practice, or just when hanging out with Chris.
We can’t say that everyone comes to Christ, but we can say that everyone hears the gospel. We can’t say that everyone’s life is changed, but we can say that everyone is offered support to change their life. We can’t say that everyone has an easier life, but we can say that everyone has a chance to build relationships to make life easier.
My confidence is not in myself or this ministry, or that we do things the “right” way. My trust is not in our programs or activities, not even in our relationships. My confidence is in Christ, that he is in me. And if he is in me, and young people are with me, then it follows that they are with Him. If I am following Christ then somehow, some way, they are exposed to Christ. I am confident of this because I know that my life is in Christ. And so, my hope for them is in Christ.
Sometimes my life is confusing to them. They don’t understand how I could resist sexual temptation. They don’t understand why I don’t spend my life trying to get rich. They don’t understand why I don’t lie and cheat to get what I want. They don’t understand why I don’t act violently when angry or put upon. They don’t understand the Christian morality I teach and model and expect from them… until I explain that it is because of Christ in me. Then it makes sense. So then, I can invite them to be like me. I may not be rich but they see that God provides for me and my family. I may not be powerful but they see I have lots of influence in the community. I may not have a lot of possessions but they see I am content and live a fulfilled life. They see that I have all of this because of Christ… and they can have it too.