I’m now in my third week of running CHAT’s High-school Mix program. We have 15 high schoolers who are anywhere from rising 9th graders to recent graduates and we've been doing a lot of stuff so it’s hard to believe we’re only 2.5 weeks in! So far we’ve been camping, done drum circles, gone rafting, tree-climbing, and tubing. In fact, last Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and the White House!!
These experiences have been quite wonderful but, as my high-schoolers would say, “they be wylin’ bruh.” While I’ve enjoyed our time doing activities together, we’re also dealing with some pretty tough kids. CHAT employs around 50-60 high schoolers through a few programs. Street leaders help at day camp with the younger kids under my fellow interns. Nehemiah’s workshop employs teens in Church Hill to do carpentry, and CHAT’s urban farming and screen-printing programs employ teens as well. What this means is that the youth in the high-school mix are pretty much with us for one of three reasons:
1. they are rising 9th graders and therefore are not old enough to be employed by these programs
2. they want to take the summer off to have fun
3. (probably the more common reason) they have enough relational and/or behavioral difficulties that they are unlikely to be employed by CHAT (and therefore also by most other employers)
While a lot of these kids have a potential to do and say incredibly destructive things, it’s also been cool to slowly realize some of the awesome gifts they bring to the table. These kids are hilarious. I mean they’ll have you bent over laughing and are quicker on their feet than any group of people I’ve met. And not only that, but these kids are really just kids who want to have fun and be loved, and it’s been cool to see their potential to build one another up and have grace with one another, even if this is not always a regular occurrence. One thing Percy (the founder & CEO of CHAT) reminds us is that most people think these kid deserve second best, or more often third, fourth, or fifth best. But really they deserve the best of the best and being with them for the past two and a half weeks I’ve seen how true that really is.
The community here in Church Hill has also been really cool to be a part of. There are so many people who know so many people - it’s like this insanely large and dense web of relationships that is really beautiful. East End Fellowship, the church that many folks at CHAT and in the community are a part of, describes itself as a group of people who worship, walk, and work together for the joy & justice of the neighborhood. And this really is a group of people who worships together each Sunday and throughout the week in their missional communities (i.e. bible studies/small groups), who walks together in daily life and as geographic neighbors rather than simply symbolic ones, and works for the good of the community through their jobs, through their actions, and through their radical love for the people of this community.
Last week, I was at discipleship group where I and a couple other interns meet with a member of the community to talk about life & God. The host's friend Tyrone came to the door while we were meeting. Tyrone is blind in one eye, disabled and homeless, and Clay had got a bus pass for him so that he could go to the doctor. Clay has known Tyrone since he moved into his home 2 years ago, and they’re friendship was so visibly and profoundly beautiful. Tyrone could not stop talking about how much he loved Clay. “I love this guy!” he kept saying. “And so I love you, and you, and you!” he went on, pointing to myself, Timmy, and Marcellus who were there with him. “He always there for me; Clay always there for me. He’s the only one I got.” Tyrone told us. “See I always been there for my family, but after my disability and my situation [his homelessness] they wasn’t there for me, I mean I still love, but they wasn’t there. But not Clay! Clay was there for me! Clay always there for me!” As I write this, I am still filled with an overwhelming sense that the Lord is at work here in Church Hill. Tyrone loved and appreciated this man more deeply than I’ve ever seen. And it was beautiful, truly a moment where heaven was touching earth.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ --Matthew 25.34-40
Most of us have heard this verse countless times, whether Christian or not. But I tell you that there is a deep and profound truth and beauty in its enactment. For how often do we put into practice that which God declares in Isaiah 58:
“Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
God does not command us to go and start a non-profit, nor to seek political power to create more just laws (though do not get me wrong, these things are incredibly good), but he commands us to bring the homeless and poor into our house, and to sit and break bread with them, and to clothe them with what we have. And when we do this for the least of these, truly I say to you that you will see Christ.
And the incredible thing is that in the East End, there is a community of people who are dedicated to seeking the Lord and following him, seeking to walk in step with the Spirit. And if we are to look at American Evangelicalism as a whole, these are folks who are often completely removed from the poor and oppressed, not simply cognitively or socio-economically, but also physically. And yet here are a group of folks who are seeking to be with God and to follow Him who are also trying to love their neighbors (and sometimes it is actually their next-door neighbors) as themselves. And first of all, let me tell you, it’s messy. It’s really messy. And it’s hard. Being here is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I tell you the wisdom of God is far greater than the wisdom of humans, and the kingdom of God is far more beautiful than the kingdoms we labor to build in vain. And in the midst of the chaos and craziness of life in this neighborhood, in the midst of a rape happening a couple blocks down, and in the midst of a former student of CHAT dying inexplicably in the city jail for a minor probation violation, and in the midst of hoping those are fireworks and not gunshots that I hear, this is truly what I have to hold onto: that God is God and that God is good, and that God's kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven as I see God's disciples proclaiming the gospel in word and in deed, in grace and in truth. That the kingdom of God is coming when we mourn and grieve and that the kingdom of God is coming when we have fun with these kids, and when we’re planning at 9:00 in the morning, and when we’re telling someone that they can’t say those things, and when we’re sharing the gospel with these kids and with this community—in word and in deed.
May His kingdom come
May His will be done
Here on earth (and in Church Hill)
As it is in heaven.