Archive for February, 2010

February 23, 2010

What’s in your pockets?



I recently got the most surprising and perhaps best question I have ever heard during a presentation! It came from one of about 25 4th and 5th graders at Tarrytown United Methodist Church.

I had already heard all the normal questions: “Where do you see street youth?” “Why do they live on the streets?” “How do you help them?” And I had heard some really intriguing questions: “Have they ever sicked their dogs on you? Has any of them ever captured and trained a coyote to be a pet?” (For the record, the answer to the last two are no.)
But here is the one question that really game me pause: “What’s in your pocket?” I was wearing sort-of-baggy jeans and had a lot in my pockets, so it wasn’t such a weird question. I thought about dismissing the question, but then I decided to go for it! 
I pulled out one pocket: keys and phone. “The keys are for transportation. I take lots of food, water, clothing, and toiletries to the kids. It would be hard to do this job without my truck. I also have a can opener on my key-chain. I put it there so I can give it away when someone asks.”
“The phone is for safety. Every missionary needs safety. I have about 40 people who pray regularly for me, but the phone is in case I need to dial 911. I also use it to receive emergency phone calls from the kids. I don’t yet have enough money to have unlimited calling, so I keep it for emergencies.”

I pulled out the contents of the other pocket: a camera and a notebook and pen. “I use the camera to take pictures of people with smiles. When I give them food or clothing or a backpack, or one of the manna bags that you have made for me to give out, they smile. I like that so I take a picture. And I share the picture with volunteers so they feel involved in the ministry and want to keep giving!” “
My daughter made the custom notebook for me., and I use it to write down everyone’s names that I see. I write down their first names and the name of their dogs. They are just like everybody else, and they enjoy it when you can remember their names. I also use the list of names to pray for them. And I count the names to have some idea of how I am doing. From this notebook, I know that I see an average of 70 different people every week. I know that I see about 10 new faces every week. And I know that I have a reunion with someone I haven’t seen in a while about 8 times a week. I also have some other important things in this notebook. I have a list of phone numbers to give kids when they want to call for help. Help with alcohol problems. Help with drug problems. Legal problems. Numbers for housing programs. I make notes on lessons or sermons that I plan for the kids.”
I reached to my back pocket and pulled out a “duct tape” wallet. “I made this wallet with the kids. I showed them how to make duct tape wallets. They often lose their things (because they live outside and constantly move around). So if they lose their wallet, we can make a new one. And just like you and me, because they made it, they tend to keep it longer. They are really cool. I can come back sometime and help you each make wallets! I also have a duct tape card holder, phone cover, and money clip. You can make just about anything if you put your mind to it! And in my wallet I have cards to give out. It tells where the kids can email me, FaceBook me, MySpace me, or call me.”
So this is what’s in my pocket. It says a lot about SYM. It was missing one thing that day. I wasn’t carry the Word of God. However, I put that on in my heart and mind every day. So, what’s in YOUR pocket?
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February 16, 2010

Into the Wilderness


I was unsure how to help a group of street-dependent youth relate Matthew 3. I take the Bible stories in order to teach chapter by chapter, but I don’t ever want it to be dry or seem irrelevant to the mostly homeless youth that I work with. Some weeks are more challenging than others. This week, I felt challenged with the material. I finally decided on my approach and prayed it would work.

We watched Matthew 3 on video. It’s a nice video, with word for word NIV narration. Nothing skipped and nothing added. I watched the kids as John the Baptist preached to the Jews in the wilderness, sitting around peacefully seeking after God as a community. I watched the street-youth squirm and express disgust with their mouths and body language as John preached fire and brimstone to the Pharisees. I watched them take in the scene of John begging Jesus to baptize him, only to have Jesus say, “No… It’s right for you to baptize me.” And I think I saw looks of pain as the words from God, “This is my son. In Him I am well pleased,” words I think they may never have heard from their own father. Now it was my turn. Time to make this relevant and attractive.
We reread the first section that describes John the Baptist. I asked the kids, “Who is this guy? What did he behave like?” They correctly saw him as an outcast… some kids even called him homeless. I asked, “Where is he? Why do people go where he is?” They answered, “In the wilderness… in the desert. You go there to get away from people and everything else.” “Right! The Bible doesn’t say, but I’m sure that John the Baptist is escaping from some troubles. He doesn’t fit in. He’s got problems with how things work in his day. He stays out in the wilderness for a reason. Sound familiar?” They nodded.
“Who or what is he running from?” The kids imagined all sorts of answers: the police, his family, people who really bug him, trouble in his own head and thoughts. Answers all too familiar to them. I prompted, “I think the answer is in these people who come talk to him. Who are they?” One young man answered, “They are the religious leaders. They are the pastors and preachers.” “That’s right!” I ask, “How does John the Baptist treat them?” They answer, “He calls them names. He calls them out. He tells them they are going to hell!” I ask, “How does this make you feel?” “We hate that kind of talk. We’ve heard it before. People tell us that all the time. Attitudes like that are why we don’t like church!”
I paused. Then I asked them to look at John the Baptist again. “What was he doing out in the wilderness with people before the Pharisees came?” “He was preaching and baptizing. They were sitting around in the video talking. It was peaceful.” “Exactly!” I said, “John is a peaceful man with a message. And people came from all around to hear it. They sat with one another to share ideas about it. The people responded to the message of repent… to turn back to the right path.” I continued, “John didn’t start yelling until the Pharisees came. Then he told them the truth. They were disrupting what was going on and John wanted them to either change and be a part of get out.”
“Do you ever feel that way about church?” Heads nodded. “I’ll never go back to a church because they scare me with all their damnation talk.” “I understand,” I said. “I was converted by that scary talk when I was 13. And I think it was a real conversion. BUT nothing else really happened in my faith life until I was 35. That’s when I started reading the Bible with friends and God really started working in me.”
Then one kid said, “This is the only church I’ll go to. We’re here with you learning about the Bible.” “Yes, it’s a lot like John the Baptist in the wilderness, isn’t it?” I said this with deep satisfaction and joy welling up inside me. Matthew 3 was relevant and attractive to them! They had gotten the message and here we were, out in the wilderness, about to discuss the baptism of Jesus and those wonderful words: “In you I am well pleased!” It was a good day!
February 9, 2010

Is faith a resource for you?


Is faith a resource for you?

I learned this most useful and disarming question from a good friend of mine many years ago. I use it all the time. It's a door opener and not a slammer. On a hunch, I asked the question yesterday to a street youth and this conversation ensued:

"Chuck, can I ask you a question?" I was facing a 20 year old male whom I see about once a week. He has a place to stay and goes to school to become an artist. But he comes to see me once a week or so.

"Sure he said." I explained, "It's a little bit of an odd question. Is that OK?" (This is a good technique for working with the street youth. Always ask permission for your nosy questions.) "Go ahead!" he replied.

"Is faith a resource for you?" He began to smile. "Oh, yes! I wouldn't be here without it."

He continued, "You probably don't know my story. Three years ago you wouldn't recognize me. I was into drugs and alcohol. I was a mess. But now I don't do any of that and change wouldn't have been possible without Jesus."

I said, "Wow! That's awesome. So faith changed your life?"

"I was reborn. A new creation. I had to go through a treatment center. I had to get away from here… from the Drag… from this place and all the people I got high with. I had to leave all that old stuff behind."

"How it is to be back here now?" I asked. "I walk down here once a week because it's comfortable for me. I spent so much time here. Three years ago I was strung out just like some of these kids. In fact, I see some of the old guys every once in a while. But that's not me any more. I don't need that. I don't even want that."

"Do you go to church or some other Christian community?" I wondered. "I go from time to time. To a local baptist church near my house. I like to worship. I 'm shy, so I don't always like to get to know the people there."

"Give it time," I said. "Thank you so much for sharing this with me. It's amazing to me that three years ago you were like some of those I minister to daily. Strung out. Looking for your next hit. Doing nothing and going nowhere. I'm so glad that this changed for you. And it gives me hope that it can change for them."

He left. While I in no way take credit for his outcome, to see folks like Chuck is the goal of SYM. To offer faith as a resource to see kids come to know Christ, stabilize their lives in a new creation, and connect with Christian community. God is awesome! And the greatest resource around. Why keep it a secret! 

February 9, 2010

Is faith a resource for you?


I learned this most useful and disarming question from a good friend of mine many years ago. I use it all the time. It’s a door opener and not a slammer. On a hunch, I asked the question yesterday to a street youth and this conversation ensued:

“Chuck, can I ask you a question?” I was facing a 20 year old male whom I see about once a week. He has a place to stay and goes to school to become an artist. But he comes to see me once a week or so.

“Sure he said.” I explained, “It’s a little bit of an odd question. Is that OK?” (This is a good technique for working with the street youth. Always ask permission for your nosy questions.) “Go ahead!” he replied.

“Is faith a resource for you?” He began to smile. “Oh, yes! I wouldn’t be here without it.”

He continued, “You probably don’t know my story. Three years ago you wouldn’t recognize me. I was into drugs and alcohol. I was a mess. But now I don’t do any of that and change wouldn’t have been possible without Jesus.”

I said, “Wow! That’s awesome. So faith changed your life?”

“I was reborn. A new creation. I had to go through a treatment center. I had to get away from here… from the Drag… from this place and all the people I got high with. I had to leave all that old stuff behind.”

“How it is to be back here now?” I asked. “I walk down here once a week because it’s comfortable for me. I spent so much time here. Three years ago I was strung out just like some of these kids. In fact, I see some of the old guys every once in a while. But that’s not me any more. I don’t need that. I don’t even want that.”

“Do you go to church or some other Christian community?” I wondered. “I go from time to time. To a local baptist church near my house. I like to worship. I ‘m shy, so I don’t always like to get to know the people there.”

“Give it time,” I said. “Thank you so much for sharing this with me. It’s amazing to me that three years ago you were like some of those I minister to daily. Strung out. Looking for your next hit. Doing nothing and going nowhere. I’m so glad that this changed for you. And it gives me hope that it can change for them.”

He left. While I in no way take credit for his outcome, to see folks like Chuck is the goal of SYM. To offer faith as a resource to see kids come to know Christ, stabilize their lives in a new creation, and connect with Christian community. God is awesome! And the greatest resource around. Why keep it a secret!