Today we have a guest blogger – Meredith Hastings. Meredith is a writer for Venture Magazine, a world traveler, a worship leader, and a barista! Check out her blog here where she reminds us that God is speaking to us in extraordinary ways through the most ordinary things.
We showed up for ministry expecting to continue tilling the land behind the community center to create a garden for the nutrition center but discovered we had no tools. Regina, the daycare woman, told us to go in the container and read the kids a story instead. Simple, right?
Mindy read Peter Pan to about eight listening ears while 26 other kids fought, screamed, cried, slapped and refused to listen to us. I’ve never been a kids ministry person, but as soon as we found out we’d be working with children I made a conscious choice to make the most of it, knowing the Lord brought me here for a purpose and that my bitterness would only prevent me from fully experiencing whatever it was that awaited me.
Anyway, this day made me regret that choice.
No, I’m joking. But seriously, these kids are like nothing I’ve ever seen. You separate two of them from fighting then one starts hitting you while another one cries in the corner and yet another stands before you with snot trails going from his nostrils to his lips in an appetizing, dazed stare. Just when you get them settled someone jumps on top of someone else to get closer to you and the cycle repeats. It’s pandemonium that can be controlled by nothing we’ve discovered yet.
When Peter Pan didn’t work, we tried a game. Fail.
We tried to separate boys and girls. Fail.
We suggested another game. Fail.
Head and shoulders, knees and toes. Fail.
We tried to get their attention with everything we had ever tried with any children in any setting, and it all failed. Miserably.
Finally, the four of us tried a divide and conquer strategy to gain some semblance of order, and I sat down a few kids to read a storybook about Noah. I gathered them around me and physically put each of their bottoms in a space and told them NOT to move (…fail) or there would be no story. They did actually sort of stay put and I read in a very quiet voice so that they’d have to be quiet to hear. For about ten pages I thought it might actually be working, and my soul began to rejoice between prayers for help.
And then a little boy jumped over the girl in the front row and they began pounding each other in the face, violence being the only logical solution to that sort of situation, of course. All hell broke loose again and I gave up, miserable and desperate for what to do.
God, I hate working with kids. These kids have unusually snotty noses, they’re all sick and kind of gross, they only beat each other up and they think violence is the answer to everything. This is all useless. They’re going to grow up and be in gangs and actually end up killing each other over things that are as stupid as climbing over someone in the front row of a story reading. How is this ever going to change?
And then I cried.
I cried because these children who have stolen my heart in just a week don’t know any better. All they’re taught is to negotiate everything through violence. No one teaches them any differently. No one tells them to be quiet and listen to authority. No one tells them what’s beneficial or harmful to them, so they’re left to live survival-of-the-fittest lives until they die or until they’re killed.
They don’t know that the things we’re trying to get them to do are the best for them. They only know how to do what feels natural to them, how to get what they want, and we only seem to get in their way. We’re the bad guys, and yet we’re trying to give them life skills that could break the cycle of gang membership and poverty they’ve come to know.
But it’s just not their fault. I couldn’t be mad at them anymore. I was so heartbroken for them.
It’s so unjust, so unfair that they don’t have the opportunity that I did. It’s so sad that they don’t all have parents like I did or a solid roof over their bed at night or know if they’ll ever get to sixth grade. They don’t even know why it’s important to try to get to sixth grade, because they aren’t even taught to dream.
In a way, it seems worse to encourage them to do so. If they happen to make it through high school, it’s unlikely they’ll get into a university, and even if they do, unemployment is so high that their chance at a job is dreary at best.
How do you encourage someone to have hope for her life when all she knows is despair and death as everyday life?
Everyone needs God, but not everyone knows they need God. This place needs God, and people like Malcolm, who started this community center know it. That’s why trying to read a story to these snotty-nosed kids is worth it to me. It’s why I rarely stop singing songs about Jesus around them and why I pray when they fall asleep in my lap. It’s why I’ll keep on telling them to stop fighting when they always do it again anyway.
Just as I was thinking about all of these things, Electra (one of my favorites – I actually don’t know her real name but nicknamed her after her hair’s standing-on-end tendency), ran up to me after someone poked her in the eye. Earlier, she’d gotten mad at me for getting her off of someone and reprimanding her for fighting and walked away from me crying and angry after hitting me in the leg. I had been her worst enemy in that moment, maybe ten minutes before.
But now, I was her buddy again. She remembered that I was the one that had been holding her the last week, the one she had been playing with and having fun with, and she sought me out for the comfort that she knew was there even though she’d just been mad at me.
Of course I picked her up and cradled her in my arms, rubbing her back and consoling her sobs, and eventually sat down on the floor with her in my arms. She began to quiet down, and she actually fell asleep on my shoulder, drooling onto my sleeve.
As I noticed her sleeping, so relaxed and totally peaceful for the first time all morning, I cried again.
This time, because I saw in Electra’s simple actions a reflection of my own interactions with God.
I run away from him all the time, avoiding his warnings, not heeding his word, seeing him as the enemy when I feel his discipline. Crying when he doesn’t give me what I want. Hating him for trying to interfere with what I’m trying to do.
In the end, I always end up running back to him, and he’s always there to pick me up and cradle me against his shoulder when I decide he isn’t my enemy anymore. Just as I didn’t care that Electra had kicked my shin earlier, he doesn’t care that I’ve been mad.
He’s just so happy when I decide to come back.
He’s perfectly content to receive me back in his arms.
With the way I loved Electra as she rested in my lap, a child not even my own, I could not fathom how deeply God must love us. How deeply he loves each of those children and how greatly he wants them to escape the tragic cycle of life here. How deeply he loves me in all of my wanderings and complaining. How deeply he cares for the world in all its brokenness.
I kissed her tiny face and let her keep drooling as I wiped the tears from my own cheeks, oblivious now to the chaos around me.
I don’t love working with kids, but God sure is using them to teach me quite a few things.