Let me tell you about how much I love my job. I get to hang out with some amazing kids twice a week. On Sunday its with the younger kids, elementary school age and on Tuesday I get to hang out with middle school age kids. Of course I am teaching them as they go, mostly I find myself teaching them that they matter, which can't be overstated, I am convinced of it. The world tells them regularly that they don't matter and they aren't good enough. I might just be one girl, but I will fight everyday for them to know the world is made up of a bunch of crazy liars who are afraid of the power they will have when they believe in themselves.
Sunday was our last day learning on Sunday morning for awhile, so I pulled my ace in the hole, the lesson on Play as Sabbath. I went out Saturday evening and bought for the church a bunch of simple toys for out door play. Frisbee, wiffle ball, nerf football, bubbles, you get the idea. Then like the neighborhood I work in often does, I got the surprises I wasn't expecting. I knew all I had to work with for outdoor space was the parking lot which gets a lot of drive through traffic, so I took the kids to an out of the way corner. It was hot, especially with the blacktop reflecting the heat back at us. I wasn't out there for 2 minutes when my nostrils were filled with the distinct sent of human urine baking in the sun. I couldn't locate the exact location so I moved the kids away from where it was strongest. It also wreaked of dog poop which I couldn't find, Paul later told me he saw it. Then there was the broken glass and rusted razor blades. Now my safe spot was even smaller. The next surprise was that the kids didn't know what to do with a lot of what I brought out. I had to teach all but two of them how to play net less badminton. Most of them still don't know that it works better underhand. Then one of the birdies got stuck on top of the construction trailer, Paul later climbed on top of our van to get it.
Tonight we were supposed to go walk a new pedestrian bridge in town, but with bad weather predicted (it never showed up) we opted to have movie night instead. Tonight because it was a special night Paul and L got to come with me to work. L snuggled up with my single youth group member, maybe this is more of a mentoring relationship. We watched Monster's Inc. had dinner, snacks and ice pops. It was our end of the year celebration brought indoors. Half way through the movie I got up to walk around, I am always there at this time of night but I don't usually work in a room where I can see out to the main drag through the neighborhood. So there sat L and my student, sprawled out on a sleeping bag on the sanctuary floor, sharing snacks and watching the movie. Paul near by playing with his phone. I looked out the front window only to witness several drug deals at what the congregation calls "the drug house". All this with kids out there playing.
I wanted to throw up, something inside me got equally upset, angry and disappointed in the world. How is it that some children grow up in this neighborhood and others just 15 minutes away are at their private $150 an hour lessons for something or other? They have never seen a drug deal go down while the kids I work with are surrounded by it. I realize in that moment that my kid is one of those privileged kids who doesn't have to live with this in her face. She will eventually see it because she comes to work with me but she gets to go home to her safe home where people are quiet and not roaming the streets to find relief from the heat that is built up in their unairconditioned homes. She doesn't have $150 private lessons though, we try (and often fail) to keep her grounded in things that have no material worth.
My head started spinning, how does a neighborhood end up like this? What is the root cause of all this poverty? What will break the cycle for the next generation? How is it that some people choose to deal drugs and others end up watching movies in church sanctuaries? How is it that some how some kids get tons of fruit and veggies and other healthy whole foods and others get stuck with a steady diet of boxed mac and cheese and hot dogs?
It was an odd moment with so many fleeting thoughts that reach down to my core. There are many surprises and frustrations even after a year of getting used to life in my new church/work home. I have another year with these fine people and challenges and all I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Doing ministry is different now, I have to change and rework everything I have ever done before this point. It's alright though because I am doing what I most long to do, teaching kids they are loved, they matter and they are someone who can make something wonderful of their life. We don't often say much about God, we are busy with homework help and building trusting relationships but God is in it. You know small goals to start.
Today I am grateful for the work I am blessed to do and for all those who told me I was somebody before I could believe them and who even though the odds were stacked against me cheered me on and didn't write me off. You have given me unimaginable gifts that will be passed on until I leave this life.