Tuesday, June 18, 2013

falling in love with jesus

There's something about serving others. About reaching out to people who may have never heard the Gospel. About sincerely, genuinely getting down to a child's level and simply showing them how much you care. There's something about it that lifts the fog of a world that's broken and hurting, and for a few simple, beautiful moments, shows the wonder that Jesus brought to earth.

This year at Christian Youth In Action© (a training camp Child Evangelism Fellowship© holds around the country to train teenagers how to effectively share their faith), I was a team leader for the first time. My team and I, consisting of two fourteen year old teenagers, went to a Boys' and Girls' Club, community centers that bring in kids during the year and teach them respect, discipline...or, at least, attempt to.

Community center 5 Day Clubs are always difficult. A lot of the kids in these places come from broken or troubled homes. Both of their parents--or their only parent--have to work all day long, and so the kids get bundled off to these budget daycare facilities, because it's all they can afford during the summer. The school systems are, very often, failing these kids spectacularly. They're faced with parents who don't care, or are abusive, or try really hard but can't make ends meet. Many of them have absent fathers--some because their fathers are in jail, some because their dad just up and disappeared one day. Some, the ones who really break my heart, have different daddies than their siblings, and their mom has a new guy these days.

As a consequence of all these factors, many of these kids have behaviour problems. Respect is earned, not freely given. And it can only be earned very, very slowly, by continually pouring into their lives. Everyone else has left them; the chances of your doing so, in their eyes, is extremely high. They see no need to listen to some teacher they don't know. Add into this a racial divide that's still very much alive in some of these places, and it becomes downright impossible.

We walked into this community center, and I could only glance back at my team and say one of those quick "dear Jesus, please help us," prayers. Neither of my team was particularly prepared for the challenge presented by these kids. One of my team members was a second-year in our program. He's a great teacher, but he's also very focused. He has to focus entirely upon his lesson, or he'll lose it...and the discipline problems in this club didn't help the whole focus thing. My other team member was a first-year, a little fourteen year old girl who's almost whiter than I am, with perfect hair and nails and a bit of germophobia.

To say that I was a bit nervous about the outcome of this club would be an understatement. I could handle it. But I was the team leader. My job was to sit in the back of the room, observe, write things down on sheets of paper, and pray really hard that my team wouldn't tank. Okay, maybe that last bit isn't technically on the job description, but it fits. So that's what I did. For five days, I helped how I could, I gave pointers, I prayed for my team, and I loved the kids in our club. I loved them with every bit of me.

It was a hard club, I'll tell you that. My team wasn't quite sure what to do with them. Some of them smelled bad, and my poor little germophobe didn't know what to do with them. Some of them wouldn't sit down for love or money--or, what was more immediate, the promise of candy. Some of them were attentive and got as close as they could to the teacher. Some could answer every question at the end, but during the lesson looked as if they weren't listening at all...and did their hardest to distract everyone around them. My team wasn't quite sure how they were supposed to love these kids. How just standing up and teaching them a lesson constituted loving them at all. How they were supposed to reach into these kids' lives and make a difference.

How, in short, loving them was at all possible.

They're smelly.
They don't pay attention.
They're disrespectful.
They make snide comments about us.
They hate us.

Slowly, I got them to look past that...or, at least, attempted to. Yes, they're disrespectful. But God made them, and loves them. And it is here that loving others and loving Jesus intersects. Telling people about Christ--especially children, who Jesus loved above all others--seems to bring Jesus from the past, from the realm of abstract intellectual knowledge, and makes Him a present, living reality.

Christ lived and died. 
For each and every one of these smelly, disobedient kids. 

Christ gave His blood. 
For each child who turns around in their chair while they're supposed to be listening. 

Christ came alive again. 
For each child who complains as he's being led into the classroom on day three. 

When I really make an effort to think about the sacrifice Jesus made, about how much he suffered just for the love of sinful, horrible people who were, in that very moment, nailing him to one of the most brutal torture implements ever devised by human imagination, it's hard to ever despise the people you're trying to tell about Him. It makes it difficult to say bad things. It makes it difficult to undervalue those who've never heard that He did, in fact, make that sacrifice.

And as I ponder it, this incredible, immense sacrifice that was made on my behalf, it makes me fall in love, too. It makes me realize that, as I am loved, as Christ loved me, so these children are loved. And that's why the end of a 5 Day Club always makes me cry. Why I can only pray during our last few minutes with them, praying life and love and hope over them, praying for those who came so close to a knowledge of the Savior during the five days, yet still fell short of quite getting it, of fully grasping it, of understanding the truth we'd been pouring into their lives.

Yesterday, I was reading in 1 Peter. I was actually studying for a lesson, but then my eye landed on this, and it so perfectly sums up the reason I do what I do.
Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
I am not redeemed by anything I can do, with corruptible things that will pass away. My deeds cannot ever atone for the other deeds I've done, can't begin to cover the sin I've committed. Yet Christ came, a lamb without any defect. He knew this would happen, eons before it came to pass. And yet He still came. He came to earth and died. He came to earth and came alive again, to be a testament for us, to make a new covenant forged under his blood, by his suffering.

And now my faith and hope are in Him, in His Father. And that is why I go to these places where the kids are tough and hurting and broken. It's why I go into a sick, broken world. Because I know the One who heals all hurts. And can I sit by and simply not take it? 

I've fallen in love with Jesus. Totally, irrevocably, utterly in love with Jesus. I love Him who first loved me. And now I can't help but speak of this faith and hope that He has given me.

- Kyla Denae

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