My first job in college was as a youth director in a small church outside of Chicago. To this day, I can remember pulling up in front of the church for my interview. It was late afternoon and I had to blink twice to make sure I was seeing what I did.
Had I not written the address, I would have passed the building, thinking it to be abandoned. It looked as if it had been built around the turn of the century. Its white clapboard siding was peeling and it had a crooked bell tower decked with a gray slate roof.
I moved up the bricked steps to find the doors locked. I was a few minutes early and had been asked to meet the interview committee downstairs. There were no other cars at the curb or in the parking lot.
Curious, I walked around to the side of the building to find a stairwell leading down to door held ajar by a wooden chair. Stepping down, I gave a hello, but there was no answer, only the sound of murmured talk.
Moments later, I was being interviewed in a dark, dank earthen-floor basement in front of three sour-faced council members sitting at a folding table. Sitting beneath a single, light bulb, I began to wonder why I was there. There was no curriculum, no structure, no vision, yet, as we talked, I got an undeniable prompt in my gut that this was a church holding out hope for its youth.
On my first Sunday, I sat in the sanctuary and watched mud daubers buzz lazily around the heads of the 40 or so parishioners. Looking up, I noticed they had built nest in some of the rafters.
It had been stifling hot yet none of the beautiful, narrow stained-glass windows had been opened to allow a much needed breeze. Four people sang in the choir and a lady who must have been at least ninety years-old banged loudly on a piano. It was difficult at best to determine which was more out of tune, the piano or the choir,but it hardly seemed to matter as most of the congregants appeared to be nodding off in the morning heat. Looking around, I wondered again, God, why am I here?
After services, I led my charge of youth into our classroom, a 10x12 cubicle on the south-east wing of the church. There we sat in a silent circle on wobbly, wooden chairs - eight youth between the ages of 12 and 16 and me, age 18.
The room was dull and gray with age, the floor badly scarred, the two corner windows, one facing east, the other south were dirty and bare. After introductions, and not having a curriculum, we began bouncing ideas around as to what we wanted to accomplish as a youth group – showing up was about as far as we got.
Then the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray as a group. Silent once again, now in prayer, the words, “Do one good thing,” came to me. Looking up from the prayer circle, I saw my charges, heads bowed, eyes closed. My eyes went to the east window, murky sunlight battled its way into the room through the dirt encrusted window - and in a moment of time, I knew what had to be done.
To make a long story short, it all started in that room. We cleaned it up. And, with the resources and talents we had in that room of eight youths, we polished the window, made and hung curtains, painted the walls; and with the help of one of the fathers, sanded and refurbished the old wooden floor.
Like water in the desert, our “one good thing” took on a life of its own. As if re-grafted to a fertile tree, new life seemed to sprout and bloom from that tiny room.
Fund raisers were held, bazaars, pot-luck dinners, Bible studies began, outreach programs established. The mud-daubers were ousted, windows opened, the church refurbished the bell tower straightened, and along with it, its members renewed.
Two years later and as my last assignment, my 50-plus youth group put on a Christmas Pageant in front of about 400 parishioners. I will never forget how proud I was of them as they sang. It was as if God had nodded and the hope the elders had held out for had been restored, simply from the obedience of all of us doing just one good thing.
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