I wanted to share a story that unfolded this past Sunday that has touched my heart in the deepest of ways as I’ve processed it.
As the pastor’s wife of a small community church, I’ve gotten the privilege to wear many hats in ministry. Last summer when an almost immediate need for a van driver came up, I took on the responsibility to take the 15 passenger van every Sunday morning to pick up the children from the city because there was no one else at the time to fill the role. I was happy to do so, but was also so nervous and a bit overwhelmed because it felt like such a huge responsibility to take on solo along with my other Sunday morning duties and responsibilities, and I really didn’t know my way around the city of Springfield very well at all. (It’s been the best way to combat that problem though ;))
I could tell you story after story of the most insane things I’ve experienced since being the van driver to our Childrens Outreach Ministry to Springfield. One being two boys smuggling a drone on the van and proceeding to start flying it around the van while I was en route. I caught it with my hand at a stop light and the little boy then decided it would be funny to press the go button so the little blades were cutting my hand up. Oh boy was I upset! I wanted to chuck that thing out of the window right then!!! Needless to say the drone was confiscated for the rest of the morning, and those two little guys got sent right to Pastor Joe’s office for a stern talking to when we got to the church that morning. Seriously, it can get a leeeeeeetle crazy on that route with 10-15 kids from the inner city! We are so thankful to have had some volunteers since then be able ride along on some Sundays to help control the kids so I can focus on just driving safe, and I am ever so grateful on those days when I have a helper!
As the weeks have turned into months, I’ve come to love those kids with a love that could only come from God, no matter how messy, hard and sacrificial it can feel and be. It’s been eye opening seeing the homes that a lot of them come from. Abuse, hunger, neglect, and brokenness. So much brokenness. The list goes on on and on. Last week the temperatures were in the single digits. It was SO cold, and I was SO excited about this beautiful, new, WARM winter coat my employer gave me for Christmas that I was debuting for the first time that day at church. As I jumped in the van to go on my route snug as a bug in a rug, my heart nearly broke when I realized that most of the kids were getting on the van in that frigid weather with only a hoodie or sweater on. And I wondered to myself, why me and not them? Why was I the one born to loving, MARRIED parents who saw to it that I was never hungry or cold and gave me real chance at life just by providing me with a safe, secure, home and childhood. Why me and not them?
But these are the kids we have been called to minister to. They are hurting, needy, chronic liars for nothing more than a ploy for someone to pay them attention and care, sometimes disrespectful, sometimes ungrateful, and they come to us each week hungry; physically, emotionally and spiritually. They come with baggage, they test our patience and sometimes in the midst of the crazy, I wonder if we are doing any good and if they are grasping anything we are trying to teach them about the Gospel of Jesus Christ because sometimes it can just feel like a crazy merry-go-round that doesn’t end! Now, I don’t want to come across like they are little heathens only, at times they can be quite lovable, funny and oh so very sweet, like melt your heart in a puddle, its just that sadly for most of them the innocence of childhood has been stolen prematurely by the cruel, harsh and broken world they were born in not by choice.
With out going into detail we had some pretty significant incidents happen that resulted in the suspension of some young boys from riding on the van. We had given warning after warning and finally it came to a point where we had to tell them that while we love them and want them there, coming church is a privilege . I don’t have to go pick these kids up. I want to and choose to, but when their bad behavior is distracting and keeping other children who actually really want to be there and learn about Jesus there HAS to be a limit….
Ugh. It’s really difficult to have to be that person to tell them and their parents that they can’t come to church anymore because of ______(insert situation) and it was SO hard to deal with because one, how crazy is it to actually have to suspend someone from coming to church? It goes against your every grain and I hated it!!! And two, I had siblings and friends calling and texting me multiple times a week pleading with me to please let them come back and then you wonder and think, man, what if we are the only place they ever see and feel the love of Jesus?! Was suspending them for the foreseeable future really the right thing to do?? But then you think of all the other kids whose experiences are being taunted by one or two kids behavior, and you just cry, “Lord, help me! Please give me wisdom and discernment to handle these difficult situations correctly.” The struggle of no easy answers in leadership is so very real! Do you let one or two kids disrupt the experience of other children by letting them keep coming and dis-behaving, or do you make the hard decision to say absolutely no more nonsense and stop casting your pearls before swine all the while wondering if you were the only Jesus in flesh they would ever see? So, So SO hard!
Well, after about a month of praying about and discussing it, Joe and I both felt like extending an olive branch to these two young boys was the right thing to do. Basically the analogy of extending an olive branch means to make an offer of peace and reconciliation. A second chance of sorts. Grace. Whatever you want to call it. So I called these boys up and told them just that. Among other things, like boundaries and what was expected of them behavior wise from here on out, but I made sure I told them we loved and cared about them enough to give them a second chance and that I would be happy to pick them up that following Sunday. They both said, ok and thanks and hung up. I wondered if we made a mistake…..
Yesterday for the first time since July, some one else stepped up to the plate and was able to drive the van and run the route for me since we were having a delayed Christmas meal after church, and I really needed to be at the church preparing for that. I was in the kitchen working and like a stampede of buffalo I heard them coming down the stairs. All 15 of them. I took a deep breath and called out “hey, guys, so glad you’re here! ” from the kitchen and was going about my work when all a sudden I felt a tap on my shoulder, I looked up and it was one of the young boys I had suspended and then extended grace, and with a tears he looked me straight in the eye and said, ” I just wanted to say thanks for giving me a second chance.”(insert heart throb right here!)
This boy lives in a run down house, in a run down neighborhood with some of the windows boarded shut with at least 9 siblings and 5 adults. I don’t even think they have adequate heating in their home. What chance does the world say he actually has of succeeding? But God! You guys, God! I am blown away at how God draws his children to humility and repentance. I was so moved that all I could say was “you’re welcome” and “I love you.”
This same boy went to the alter after the sermon for the first time, repented of his sin and gave his heart and life to Jesus! My husband, not knowing what had taken place just moments earlier in the basement, used this same young boy to lay hands and minister and pray for another young boy that was at the alter asking for salvation.
I guess all that to say is, I’m just really thankful we were given the wisdom to be sensitive to the leading of God in this situation and were able to see the effects that grace in action can actually have on someones life. Pray for this boy, pray for his heart to continue to be softened and drawn to the Lord. He so much going against him in the natural, but I believe with all my heart that God is championing him to be a winner regardless of his circumstances. Pray for us to lead out with wisdom, discernment, and most of all with love and grace as it was so freely given to us through The Cross.
Grace. Have you given it recently?
A few of the children we have the privilege of ministering and loving each week! 🙂