Today was a tough day for me at Foster Park… it’s been a tough summer really. Foster Park is a weekly summertime ministry I have led at a nearby inner-city park for the past five summers. What has been difficult about this summer is to see what feels like a lot of ineffectiveness of all of my labor the past five years. And more-so than merely being labor, what makes it hurt is that it is my love that I pour out on these kids time and time and again, only to see very little fruit.
Two weeks we ago we had a group of four 6 and 7 year olds jump a kid and beat him up after our program was over. The sad thing is that I have known the lead 7 year old since he was 2 years old. When he was 2-4 years old, he was the cutest kid you have ever seen, the one the leaders would always take pictures of. Ages 5-6 brought serious anger issues where when he didn’t get his way, he simply couldn’t deal with it and could completely shut down. This year, at age 7, that anger has turned into violence against others.
What was really difficult for me today was my small group of four guys, made up of 8th and 9th graders. I have known three of these guys for five years. Every week at the park, we do a small group Bible discussion with the older kids. While I know that the main reason the kids are there is for the free pizza and prizes, there is that part of me that hopes that they actually give a rip about God and His incredible love for them. Today was the first time I ever got up from my small group in frustration, simply not able to finish our discussion (today, of John 15:1-8). I am tired of the kids having a head knowledge that “If I believe Jesus died for my sins, I’ll go to Heaven” and then not caring at all about actually having a relationship with God (or about God himself), and about how that affects their life in the least.
The sad thing is they cannot take anything seriously so talking about hell, prison, drug-addiction, homelessness, emptiness, or anything other warning of very potential future realities only falls on deaf ears. One of them just got diagnosed with a serious liver condition and when I asked him about it, the rest of them simply started going off about how much they will miss him when he’s dead, and how it’s been nice knowing him. And this is one of their best friends.
I think what is most frustrating is my total lack of control of the situation. I have this idea that if I tell people about the incredible love that God has for them, and how He has made a way for them to have relationship with Him, that it will actually affect them. That they will actually be intrigued that the God of the universe would love them personally, sacrificing himself for them so they could have a love relationship with Him, and that they’d respond by worshiping Him. That they would see God as a better option than whatever else is before them, and in these kids’ cases, that other option isn’t much.
I wish more people would help, and help consistently, rather than just showing up and taking a photo with the cute kid, whether that’s at Foster Park, or in Africa. All these kids know is adults who abandon them–who are there for a season–then something better comes along so they move on. I wish less of us were like that. While it may sound like I’m preaching here, I don’t care, it has been a tough day and I love these kids. While these kids are accountable for their actions, it is certainly not fair the way they have been raised and conditioned. I wish we would sing less songs about love being the answer, and sign up for less Facebook groups about social justice causes, and actually get out and love those who need it most… realizing that loving in this way is not glamorous or sexy, but will leave you feeling tired and defeated. Yet somehow in this, we understand more of the love that Jesus has for each of us, and more of the pain he feels when we reject him, or worse, are apathetic toward him.
Just needed to vent a little tonight after a tough day at the park. I know God is at work in these kids’ lives. Pray for them that the fruit will someday appear, and pray for me that I will not tire of giving these kids a chance.