I met “Abel” this week. He was with a group of new folks. They were very friendly and all seemed to be having fun, or so it seemed. However, he hung back and then sat down. He obviously was not having fun.
I had a wonderful discussion today with a young man named “Brian”. Brian was in a very happy mood. He and I had a nice long visit.
I have been thinking about hope a lot this week. This is Holy Week. I asked my Sunday school friends to try to experience the whole week as a sequence of events and emotions. It starts with great expectation on Palm Sunday. It continues with teaching, preaching, and reforms in the early part of the week. It deepens on Thursday with the service of humble foot washing, the giving of a new dual commandment: Love God with All Your Heart –AND– Love One Another. This is the height of spiritual teaching. Then Thursday takes a drastic turn as Jesus begins the preparation for the cross by saying goodbye, praying in the garden, and drinking the cup. Friday begins with early morning betrayal, the chaotic questioning by the political leaders, mocking, and beating. Then finally in the afternoon, Jesus dies. All of nature cries out in anguish: black clouds roll, thunder peals, the curtain of the temple tears. Saturday is a day the church suffers without it’s head, for Jesus is separated form the Father and descends into hell. And we would all stay in the lost, lonely and dark state but for one thing.
Hope is all that can get you through this. “But Sunday’s coming!” is the cry of encouragement from my former pastor and friend. No matter how deep the dispair, “Sunday’s coming.” And on Sunday, the Lord is risen, we are blessed and assured that the Father, Son, and Holy ghost are one, and they pour love down us afresh and cover us with grace.
I think the life of a young person who lives on the street might be like Holy Week. I don’t know if all their lives started out with joyful entry, but I think they usually do. Even if the home life is troubled from the start, I think they enter into it with the innocence of children. And in many cases, home life wasn’t always difficult.
Recently several separate youth revealed to me that they had a grandparent or a special person who held everything together for a family. Some even mention grandparents who guided the family toward God. But once they were gone, the family lost it’s way and many turned away from God.
At some point, questioning and debate and argument broke out into the life of the youth. Maybe they sought a different life and headed for the street. Maybe they just found a different home life right there at home as things fell apart for the family. And at some point, the innocence of youth turned into something else. They may have been beaten, abandoned, abused. They may have begun to abuse themselves and use substances.
“But Sunday is coming.” Jesus has something for these youth that can and will change everything. It turns mourning into dancing. It turns night into day. The grace of God, received afresh, gives us the power to transform and be transformed in every way.
“Sunday is coming.” Hope can spring afresh for these youth. But we must wait. We must be vigilant. We must stand ready to spread the word that the tomb is empty. Jesus has conquered sin and death, and he loves *you* and will help turn your deepest despair, deepest problems, deepest shame into loving God and loving others.
“Sunday IS coming.” Look for it. Count on it.
“Joe” gives his enthusiastic thumbs-up for a snack bag prepared lovingly by a Street Youth volunteer!
It has been a month now that I launched the Friday volunteer effort. Every Friday I head to the street one more time. But this time, I am armed with sandwiches and snack bags from volunteers!
Normally I work in an environment where kids come to me, either at the Lifeworks Drop-in Center or at the ministry trailer of Cream and Sugar. These are great because the youth have made the choice to come there. However, by going on outreach on the street, I can meet new people and people unable or unwilling to go to these two places. While I often meet resistance from some who give me a hard time about being a Christian (and sometimes under an influence), I also meet people who are receptive and interested in learning more.
If you want to volunteer, please click on the “Volunteer” or “Give” links at the upper right of this blog.
I recently had the privilege of leading an art therapy group of street kids yesterday. It was impromptu but oh such a blessing to me and (I hope) to them. This was a group of street youth with whom I have been building trust for some time, although there were youth in the group that I didn’t know at all.
I began by handing out a sheet of blank paper and some pencils and markers. They are familiar with art sessions, so some were eager. Often they have free art or assignments, but I told them today would be different. I wasn’t going to tell them what to draw, but I was going to tell them what to think. Naturally, they were skeptical and a few popped off with jokes. However, the trust level was high enough that they waited for instruction.
I asked them to think of themselves and then think of another person. It should be someone they have a relationship with… past, present, or future. It could be someone specific, or it could be someone they want to have a relationship with. Some blurted out past friends and other blurted out the names of sexy superstars.
I told them their assignment was to think hard about the relationship between themselves and the person. What did it look like? What color was it? What did it make them think of? How did it make them feel? While they were still thinking of all these things, I wanted them to draw whatever came to mind. Surprisingly (to me) they each got this abstract assignment right away and started drawing.
A group of street youth are like most groups of people… some have great drawing talent and some don’t have as much developed talent. One youth started drawing like a savant in the movies… his hand never stopped and his picture just became more and more detailed… although it had a great cartoon-like characteristic. Some youth (and me) drew very primitive drawings in 2-D. Some youth were totally abstract and drew images based on the relationship. Some were very concrete and drew great depictions of themselves and the person and the type of things they held in common.
As each youth finished, I asked the group to stop and listen to the youth describe the relationship. Confidentiality prevents me from sharing the drawings or stories with you, but it was very moving. Some youth talked about current significant others. Some talked about a future life. Some talked about damaging relationships and how they hoped to heal from them someday. Some talked about supportive relationships with people they had lost contact with or people who had died.
This exercise left me amazed at how complex we all are. We experience this life in connection with others no matter whether we embrace relationships or whether we avoid them. Relationships come from all sorts of sources (relatives, friends, family, fantasy) and with all sorts of intentions (loving, hurtful, supportive, damaging, healing). We attribute many of our struggles to difficult relationships and perhaps we are totally right about that.
After doing this for 5 years (and one of my mentors has been doing this for more like 25 years so I know that I’m still a “newbie”), I’m totally convinced that the one characteristic that all homeless share (or come the closest to sharing) is the lack of an effective support network. They aren’t connected anymore. And I’m convinced that relief is great, but healing won’t occur and their life won’t be full until they are able to form and maintain an effective support network.
The greatest relationship of all that waits for most of the street youth is a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Some have this relationship already, but it’s quite rare, I would say. The majority have encountered and evaluated the concepts of a relationship with God (through the eyes of family members, friends, or Christians they have encountered along their journey) and rejected them. (And I would say the two top reasons for rejection are that they youth judged the person to be hypocritical or the youth felt judged by the person who was conveying the Christian message.) However, my calling is to reintroduce them one more time to a restoring and life transforming relationship with God. And I know the youth yearn for this relationship. About 25% of the pictures drawn had an element that included a restored relationship with the “universe”, with God, or that mourned a lost relationship with someone who had brought order into their life. In most cases, religion and church were directly mentioned as characteristics of the person who had once anchored their life but who had been lost to them through death or separation.
Let us pray that continued planting of seeds, continued patience, and continued love by the body of Christ will eventually enable a restored relationship! Amen.