Today was our first day of working with kids in the track and field camp. There are only about 22 of them, which seems like such a small number. However, as I reflected in my previous post, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t time and energy well spent. That was even more evident to me today.
First of all, I should make the point that the personalities of the kids coupled with the nature of the program is such that if our mission tripper-child ratio was any bigger, we would have some major issues keeping things running. As it is, each teen is responsible for four kids ranging from 3rd to 8th grade, helping them learn the skills, encouraging them, keeping them on task, and trying to interact at a personal level. That’s about as many kids as any one of them could be asked to handle in this situation.
Second, and probably much more significant, is the impact this is going to have on these particular kids. One of the youngest ones seemed to really be having trouble focusing this morning, and at one point I noticed he had walked away from the group and was just sitting on his own. I went to talk to him, and he didn’t want to run, he didn’t want to take part in things. I tried to encourage him. I tried to motivate him. I asked him why he didn’t want to, and he just said, “Because I’m cold.” Finally, I said, “Well, don’t you want to tell your parents you had a good time today?” He replied, “I don’t live with my parents. I’m a foster kid.”
That’s when it clicked.
I asked him a few questions about that, let his responses guide the conversation. I could tell this was a hurting child. So I sat with him a little longer. Then I told him that I needed to help the other kids, and he said, “I want you to sit with me still.” I said, “Hey, I’d love to sit with you, but some of those other kids need my help, so if you’ll come with me and help them, then you can still be by me.” He was off the bench in a flash and for at least a few minutes seemed really engaged in what we were doing.
He just needed someone to listen for a minute.
At another point during the morning one of the oldest kids was jogging next to me. I asked him his name, because I hadn’t learned it yet, and he told me. Then he said, “Don’t you think that sounds like a girl’s name?” That definitely put me off my guard. Who even asks that kind of question? He’s been living with his own name for almost 14 years and he’s worried about someone thinking it sounds like a girl’s name?
I came up with some way of turning the conversation away from his name while still trying to reassure him. Talked about how I think it’s a crock that names like Tracey, Kelley, Shelley, and Lynn, all good Irish names for boys, have been taken over as female names. But as we gathered back with the group, he went up to the little boy I mentioned before, gave him a high five, talked with him for a minute, then briefly hugged him. Then he volunteered, “That’s my foster brother.”
See, this young man wasn’t really worried about whether or not his name sounds like a girl’s name. At least, that’s not what’s really going on. At a deeper level, he probably feels a need for acceptance and appreciation for who he is, and maybe is also harboring resentment at the family that named him then left him.
There’s another young man who came to this same program last year, a kid who you would think is just really not having any fun. Everyone else is running, he’s walking. Everyone else is competing, he’s sitting on the sidelines. When we get organized to play a game, he throws himself into it for about two minutes, but as soon as he isn’t in center stage, he’s done. And all the encouragement and motivating doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
The pastor knows this young man, though. He visited the kid’s dad in prison over the last year.
I bet this young man doesn’t even understand why he isn’t motivated. He couldn’t tell me, and I’m sure he couldn’t tell anyone. He’s wrestling with something that is way too hard for his immature mind to come to grips with. How could it be that the man he’s supposed to be able to look up to and follow and emulate, who is supposed to teach him courage and perseverance and work ethic, is one of those men who has to be locked up because he can’t get his life together and do the right thing?
I tallied up in my head at the end of the day, and of just the ones I was able to find out about today, half of the kids we’re working with are in broken homes or foster care. If each of us on the mission team could invest all day all week with just one kid each, it wouldn’t be too much for what these kids need. They are desperate for people to love them and care about them and show them that life can be better.
So here we are. As I said yesterday, certainly the Lord is with us here too, and he made that clear today. I’m sure we’re going to see more reasons before the week is done.