Working with at-risk youth wasn't what I originally thought I would do with my life. Even after I became a teacher, the challenging kids kind of scared me. I am an introvert who likes order, peace, and control. Trying to help a traumatized child regulate after a major behavioral breakdown was something I was unfamiliar with, and a skill I am still perfecting. It throws all my ideas of order, peace, and control out the window (sometimes literally).
But I do know what it is like to hurt. There is emotional pain so strong it takes your breath away, and makes your brain turn off. I've been in that place. And, I have been in the place of quiet healing, when Jesus took that pain away. Sometimes whispers of that pain come back to haunt me, but the breath of God always sweeps in to silence them. I remember being so amazed by God's love that I was heart broken at the idea of others trying to struggle through this type of pain without Him. So, I prayed the Lord would take me to the most broken of people to share his hope. I didn't understand what an overwhelming but wonderful job that would be. In fact, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around it, because it often requires so much of me with so seemingly little return...and yet...
Enter in this year's Akina Camp. Dan and I have been working with families and kids in Little Earth for over 12 years. We began as a small missions church, and over the past few years, have felt God calling us to focus on the next generation of kids, building on the relationships we have built with the Kids Programs we run. This includes mentorship, discipleship, literacy, and connecting the kids to local churches. It has been tough, because the community we work with is very broken. There were at least three shootings this past year, and now a huge homeless camp is growing right outside the community.
Camp is an amazing week in August where we bring the kids to a beautiful retreat center in Wisconsin where they can get away from all that stress and just be kids, with the added bonus of connecting with Jesus. I was feeling nervous, because camp requires a lot of energy, patience, and prayer. More and more kids have been wanting to come each year, and it was my heart's desire to see kids meet with Jesus. But, truth be told, I was dreading some of the student's behaviors that might pop up. Sometimes I even wrestled with the fact that we might not be making a difference in the lives of these hurting kids, because at times, their situation seemed hopeless.
I noticed a difference in the kids this year, though, almost immediately. When it was time for Bible lessons some of the kids, who had been so hard behind their walls years before, had already began opening up. By the time the kids sang "Reckless Love," in worship, God was there to meet us. Throughout the week, stories came out from these lovely children. Stories of abuse, of finding parents passed out on the floor because drugs, stories of pain. Kids who were silent due to trauma began to whisper things to their counselors. Boys who were the most difficult ones to work with started talking about their futures with hope. As these stories came out, Jesus was there to meet them with his healing love. It was something that years before I thought I'd never see. I'm so glad God proved me wrong.
I know that everything still won't be perfect for these kids. But I do know that some amazing relationships were strengthened, and now we have more of an opportunity than ever to reach these kids for Christ, and help them overcome generational poverty! Only GOD can do this. Not us, not for a single moment have I ever been equipped to help these kids. But God is. I think I am finding that if we are willing to step out in love and wisdom, even if that is in places that make us uncomfortable, God will work the change in the most impossible situations.