I stared at the graffiti covered building that had become my second home and smiled. I’d changed a lot since I first arrived at the Christian Youth Center in my BMW one year ago. Back then I hadn’t come by choice, but to perform court mandated community service as restitution for a DUI. I had entered the musty old building carrying my Louis Vuitton handbag and an arrogant attitude.
As a recent graduate from a prestigious university, I was annoyed that instead of hunting for my first job I would be spending the next six months in an environment I had managed to avoid and ignore my entire twenty-three years. I thought I was better than the center’s director whose monthly paycheck would barely cover my salon bill. I cared nothing for the dirty, snotty-nosed children that the center served.
That night teenagers welcomed me to the neighborhood by “tagging” my car with spray painted gang symbols. The next day I rode the bus. My fear of public transportation wasn’t as strong as my desire to protect my precious Beamer.
But as the weeks passed, something happened to me and six-year-old Nataki was partly responsible. Gangster thugs may have ruined by BMW, but the dark skinned girl stole my heart. Nataki never noticed my disdain and always greeted me with a hug. She often crawled into my lap and said “You’re pretty” as she stroked my blonde hair. Much effort and money went into making me feel pretty, but Nataki’s words made me aware of my ugly insides. In the beginning, her affection made me uncomfortable. But as I learned more about her life on the urban streets, my hardened heart began to soften.
More change happened as I got to know Joyce, the center’s director. She wasn’t an uneducated deadbeat who couldn’t get a better job like I expected. She was smart, clever, hard-working and she was making a difference in the children’s lives. She also had a faith in God which I slowly began to admire and desire for myself. One evening in Joyce’s dingy, closet-sized office she lead me in a prayer to accept Jesus. I found forgiveness, peace, and contentment for the first time.
I then surprised and disappointed my family and friends by selling my BMW for a more economical car, downgrading my lifestyle, and taking a job as Joyce’s assistant at the center. I had never been poorer...or happier.
Joyce and I made a great team and the center grew. I used some of my family contacts to solicit funds and recruit volunteers for the center; but we still had many needs, including a new building. I knew what needed to be done, but the thought of asking for that much money made my stomach turn.
I spent the morning in prayer and then drove my used Hondo Civic to the skyscraper downtown. I parked in the garage and rode the elevator to the top floor. The secretary was expecting me. She gave me a strained smile and then picked up her phone. “Mr. Davis, she’s here.” She hung up the phone and nodded to me. “You may go in.”
I opened the big walnut door and glanced around the large room as if for the first time. We could fit 20 tutoring cubicles in this office.
The man behind the desk set his pen down, folded his arms, and leaned back in his chair, “What can I do for you?”
“You know from my recent emails that the Christian Youth Center is in dire need of a new building. We are understaffed and underbudgeted. Frankly, we need finances.”
“Give me specifics.”
I swallowed hard but hid my fear. “Could you donate one million dollars?”
“I’m surprised by your boldness. I never expected such a request, even from you.” He reached for his check book which I hadn’t noticed was already sitting on his desk. Without hesitating, he wrote out the check and handed it to me. My hands were shaking as I took it. One million dollars. Thank you, Jesus!
“Thanks, dad. I don’t know what to say.”
“Your mother and I were disappointed about some of your recent decisions. But I’ve looked into the center. You do good work there. We’re proud of you.”
My eyes were misty as I hugged my father. I silently prayed for additional boldness because I knew, even more than asking for money, I needed to tell my father about Jesus.
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