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.

October 2018

“Coach, I saw a dead body today!”

“My mom’s friend got shot right by the police.”

“I can’t sleep at night…”

“He was right over there and somebody shot him!”

These are all comments I heard from kids this summer… most of them while riding in the van. Offhand comments made as part of casual conversation, about events and occurrences that were anything but casual. Hearing them, I am filled with grief for what the boys must be feeling inside. The statements they make reveal a state of crisis that besets them despite the calm demeanor they exhibit.

It serves as a shocking reminder to me of the close proximity and unexpected nature of violence in our kids’ lives. The potential for violence is always there… at any place and at any time. So whether I’m in a van full of kids on the way to basketball practice or with a group of kids on an outing, at church or visiting at school… I have to be prepared for the off hand comment that bespeaks inner turmoil. And I must be ready to offer condolence, comfort, support or even counseling.

Sometimes people ask me what our biggest need for doing ministry is and I reply that for me, it is to be prepared for these moments. I ask for prayer that I might be diligent to be prayed up so that I might be able to minister in these unexpected moments. I want to be used by God to offer comfort and assurance in these times of fear and vulnerability, to help the kids know that they are safe, they are loved, and that God sees and cares.

Recently when one of the boys was telling about violence he had witnessed, the boys in the van were talking about the need to carry guns. One of them asked me what I would do in that situation: “Wouldn’t you want to have a gun, Coach?” I replied that I wouldn’t carry a gun… I feel like Jesus can protect me better than a gun. Thoughtfully he said, “Oh that’s right Coach! I’m a child of God; I don’t need a gun.”

The blood of Jesus may or may not stop a bullet… I have no doubt it is capable. But it is certainly the only power which may engender a feeling of security, peace and well being in these circumstances.

In spite of the fun, goofy and sometimes raucous nature of our gatherings, in spite of our efforts to instill a sense of community and inner strength and peace, even in spite of the Christian teachings and behavior modeled for them, our kids live in an atmosphere of dehumanizing stress and fear due to random violence beyond their control. We want to bring a spirit of power, love and self-control in these circumstances, that they may experience life as God intends for them… abundant and fulfilling.

August 2018

I was sorting through old files today and came upon this letter I wrote over five years ago. I could have written it yesterday, as we are in that place of waiting for wandering sheep to come home again….so here’s a letter from the end of 2012- it still sums up so well what it means to stay rooted and waiting in the same place so that people may always come home.

*How do you communicate the love of God to those around you?  How do you respond when people make bad choices or make mistakes?  What do you do when kids walk away?  

Every single day, I ask God to help me be a communicator of the love of God in the world.  Lots of times my directions are simple.  God’s mother heart bestows lots of hugs and cooks meals, bakes treats, cheers at games, helps write papers…all actions that say, ”You are important. You are worthwhile.  I do this for you because you matter.”  And hopefully, that love and attention help people begin to notice those things come from the greater Source of all Love.

    But it is so hard when, after days, weeks, months, years of sharing the love found in Christ Jesus and trying to help young people know and experience love and truth themselves, they lose interest, choose other pursuits or spurn the love that is offered by us.  Once in awhile, kids disappear because they have screwed up and they feel ashamed.  That one’s not so hard…who among us can cast the first stone?  A few persistent invitations, a little space, sometimes a clearing of the air or a modeling on apology, forgiveness and reconciliation are often enough to restore our connection.  But, sometimes, the space is real and definitely chosen.  We are often identified with “God stuff” and a decision to separate from us can also signal what is really a choice to head out to see what the world offers instead of a life with God.

    And really, aren’t there lots of grown-ups who have gone the same way?  There is a time of growing in the love of God, but then we hear the call of power, money, influence, sex, success, etc. and we see if we can attain our share of all that and our paying attention to the still, small voice that calls us to our true home gets lost or drowned out.  Sometimes the cares of the world, fear, and what feels like the fight to survive, can choke out the light and life that has come alive in us and we become lost, if even for just a little while.

    There are people both young and old wandering in the wilderness.  The prodigal-wilderness can fill an hour, a day, the time it takes to spend the inheritance or forty years.  But the Father is always home, waiting, watching, in a place so near that we can be there instantly, just ready for the moment that we turn and listen to the voice of love.

    Fear took hold of me today and I spent some moments in the wilderness.  But I have learned through many years and much wrestling, that what is truly Real is always so much bigger than the things that make me afraid and I can return home where I live and move and have my being in Christ, where everything is ok, come what may. My true home is in the heart of Jesus and no place can be better.  So, I understand the wandering and the wilderness and right along with the One who loves them best, I watch and wait and keep the porch light on for my wandering friends, hoping and praying that their time in the wilderness will be of short duration and that they will come on home so we can all have a party and enjoy being fully alive together.

    Please pray that we would have wisdom in signaling the porch light is burning. That is often a much trickier exercise than getting to do straight-out-hands-on loving in Christ.  We appreciate your prayers for our family and ministry.  While costs are ever increasing, our funding is not, but we are trusting that as God calls, God will also provide.  It is the season when we reflect with gratitude upon the persons who have chosen to support us financially in the past year….*

And, God continues to provide and we are grateful for your prayers, gifts and love offered to Christ on our behalf. May God’s peace and joy be yours.

July 2018

Here’s a letter we forgot to post as we prepared to celebrate the graduations of our group of seniors–some of whom we have known since elementary school. It’s been quite a summer and it’s not over yet!

Me: “Hey man, just one month til you graduate!”

E: “Yeah, I can’t believe it.”

That’s how he said it. Not in an exclamatory tone, but with somber reflection. It made me pause, wasn’t he excited about this accomplishment? He went on to say that he never thought he would graduate. Then I realized… He didn’t think he would live this long. Now it was my turn to soberly reflect…

I wasn’t surprised. He had grown up in a violent part of North Minneapolis. His eight year old brother was killed by a stray bullet from gang violence which came through the walls of their house. He was thirteen years old at the time. Ever since then he has struggled with grief, loss, fear and survivor’s guilt.

His mom tried frequently to move them out of that neighborhood but was not able to for a long time. He was afraid to go out of his front door for school or anything. In order for him to participate in activities with us, I’d have to pick him up from his doorstep and drop him off there. If he was dropped off a block from his house he would run til he was home. He would call ahead to have his mom unlock the door so he could rush right in and not have to be waiting outside on the street.

We were so thankful when they were finally able to move out of that neighborhood, but violence seemed to follow him. When he was sixteen he watched his girlfriend’s mom be brutally murdered and was threatened by the perpetrator when he was asked to give his testimony in court. This young man was never involved or associated with gangs, never did drugs or committed crimes. He is a good-hearted person. School has always been a struggle for him due to behavioral and emotional issues stemming from obvious reasons. His experiences are common for many of our youth who grow up here in the city.

On my birthday he sent me this text (slang translation in brackets):

“& frfr [for real, for real] like… Iont know where I would be if I ain’t meet you man you really help me a lot on the low [confidentially] god has blessed you so many ways thanks for showing us a positive way to everything not many men like you to show the youth the right thing to do thanks for the motivation & being hard on us when it’s time to amen it’s a blessing to be in your life 1k [I really mean it!]”

So now he’s about to graduate and he can’t believe it. He has been active in our ministry community since he was a child: playing basketball, coming to church, going to camp… He has found, with our group, community, safety, acceptance and even joy. He’s found identity in Christ and purpose for living. He has plans and hope for the future. He will probably always be afraid, but he knows the perfect Love who casts out all fear.

 

June 2018

Terrell: “Coach, I read a Bible verse today and it made me think of you.”

Me: “Oh yeah, what was it?”

Terell: “Let’s see… something about… if you bring a kid up right then he’ll have a good life, or something like that.”

Me: “You mean, ‘Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it’?”

Terell: “Yeah, that’s it!”

When I asked him why that made him think of me he said it was because of all the stuff we do together and all the things I try to teach them. I confess it made me feel good…

After this conversation (we had already dropped off the rest of the kids in the van) Terell asked if I would feed him. Now this is a common ploy by the kids. I always give the boys a snack when we have an activity and sometimes take them to McDonald’s, or Lisa will make a meal… but whoever is last in the van will usually ask for more, thinking that since they are last I’ll break down and hand out more treats. I told Terell that I had just fed all of them but he replied that he was still hungry, they didn’t have any food in the house and he hadn’t eaten all day. Now I’m tired and Terell is the last kid to drop off and I want to get home, but he seems earnest so we stop at an Asian food counter near his house.

Terell lives in a very seamy part of the neighborhood and as we sat down waiting for our food I asked him what it was like for him living there. “At home it’s fine but it’s rough outside coach… I have to keep my eyes open whenever I go out.” While we are waiting for our food a disheveled looking man comes in and rushes straight up to me. His face is literally an inch from mine and he looks like he’s either drunk or high. In a threatening manner he asks me for money. I employ my usual defenses in this situation (I pray in the Spirit) and reply, “Naw man, sorry.” And he leaves. Terell says, “Coach, I though he was gonna jump you!”  “Yeah, I thought he was too”, I say. “But you were so calm. Were you scared?” he asks. “No, I was praying” I say. We finished our meal and I took him home.

Earlier that evening I had asked Terell if he was going to play basketball for me this season. He is a decent player and his dad likes him to try out for other, more competitive teams. He told me yes. “Well what about this other team?’ I ask. He tells me his dad says he can play for me. When I ask why Terell says cause I told my dad when I play for you I do more than just play basketball.

The whole dynamic of my time with Terell that evening is an example of the spiritual warfare we engage in for the welfare of our kids. In one evening I am addressing physical, emotional and spiritual needs. I didn’t plan it that way… stuff just happens. When people ask how they can pray for me I ask them to pray that I be prayed up and ready for any situation which may arise when I am with the kids. It is in those moments that they see things and are greatly influenced, much more than in planned activities, camps or Bible studies. My experience with Terell that night signified a great victory in that I’d been trying to pull him in for two years. This night showed me that he (and his dad) were buying in to what I was offering him… a relationship.

Going to camp with me last summer was a big part of the process of bringing Terell in. He has already asked me about going to camp this summer. Y’all know there are a lot of Terells out here… decent kids in difficult situations. We are asking you to give beyond your usual giving to enable us to offer some of them a camping experience this summer. It costs us $300 to take Terell to our Christian sports camp or to our discipleship camp… any amount would help.

Summer camp is one of the tools the Lord equips us with to draw kids nearer to Him. Join us in giving these kids opportunities so they can grow up right and have a chance at a good life. We appreciate your partnership with us in this ministry through your prayers and gifts.

May 2018

“Hey Thomas!” I called.

“Hey Pastor Chris!, he responded as he crossed the street in front of me. I had a feeling of deja vu… I’d been in this exact situation many, many times over the last twenty years. Sometimes we’d chat and pass the day, sometimes I’d give him a ride to where he was going… work, school, a basketball game, sometimes we’d just wave at each other and go our separate ways, but always the warm greeting and fond memories and close connection it signified.

Last week Thomas was almost killed. He was robbed at gunpoint here in the neighborhood by a group of youth on his way home from work. They took everything he had, and beat him with a pistol as well. They took everything he had, but they didn’t take his peace of mind as he calmly complied with their demands. Everytime I see or think of him I thank God for His grace for being with Thomas that night.

I remember when I first met Thomas… he was nine years old and coming to my afterschool boys program–always friendly and engaging, ready to have fun. In later years he began playing basketball on my team. At one point he moved to Texas for a year, but he called me regularly so I wouldn’t forget him. I couldn’t believe this little kid was calling me long distance on the phone. So basketball, camp, boy’s club… we spent a lot of time together. Through mentoring and discipleship we walked with him through the growing pains of life in the city for a black boy. He became a pretty good basketball player and played for elite AAU teams in the city, but he surprised me by still coming to play for my little park and rec team every year. Thomas was a hood kid, but he would surprise you with his generosity, wisdom and compassion. He never became hardened or disillusioned by life’s circumstances. He always treats people well.

Although academics were never his strong suit, he graduated high school through a lot of determination and hard work. Encounters like the one described before happened with some regularity. One week after church we were playing basketball out back when we heard some gunshots nearby. We looked around to account for everyone but Thomas had already left. Soon we got a call. “Pastor Chris”, he said. “Are they still shooting out there?” “Where are you?” I replied. He was on his way home but ran over to the park building as soon as he heard the shooting.

Thomas was quick to stand against injustice. He’d defiantly argue or stand up to teachers, principals, even the police if he felt he was being disrespected. Always in a respectable manner, but because he was young, black and male, he often suffered unfair consequences. It never dampened his spirit though. He has always been a loyal and faithful friend. He’s always called us family, and our boys his brothers.

Thomas went to various junior colleges to play basketball, then he came to a pivotal point which many of our young men face…. what to do when it becomes obvious that your dream of becoming an NBA star doesn’t pan out? Thomas passed the test. He gave it his best shot, went as far as he could, then he took assessment of his life and options and regrouped. He chose to go to school (a choice that astounded those of us close to him) and get a college degree. He is weeks away from achieving that goal. We are so proud of him.

Upon graduation he has the opportunity to go to North Carolina and take a job there in the criminal justice system. His family is moving as well. It is the end of an era. We’ve literally watched him grow from a child to a man. His house on the corner up the block from us, his always welcome pop-in visits, the levity and joy he brings to every gathering… he will be sorely missed. Here in this inner city neighborhood often beset by violence, turmoil and dysfunction, he has brought a richness to our lives that we wouldn’t have found anyplace else. Go with God, Thomas. We love you!

 

 

February 2018

Our life is full of boys this season. Chris has three basketball teams going—a high school team of juniors and seniors, some of whom have been with us since third grade—a high school/middle school group of eighth to tenth graders and a new group of fifth graders that he has gathered from different schools and families we have ministered to for years. Chris is busy most nights and weekends with the guys.

Recently a thirty something man we have known since fifth grade called Chris to get together to talk through some things he has been dealing with. At the meeting he told Chris there had been other men in his life, but none like Chris. “You were always somebody I could trust and you were always there—“ Nothing makes our hearts more glad—that people realize that the bonds we form through Jesus and love do last forever. It is the strength of being “lifers” in the same place, not moving on to other pastures, but continuing to love and serve the flock of people God has given us.

The blessing of this has been brought home to us over the past months as Chris has been dealing with some severe arthritis and deterioration of his knee. There have been a few times when swelling and pain made mobility difficult. During this time we have been blessed by our young men in their twenties who have stepped in to help—Nathanael, Tyler, Thomas, Jordan, Pierre—helping coach basketball, push the van out of snow, help with retreats, shovel snow. Nothing blesses my heart more than to see that these bonds of love and family have been formed and that our young men so readily join in the work of caring for us and for the younger boys.

We are also busy with our high school seniors, filling out applications and forms and trying to make sure that as their graduation approaches that each one of them would be set with options before them and paths that they can pursue to make sure that they will be able to have lives where they can support themselves and one day, a family.

It’s funny how God opens doors. Last week I happened to be taking some soup down the block to an elderly neighbor who is battling cancer and as we were visiting I happened to find out that he had retired from a career as a welder—a second career that he took on after night school so that he could better support his family. I am looking forward to having some of our boys go down to meet him to hear about his work and what it took for him to prepare for and obtain that career. It’s just the kind of thing I want our guys to see—somebody who has walked a path before them and used it to make a life for himself and his family.

Chris took a group of high school boys on a winter retreat this month. The boys had so much fun in the snow and cold—inner tubing down the hills, playing broomball, laughing, playing. Chris reported that when the dvd player didn’t work for the night time movie, the camp highlight may have been the dance contest that ensued. Apparently, we have a lot of talented movers and shakers! That retreat is like a family vacation—preparing meals together, cleaning up, praying, eating, sleeping and Bible studying together.

We are so grateful that after so many years, we are still here—lifting up the name of Jesus and loving young men as they grow from boys to men of God. Just like with any growing up, there are a lot of bumps in the road—but we pray that God will continue the good work he has begun in each of our guys and that we will be able to be there to walk alongside encouraging them to follow Jesus with all their hearts.