May 2020

Y’all may be wondering how the pandemic is affecting our ministry and this community.  Lisa goes shopping and we deliver food to families weekly.  We go to the designated school sites and pick up boxes of school lunches and breakfasts for our kids and take them to their homes.  The public school’s response in this crisis has been terrific, but even though food is made available it is not always getting to the people who need it. The food drop-off operates for just a few hours in the middle of each day, at different sites, and many people are working during these hours.  If you are a single parent you may not have the time, or transportation, or someone to pick up food for your children.  There are families who are not getting food for a variety of personal reasons.  We try to step in the gap for them.  It’s the same with the online learning with school. The schools have made computers available to families for the children; but it involved a process that some of our families did not respond to, resulting in many of our kids not having computers and not doing school work.  We have a couple of generous donors who made it possible for us to procure computers for our kids who needed them.  A large part of our work during this crisis has been to get resources into the homes that need them.

In spite of the restrictions and crisis we all face as a society, the ongoing dysfunctional crises of our community has not slowed down at all.  We see drug dealing and prostitution in the same places and there have been several shootings.  Street violence has not taken a sabbatical during this time.  I see in the news how this pandemic has been affecting low income areas disproportionately in our inner cities.  The lack of access to healthcare and the effect of limited income on basic needs apply here as well.  We’ve had a couple of young men become ill as a result of working at their essential worker jobs but they seem to be recovering.

At times I feel like there’s not a lot we can do right now. I miss the quality time I’d spend with the teen boys multiple times a week picking them up for practice and going to tournaments.  I have a fresh core group of ten -year olds that I was bringing along, cultivating friendships and a group identity.  We have not met for church for six weeks and I worry about our parishioners’ spiritual development. Our ministry is relationship intensive and just doesn’t translate well to Facebook and Instagram and online church services.  I even miss my rough group of fifth graders at school… it’s taken me most of the year to earn their trust. I pray for all of them constantly.

We have one student who is on the brink of acceptance to college with a full scholarship included. His senior year has been turned upside down.  Just before this crisis he was coming to the end of a long struggle in court because of a momentary bad choice he made.  He is going through that, as well as not experiencing his senior year with his friends.   But not alone… we encourage and support him and he is moving in the right direction. Another young man was doing well in his college prep high school courses but due to the online learning transition and his family’s lack of resources he fell significantly behind.  We were able to get him a computer as well as teleconference with his school principal and teachers to get him back on the right track. When I visit my young guys… my middle school basketball players, they are always surprised when I show up with boxes of food for them and their siblings.  Before the crisis I couldn’t get them to sit still for a serious talk for five minutes but now they are reluctant to let our curbside visits come to an end.  Last week while we were delivering food we had a mother break down in tears as she shared her burden and stress with us… caring for a house full of children at a time when she cannot work. We prayed with her before we left and she was encouraged, knowing that God is indeed with her.  Another family was about to be evicted; would surely be on the streets now with her young children if we were not able to help her with the resources you provide.

So there is a lot we can do.  We can usher God’s presence into the lives of our troubled parishioners. I try to remember what Lisa told me when this all began and I doubted the efficacy of these small offerings. “Chris, when they see you they are reminded of Jesus”.  That’s what drives us.  Through your support we are able to spread the “fragrance of Christ” (2 Cor. 2.14), so that they might know that God is with them.   Thank you for your support and prayers.

 

Easter 2020

Who ever thought we would be living in times like these? So much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and worry. As I think about all my loved ones who are at greater risk and read the reports of even the young and healthy who have been killed by this virus, the waves of fear wash over me. If the worst things happen, will I be able to cope? How badly I want to avoid suffering and want protection for all those for whom I care and love.
Many Christians wrongly believe with a magical kind of thinking that God should protect them from all bad things. It’s the same kind of thinking that accuses God of not being real or truly loving as long as bad things happen, especially when bad things happen to the weak and powerless. The truth, however, is that in a world where free choice is possible and where the rain falls on the just and unjust, bad things will happen. As Jesus told us in John 16, “In this world, you will have trouble.”
Trouble, tribulations, trials…
But here is where we meet the real message of Jesus, “I have overcome the world.”
It is here that we find the true message of Easter. It would be so much easier if the total package of this message meant that the overcoming of Jesus happened without persecution, pain, suffering and death. But, the way of Jesus, the totality of the message he has modeled for us, the path of transformation he has blazed for us… Is that absolutely no evil, no hardship, no failure, no suffering, no pain and no death can separate us from the love and power available to us if we follow Jesus through the path of suffering and death. That transformational path leads us to the resurrection. That transformational path means that any pain, any failure, any loss, any suffering can, in God’s great love, be redeemed in and for us for something good.
I remind myself of this every time fear washes over me, every time my anxiety about losing anyone I love threatens to overwhelm me, anytime I feel as though I don’t possibly have the resources to survive the worst.
God is with us. God loves us. No matter what happens, we will never be alone. No matter how weak or inadequate my own preparedness and coping and responses may be, God will see me through. So that I, and you, will be able to make it through. Through any suffering or trouble, God will bring the power of the resurrection. So that no matter what the hardship or suffering or death, it will not be able to destroy us. It will be redeemed. As Isaiah 43 promises,

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you.

We are grateful for your gifts and prayers during this hard season. Chris and I are busy checking in with families, calling and texting individuals, trying to offer encouragement and comfort. We made another trip of grocery drop-offs with some families this week, getting a chance to see and pray for them across their front yards. One teen we suspect had Covid-19, who was diagnosed with pneumonia, is recovering well. What joy it was to see his smiling face on our rounds. I think we can all appreciate the challenges of having many family members all home at the same time in smaller living spaces. I think we can also appreciate the challenges of parenting teenagers in this time of restriction, home-schooling and isolation, especially for single parents who don’t have another adult in the house to help share the load. We appreciate your prayers for us and for our people. May God’s great love and mercy bless and keep you and yours in these hard days. May the power of the Resurrection sustain you. Chris and I wish you a very blessed and holy Easter.

March 2020

I have to confess that the crisis we all find ourselves in was slow to impress itself on me. At first my greatest feeling was that of being inconvenienced as ministry events and activities were canceled one after another: basketball tournaments, youth trips and planned events.  Our kids take it hard anytime an event is cancelled.  It is not just the excitement and fun of the event itself, it is the promise of joy, communion and connection with others in a positive and affirming way. Things most of us take for granted and experience regularly, but which our boys rarely do. So, we worry about them.

We call, text and facetime to remind them of the community and love we share in Christ.  Our house church will meet online for the weeks to come, but it’s just not the same.  I feel like the best thing we have to offer our people is connection with us, each other, and with God.  We are seeking the Lord as to how we may continue that connection in this crisis. When you think about about kids in jeopardy of going without food, or parents who cannot pay the rent if they don’t work, or families that don’t have the resources for online learning when school is closed… these are our people.  Many of our folk lack the inner resources to connect with the support that is available. So we check in with our families by phone, we bring food to those who need it, and we provide emotional and spiritual support in different ways.  When I delivered some food to some of our families this week I could tell from their faces that even the thought , gesture, or momentary connection had an impact. We just found out that one of our families is under quarantine, and one of our young men is sick. We have taken great pains to assure them that neither we, nor God, has forsaken them.

At the onset of this crisis I felt inconvenienced and irritated.  But everyday the news gets worse and worse and sometimes I’m just plain scared.  I wonder, “God, what are you doing?” When I allow myself to actually experience what is happening to us as a society… a society to which our people belong in spite of being on the fringes of it, that’s when I feel the confusion and fear.  What is happening?  What will happen to us as a society?

It’s a stark reminder to me that as a human being I am a member of human society, with all its flaws and shortcomings.  But since I became a Christian many years ago I’ve considered myself in the world, but not of it.  God’s kingdom is my first allegiance and association.  So although I am as susceptible as anyone else in the world to contract this virus, and I’m certainly susceptible to the fear, uncertainty and anger at our situation, I try to remember who I am and Who I belong to.  God tells me everything’s gonna be alright.  The last time we met as a group for worship we were looking at the story of Lazarus in John 11.  Mary and Martha had sent for Jesus because his friend Lazarus was deathly ill.  Jesus took his time in coming and by the time he got there Lazarus had died.  When Martha greeted him she said, “If only you had been here!”  Jesus told her that everything would be alright.  “Those who believe in me even though they die, shall live.”

As Christians we are supposed to have a different perspective on things than worldly society.  Our faith is being put to the test.  Do we trust God?  As Jesus challenged Martha, do we believe?  And what does that mean for us during this crisis?  I remember when I ruptured my knee several years ago and I was laid up and couldn’t do anything.  I was inconvenienced then, too.  A part of me was afraid that I would not be able to return to my regular routine, life the way I knew it.  But I eventually figured out that God wanted me to live in the moment and take what comes… to experience His presence, even in the midst of crisis. What is God saying to us as a world community? Slow down? Take care of each other? I’m in charge here? I don’t know. But I guess I have time to think about it.  We all do.

Lisa and I are praying that God shows you grace and gives you comfort… for your family and loved ones, our country and society, for our world.

January 2020

Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.  We hope you have experienced the blessing of Christ and God’s presence this Christmas. We’ve had a blessed Christmas this year.    Our family was all together, as well as our extended ministry family which came together for our annual Christmas service/party.  Yes, our Christmas has been blessed.  It wasn’t always a merry one though.  A number of our people have experienced loss or crisis so that our time together, while meaningful and heartfelt, was not always merry.

In our community we celebrate Christmas with those suffering from chemical addition, homelessness and often street violence… and during this holy season I wonder, what does Christmas mean to those who suffer?

What would Christmas mean to me if I was forcibly separated from my children?

What would Christmas mean to me if I knew that it could well be my last…?

What would Christmas mean to me if I was in bondage to a drug addiction which had completely sapped all emotional and physical strength…?

What would Christmas mean to me if, a loved one lay sick or dying…?

What would Christmas mean to me if my mother had told me that we wouldn’t have Christmas because she had no money?

What would Christmas mean to me if I felt alone and had no real connection to anyone… no sense of community?

What would Christmas mean to me if my life was in danger and people were trying to hurt me?

What would Christmas mean to me if I didn’t have a job, couldn’t pay the rent, didn’t have any food…?

Jesus said “Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you…” (Matt. 5.11).   That was hard for me to understand for a long time… until I was suffering and persecuted. Then I discovered Christ was right there with me.  Through my suffering and struggle he became more real, more relevant to me.

What would Christmas be like if it was a time of struggle and suffering for me, as it is for many? If we read the Christmas story it was not an easy time for Mary and Joseph… angels and shepherds and wise men notwithstanding.  But it ushered in the time of Emmanuel, God with us, apart from whom I cannot know God. So, I have discovered what Christmas means to me.  This is what we try to share with our friends who are struggling now and all through the year…  Blessed are you! God is with you through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.  A very real help, a very real Presence, in time of need.

October 2019

Summer is long past us and fall is here.  Although I grew up in the dry southwest climate of El Paso I’ve grown to appreciate the change of seasons here.  But c’mon y’all, six months of winter?!

I do want to take a moment and share our blessed summer with you.  Our camps were wonderful, in that we filled our capacity and were able to bring forty kids out of their stressful environments and into the country to experience new things… from archery and rock climbing to horseback riding and canoeing. My wife and I made sure our kids had a chance to do these activities from a young age so we kinda take it for granted, until we have one of our youth out at camp and they become a totally different person.  The thrill of new challenges and experiences, absent of the fear and stress of sudden and unexpected emotional and physical turmoil in the house or street.  Our kids become different people because they become unguarded.  For just a few days, they become open to new things. They begin to trust people they otherwise would distrust.  Just the simple act of knowing that you will be fed three times a day brings a sense of well-being often not experienced by our kids.

We did our sports camp at Kids Across America, our mentoring camp for black boys in Manhood Camp, and we were able to give our young children and siblings a camping experience at our Family Camp.  Each camp engendered a sense of love and community in Christ.  Kids return home and what do they do with these new experiences of love and community?  Many return to dysfunction and turmoil, but they are all equipped just a little better to deal with their surroundings and challenges, having had the peace of God instilled in their hearts to aid in their resiliency. And they do not return home alone… Lisa and I and our volunteers are present and accessible to them.  We are intentional about maintaining contact on a regular basis through church, outings and celebrations.  Community endures.

So, thank you for your contributions and prayers which allow us to do God’s work in undergirding our children and families with a sense of community in Christ.  The best litmus test I’ve found for its effectiveness is the adults we have in our ministry now who have shared in these experiences as children.  Any gathering is an opportunity to tell old stories and relive shared experiences which lifts hearts and strengthen resolves. We do our summer work now mostly with these adults serving as staff and volunteers.  We were particularly blessed by one young woman who graduated college and landed a good job.  When we celebrated with her she expressed her desire to contribute so that kids could go to camp.  Another young man who is a college graduate took a week of his vacation to help us run one of our camps.  Your contributions and gifts are magnified.

This past summer we celebrated twenty-five years of doing this ministry.  Twenty-five years of loving children, reaching out to families, and effecting change in people’s lives through lifting up Christ.  You have walked with us in this ministry for twenty-five years and we are deeply grateful.  We will continue to serve God in this place, with you, for as long as He wills.  To God be the glory!

August 2019

Violence…  wars and rumors of wars.  Violence in our cities. Violence in my hometown, El Paso, Tx (prayers for y’all!). Violence in my hood… Violence in my backyard.

I respond to insistent knocking at my backdoor, hustling down the stairs from my bedroom where I was reading a book and just on the cusp of falling into a delightful nap. I know it’s one of our kids, otherwise it would have been the doorbell from the front.  I open the door, experience has taught me to be prepared for anything.

“Hey Chris…”  It’s P. , one of our wayward children who just can’t seem to catch a break in life, but he looks more messed up than usual.  “I’ve been shot” he says.  Apparently the night before he was walking down the street near our house with a group of people (we don’t know what he was doing) and shots rang out.  They all ran and after a few steps he realized he’d been hit.  The bullet went through his arm, thankfully not ending his life.  He’d been treated in the hospital and released and our house was the first place he came.  He was obviously still in a state of shock, although he tried to play it off by affecting a street demeanor.  But in the midst of telling me his story he broke down in sobs… crying out to God, “Why does this stuff keep happening to me?!”

P. is one of two of our young men who have been shot this summer. Thankfully neither instance proved fatal. Unfortunately, violence is a part of life here.  You avoid it, you take precautions, but it will pop up anywhere, anytime.  Young black men in the city attract it like a magnet.  You can live your whole life in a way designed to avoid it, then, pow!, it’s right there. But the reality is in these times violence is never far from any of us. And we all begin to get a taste of what it means to grow up black and poor in the city.

I tell our young people at church, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. Jesus foretold rampant violence in the form of wars and social and family dysfunction right before his return (Matthew 24).  You better make sure you’re living right because Jesus is coming soon.  Our responsibility is to be the people of God and love one another.  We want to be doing His will when he comes back.  We don’t want to be caught out, because Jesus will surprise everyone.  I want to be caught in the act of showing love to others, let God sort out the details.

So, in our corner of the kingdom, we are loving and encouraging P.  We are helping him to get back on his feet physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are offering solace and community in Christ.  We grieve and pray at every episode of violence, near or far.  We teach, we model, we vote. We try to make the world better… but we know this world will end.  We are not part of it, we’re just passing through.  We prepare for the next one and we proclaim with the apostle Paul… “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”  Or, as we say in the ‘hood, “We ready!”

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!

April 2019

I’ve been thinking a lot about “making it”.  “Making it” I guess means different things to different people.  For the most part “making it” means to achieve a measure of success and prosperity in our culture.  Where we live and work, particularly among young black males, “making it” means to live to an adult age without suffering incarceration, death or drug addiction. There are often young men who are lauded as having “made it” due to being offered a scholarship to a division 1 school to play sports or an opportunity to play professional sports.  That’s good.  We are all proud of the young person whose skill and self-discipline helps him get to that point, but we all acknowledge it is a one in a million shot.  Young men with such opportunities are often recognized with “signing ceremonies” and such, but what about the other 999,999 youth?  I am gratified to see schools that stage celebrations for their student populations who gain college admissions to various post-secondary programs, demonstrating that these are young people who are on their way to self-sufficiency and productivity.

Who are the real “urban heroes”?  The guys who grind it out day by day, working against all odds and overcoming insurmountable obstacles to achieve success in life.  The guys who really shine…who work hard, make good grades, progress on to college or trade school, or acquire good jobs. These are the unsung heroes.  Their path is not glamorous or popular… but it is often dangerous and fraught with peril.  They have to negotiate a path around drugs, crime and gangs; they are compelled to avoid incidental contact with police, and even the appearance of unruly behavior in school or in the community.  The standards of acceptable behavior are set much higher for black males in our society as evidenced by the consequences they receive as compared to their white peers.  It’s hard out there for a young black man trying to make his way in the world.

There are many young men who have grown up in this ministry and who are “making it” today.  We are so proud of them.  They are professionals and laborers and white-collar workers and yes, some are athletes. They have all beaten the odds. Young black men who have grown up in this neighborhood with all of the aforementioned pitfalls and achieved success through high school graduation, then college graduation or some other job training, and are now working good jobs.  I want to give a shout out to our young men graduating and moving forward this year… Victory , TJ, and Jordan. I tell all the boys we work with: The most powerful thing a black man can do to help himself and effect change in this community and society as a whole is to grow to maturity and equip yourself to be a good husband, father or adult who can take care of himself and others.  If you do that you are a raging success.

These are the guys who really shine and are worthy of celebration.  These are the guys who lift up the hopes of a community.  Because young boys see that “if they can do it, I can too”.  And I’m not forgetting the ladies.  We have several “sistahs doing it for themselves” out there, doing what they’re supposed to  achieving success and change (we see you Joi and Keyvee!).

It takes so much effort for just one to make it.  Those of us who have relatively stable lives cannot imagine the energy it takes to overcome, to endure day after day of trauma, incident after incident, moment after moment.  It takes so much emotional, physical and spiritual effort.  Thank God we have a source who is inexhaustible and irrepressible in showing His grace, love and goodwill towards us.  Even our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

February 2019

On Saturdays Lisa asks me who is coming to church so she can be prepared to feed people.  It’s a difficult question because we never know who is going to show up.  We have our regulars, we have a few different groups of boys who I go get for church, we have our young adult men who pop in to see us, we have our families who try to make it; but on any given Sunday we could have a group of five or twenty-five.

Five to ten people is cozy… a small group, relatively easy to feed.  Ten to fifteen is challenging, but lots of fun. When there are more than fifteen it’s a whole different animal.  It’s like when the dwarves came to see Bilbo Baggins! Everyone enjoys the fellowship and community, but Lisa and I are generally running around making sure everyone is comfortable and taken care of.  On any given Sunday anyone can show up… but on any given Sunday if you come to church you will hear and experience the community of Christ, through preaching, fellowship with other Christians, and food for the body as well as the Spirit.

So last Saturday Lisa asks me who is coming to church. We had both had an exhausting day. We had a pipe burst and woke up to a basement flooded with water and spent the day cleaning it up.  Our house guest Jordan and Lisa did most of it because Lisa insisted I go get the boys for our scheduled basketball games instead of forfeiting.  That evening I was feeling too tired to pick anyone up in the morning so it’ll just be the regulars, so I tell her it’ll be a small group.  Lisa says ok, I’ll make such and such and so and so.  Then later in the evening, I think of some boys I hadn’t seen for a while and right before bedtime I tell Lisa it’ll be double the number.  She says, “oh my!” (Lisa talks like that), “well then I can just do this and that, it’ll be alright.”  And then in the morning, one of our young men calls me to let me know he’s coming to church, which is all good.  And then he says, “I’m bringing the other guys…”  Uh oh.  I tell Lisa and she laughs and says…  Well, I’ve got this and I’ve got that and we’ll make it work.

So we had a basement full of people on Sunday.  It was hectic, but it was fun. It was family. I can’t express how much I appreciated Lisa and her gifts of hospitality and service that day, as well as her ability to go with the flow.  In our ministry Lisa uses her gifts for teaching, counseling, and administration in significant ways.  And she conducts her spiritual direction ministry in addition. But when we have a houseful of urban youth and young adults… she shines.  Her gift is such that every single person feels attended, loved, cared for and their hunger sated.  Physically and emotionally as well as spiritually.

You must understand that when people come to church at our house they are hungry.  They are literally hungry, physically.  Our young people are coming from homes where mother rarely cooks.  Breakfast is a little Debbie snack from the corner store. When I get kids for basketball or other activities, they are always hungry.  Not hungry for a snack, they literally haven’t had a meal that day.  Many of them are in single parent homes where mom is working all day.  On a day when there is no school, meals are scarce. Lisa’s meals are probably a bigger inducement for kids and families to come to church than my preaching.  People come to church because they are hungry for fellowship, a place where they can relax, be themselves and have the familiarity and security of family and community.  The boys often tell me that the only time they experience a family meal at the table is at our house. People come to church because they are hungry for the Lord.  They want God in their lives.  They want to be encouraged, prayed for, even admonished… but they want to know God.  By God’s great grace it happens at our house every Sunday.

“Sweet Holy Spirit… grand heavenly dove! Stay right here with us, filling us with your love. And for these blessings, we lift our hearts in prayer. Without a doubt we’ll know, that we have been revived, when we shall leave this place.”

November 2018

I had known Michael for a few years, and had spent a lot of time and effort investing in him. We met when he was in fifth grade. We were just acquaintances then but he started coming to basketball practice with a friend of his. Our relationship grew in the usual manner. We spent lots of time together when I would pick him up for practices and events. He drew disciplinary action because of outbursts in practice, which led to interactions with mom and home.   I felt like I had him hooked. He would come to camp and retreats and discipleship meetings. He invited Christ into his life at one of these events.

Michael was short, much shorter than anyone else on the team and he didn’t like it. It wasn’t so bad though, because his best friend was just as short as he was. He was an oldest brother, with two younger siblings. He was the “man of the house” as there was no father in the picture. The basketball team was his group, his family outside the house. Although he was short, he played a crucial role on the team at shooting guard. He was our best shooter and everyone praised him for it. But after three years, when he was a freshman in high school, he stopped coming around. I went to his house and his mom told me she was having problems with him because he had fallen in with a bad crowd. I found him and talked things through with him and he started coming around again. That lasted for a while and then he stopped. I asked his friends, “What’s going on with Michael?” They just shrugged, said they didn’t know. Finally his best friend told me that Michael had started associating with some gangbangers and he was worried for him.

I asked the boys how that had happened. These guys had been his closest friends. Between them and me and basketball how had he slipped away like that? His best friend told me that Michael had always had a problem with being short and he thought Michael was doing these things to prove that he “wasn’t no punk”. It broke my heart, but nothing any of us could do would bring him back. His mom moved the family out of the city to a nearby small town to try to get him away from trouble. The last thing I heard was that Michael had been arrested for robbery and theft.

Looking back I feel like I did everything I could to keep Michael straight, providing positive relationship, peer group and activities. His mom went to extreme lengths to help him avoid trouble. His friends were loyal to him and challenged him about his choices. But he still slipped away. This is the hardest thing for me in working with young black men in the city. You can do everything you know how to do, but they can still slip away.

Because he lives far away, I have to move on. One got away, but there were eight of his friends that were still with me. They all grew up in the same neighborhood as Michael, struggled with the same dynamics in family, peers and school; but they have evaded the pitfalls that trapped Michael. I mourn for Michael but I have hope for him. I know that his conversion was genuine.   He has slipped away from me but he hasn’t slipped away from God. I know that God will bring him Home.