Friday, 22 November 2013

Yet Still We Dare to Hope

A heart-breaking story, yet a hope that still reigns

The classroom is silent. Each nine year old girl has a look on her face not of judgment, condemnation, or even shock, but instead of concern and understanding. Their attention is held captive by the words of their fellow classmate, Bella*. Bella gives a short laugh, yet her eyes flicker with sadness. "I guess technically," Bella says, "I was abandoned too."

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed..." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

A Whole New Meaning

When I was deciding a name for this blog, I would have to admit that there was not a significant amount meaning in the name I chose. I searched for something that would grab the attention of readers, something poetic, something memorable. However, But Never Abandoned does carry some meaning: it is a small bite of my favorite verse in the bible found in 2 Corinthians (see above). However, the concept which envelopes the name of this blog has never struck me so profoundly as it this past Tuesday, as I stared in the face of a little girl who would claim that the words "never abandoned" are a sick lie.

The Story That Touched Her

Part of the afterschool program which we run for the children is what is referred to as "Word UP" - which is essentially a short bible lesson or teaching. The overarching theme that we have been exploring with all the children is the idea that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. Over the past two months, we have learned about various people who God has used to accomplish huge things for His purpose and glory. As leaders, we decided to introduce the children to people from the Bible, but also people living today in an attempt to destroy the idea that God was different then than He is now.

On this particular Tuesday, I was reinstating this theme to my girls by sharing the story of Lecrae, a Christian rapper. The girls listened intently as I shared how Lecrae was abandoned by his father as a child, became involved in drugs and gang life, yet handed his life over to Christ after surviving a serious car accident.

As always, I ended the time by asking the girls questions which challenge them to apply the lessons learned to their own lives. Folding my lesson plan and leaning forward, I asked the young girls who sat before me: "What are some bad things that have happened to you that have made you question why God would let it happen?"
The first couple of answers were typical, innocent nine year-old answers - things like, "One time I fell off a treadmill and hurt my head and I wondered why God would let this happen to me". But when I called on Bella, who sat quietly with her hand raised, she shocked me with a story that no nine year-old should ever have.

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you" (Deuteronomy 31:8)

The Story That Broke Me

"I don't usually tell people this," Bella says maturely. "But I know that I can trust you guys". She proceeds to explain that until she was seven years old, she never really knew her father. She lived with her mother, and had minimal paternal influence. One day, however, when she was seven years old, her mother told her she was going to spend a night at her father's place.
"It was one night, so I packed one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of socks, and one pair of clean underwear," Bella says with acute detail. The day after the sleepover at her father's, Bella says she packed her things and waited in the apartment for her mother to pick her up.
Her mother never came.
Her mother never came, and she did not hear from her for months. After several months, her mother finally called, informing Bella that she would be by the next day to pick her up.
Once again, Bella packed her things and waited.
Once again, her mother never came.
"I guess, technically, I was abandoned too."
She says all these things matter-of-factly, but through her eyes I can see her heart breaking.
And as I stared into the eyes of this precious girl, my heart broke. How could such a young child endure such pain, rejection, and heart break? She was only nine, yet her hope and her heart had been taken and smashed again and again, like a glass jar on bricks.

This series of circumstances repeated itself over the next few years. A vicious cycle of contentedness, renewed hope, expectancy, and crushing disappointment.

Yet, in spite of all this, Bella is easily the most well-behaved, mature child I have ever met; she speaks with the sophistication of an adult. Furthermore, in a culture where - in most cases - circumstance directly affects behavior, one would assume that Bella comes from a loving, happy home.

Yet Still, We Dare to Hope

And so my soul searches for something to offer this girl who is already accustomed to pain, and so I hold out the truth which now has more meaning than ever before.

"Bella...we are never abandoned by God."

At this, her lips turn up into a smile, a it is not sadness but hope which flickers in her eyes.
A hope that will disappoint her.
A God that will never abandon her.

But never abandoned.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What Kind of Place is This?!

A twelve year old's very literal - and humorous - church experience.

Lightening the Mood

I would like to start off by affirming something everyone of my readers has most likely thought. I am aware that every one of my posts up until now has been rather heavy. They all express very deep, sobering realizations that I have had, and this is namely due to the fact that I love to think deep thoughts, ask the difficult questions, and ponder the circumstances that many people overlook in life. And in my moments of pondering I often have epiphanies that I simply must share with the world - hence the majority of my blog posts. I am a romantic and a dreamer, yet another quality of mine which comes into play here, on my blog, is my perfectionism. Each post on this blog takes at least three hours of writing, reading, editing, re-reading and re-editing. This is why I long forsook my goal of posting every week.

Today's post, however, shall be different than the others. The purpose is not to make you cry, or to have you reevaluate a certain area of your life. You will not get to peek into the scattered mess of my mind, or look at the world through my eyes. Instead, I only wish to put a smile on your face – if only for a brief moment. I wish for you to share just one of the moments of humor I often experience when spending time with my kids here in Toronto.

Sunday Mornings


Before I begin describing the situation, I must first give some context. Part of my internship program working with the kids in an at-risk community in Toronto is to take any willing children to church with us interns on Sunday mornings. This began just a few weeks ago, and so far - in my community in particular - the turnout has not been superb. Many of the kids quickly shut down the idea of waking up two hours earlier than they normally would just to sit in a church service. Those who do show interest often tell us later that they've changed their mind, or they simply do not come to the door on Sunday mornings. I have quickly learned that urban ministry requires a significant amount of flexibility. However, there is two children who have dragged themselves out of bed on Sunday morning in order to go to church with over-enthusiastic interns. One is a young five-year old girl, and the other is her twelve year old uncle, Damien*.

Introducing Damien

Damien, is - without a doubt - one of the most hilarious kids I have ever met. I have a feeling that describing him is going to be near impossible, but I will do my best to illustrate Damien without disgracing his character. Damien has no boundaries, and no filter. Whatever comes to his mind, he speaks. Undoubtedly, this quality often gets him into trouble, but thankfully, it is nearly impossible to stay mad at Damien, because a beautiful, contagious smile is always plastered on his face. For example, the first day I wore my glasses instead of my contacts, Damien told me that I looked weird and that I should never wear my glasses again. Absolutely no filter. But his smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eye made it impossible for me to be offended. He is loud, bold, and slightly obnoxious, yet he would not be Damien without a single one of these characteristics. He has one of those laughs - you know, the kind of laugh that when you hear it you can't help but laugh yourself. A bubbling, rich, infectious laugh. I have never seen him intimidated, shy, or melancholy. Damien's character is, in a word, rare. I wish everyone I know got to spend a moment with this child, for I believe their life would be richer because of him.

Church vs. Damien

The church that we are required to take the children to is a quiet, reserved church. There is few children who attend, and the majority of the church's population is over the age of forty. However, I have never attended a church which is more of a family than this one. Nevertheless, many of Damien's attributes contradict harshly with this church's atmosphere. Namely, his charisma and his tendency to speak to speak everything five notches louder than everyone else. The words "Damien" and "whisper" will never be spoken in the same sentence.
This makes Sunday mornings an interesting but memorable experience. Admittedly, I got absolutely nothing from the pastor's sermon this past Sunday due to the fact that my attention was completely consumed with teaching Damien how to act in church.
No Damien, worshiping the "Lamb of God" does not mean we are worshiping a sheep. It's another name for Jesus. No, Jesus is not a sheep. It's a metaphor, Damien.

No Damien, we're not actually going to drink blood. It's just grape juice. Yes, I know he said that - it's symbolic. We're following Jesus' example - no, Jesus wasn't a vampire...
No Damien, just one cup of grape juice, Damien. And one cracker. No, this isn't lunch. It's communion. Shhh, chew quietly. No, you cannot have more. Stop licking out your cup.
Don't worry Damien, you don't have to give any money to the offering. No, it's fine you don't have to give - well, okay. Yes, the pastor did say give whatever you can. Yes, I'm sure they will appreciate that Tootsie Roll, Damien.
No Damien, when the song says "set your church on fire" it does not mean they are going to light the building on fire - it's a metaphor...we're the church. No, we're not going to catch on fire. Stop freaking out, I'll explain later, Damien.  

A Very Literal Experience

In short, it was easily the most comical church experience I have ever had. However, one of the benefits of Damien's personality is that his comments are often the thoughts that other children have but don't vocalize. Having grown up in the church, phrases that I wouldn't think twice about are seen in a different light to those who did not have the same experience I had. Damien gave me a better look into the minds of the children that I am working with.
His experience was summed up in one hilarious outburst as we left the building: "Singing to sheep? Drinking blood? Setting churches on fire? What kind of place is this?!"
To say the least, I dedicated the ride home to explaining the symbols, metaphors, and representations used in the church, and thanking God for putting kids like Damien in my life to make it a bit brighter.

*names have been changed to protect the identity
As always, donations are always very needed and very appreciated so that I may continue reaching at-risk children in Toronto like Damien. Your donations allow me reach these kids spiritually, academically, and socially. If you feel led to give, please click the link below. Honestly, every single penny counts!
Thank you to all who read and all who give!
God bless,