Our family has sort of “backed’ into youth ministry over the past year or so. We were going through a major family crisis when we met these young people and I had found myself raising four children alone after 17 years of marriage.
We were forced by circumstances to move into a neighborhood with a high crime rate and for the first month or so, we stayed pretty close to home. The Lord opened a door for temporary employment in our housing complex that involved serving free meals to underprivileged children during the summer months.
Early each morning, I opened the activity center doors and welcomed approximately 30 children to breakfast. My children participated in the program and often helped to serve the meals; this helped them to make friends quickly. Before long, nearly every child that came through the doors began to call me “Mama” because it was easier than trying to remember my name.
I wondered what in the world the Lord was doing because I had been telling him that I was so tired of hearing “Mama” all day long at home. Now it was a chorus that was being sung in 30-part harmony, plus I was wiping up spilled milk and catching pool balls that had gone airborne from breakfast until after lunch.
After the first week, a dozen or so of “my” kids would sit on the stairwell of outside our apartment and wait for me to come home from work. Now the last thing I wanted was to have a crowd of children, many of whom were quite rough around the edges, in my house at the end of the day. . The Lord overruled my flesh and I found myself feeding groups of children at my home as well.
This was truly miraculous as nearly two months passed before I saw my first paycheck! It was especially difficult because we were still riding the rails of the emotional roller coaster that often accompanies family break-ups. Oh, how the doors would slam and the words would fly! Sometimes this happened while we had a house full and it was so humiliating; I felt like such a failure as a parent and mentor but the kids always came back the next day. They just wanted to hang out at our apartment and would sometimes fall asleep on the floor.
Summer came and went and many of my kids moved away; I missed them more than I had thought. My own children spent most of their time outside with their playmates while I pursued a freelance writing career. On Sundays, my children and I had church services at home because we had not found a church home yet. A couple of kids asked to join us and for the past year has continued to fellowship with us. Sometimes impromptu bible lessons begin outside “scheduled’ meeting times and go late into the night and I am not much of a night person. I still struggle with annoyance when someone just wants to hang out, particularly if we have had one of those roller coaster days.
Two Sundays ago, we had finished our Sunday worship and eaten lunch. None seemed in a hurry to leave although, I must confess, I was ready for them to do so; it had been a difficult and discouraging week in so many ways. Then the kids began sharing their thoughts about running away from home and cited failed attempts.
A teen who had been dozing on the floor suddenly woke up and joined the discussion. He spoke of how difficult things were at his home and how he had often planned to run away. He finished by saying that now, whenever he thinks about running away, he thinks about our family times and how much he would miss that and changes his mind.
I give God all the praise, honor and glory for the impact opening up our lives to these young people has had. We have so many things to overcome in our own family yet He continues to use warts and all. That young man has witnessed many of our roller coaster days yet nearly every Sunday, he calls me to ask, “Mama, can I come over for church today?” This past Sunday, he asked to be baptized; the baptism ceremony took place before the night had ended. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!