I absolutely believe that God will use anybody who makes him or herself available. In my own experience, every time I’ve honestly drawn close to God, He has given me something to do.
In my last post, I told the story of how God gave my young son a desire to buy bibles for his new friends on our adopted block and then transformed his $6 into 48 brand new children’s bibles. While I had played only a very tiny role in this, I began to feel a very strong responsibility in connection with it.
For a year now, I had been spending one morning a month blowing bubbles and drawing chalk pictures with the youngest Hispanic children on the block, while attempting to enter into conversation with the older ones. I had hit the brick wall of trying to communicate with adults who spoke absolutely no English. I had observed some of the poverty, had seen how young many of the mothers were, how big the families, and how unattended the children. I had heard about the gangs and the drugs, had seen the frequent police drive-bys; and I knew that blowing bubbles wasn’t helping anyone.
While I was touched that my son wanted all of the children to have bibles, I knew these bibles would most likely end up discarded in some corner, un-read and forgotten. Even if some of these children did decide to give this massively thick and daunting book a try, I knew that they would have no way to process what they were reading. Perhaps an especially studious child might make it through Genesis and Exodus, but what on earth would he make of Leviticus?
Still….. God’s hand was so clearly evident in the provision of the bibles. Surely, this was His doing. But in both my mind and my heart, I knew that simply handing out bibles wasn’t good enough. Someone needed to show the children what to do with the bibles, how to read them, what they mean, why they are so important. Someone.
I really didn’t want that someone to be me. I had a 15-month-old baby girl who had just finally been weaned. I had a schedule already full of PTO commitments (I was both the Box Tops Coordinator and Board Secretary), ministry commitments (I was leading music at a weekly Kids Live Club, running a monthly book group, attending a weekly bible study, working extended session at church, helping out at Adopt-a-Block), and parental commitments (juggling piano lessons, basketball practices, orthodontist appointments….). Clearly, I didn’t have time to start a ministry to these children that I didn’t really know, who lived in a neighborhood I really didn’t understand, and with whose parents I couldn’t communicate.
And yet…..I couldn’t stop thinking about how much there needed to be a someone.
About this time, I learned of a Hispanic man named Andy A. who was planning to start a Spanish church service right there on our block. He had gotten permission to use a small AME church for two hours each Sunday night, the very same AME church whose grass-filled parking lot we used for our impromptu soccer matches during our community pancake breakfasts. Andy had begun coming to our Adopt-a-Block breakfasts to play his guitar and to get to know some of the residents. As it turns out, he was dreaming of a children’s service to go along with his adult service, a children’s service that sounded surprisingly similar to what I had been envisioning in those moments I had allowed myself to contemplate the “what if.”
Andy needed someone to lead this children’s service.
I began to wonder if that someone was me. While one part of me began to dream about stepping up and “making a difference,” most of me was screaming, “Don’t be crazy. Your life is stressful enough. How can you commit to lead something EVERY WEEK? You’d have no support system, no church full of helpers, no one to fall back on in an emergency. Your kids are always sick. You have a son who becomes violently ill with the flu every single year and sometimes twice, no matter what precautions you take. You get migraines…A LOT. You have a BABY! You have a husband who travels. It is IMPOSSIBLE!”
So I began to pray. I told God I didn’t want to join up with Andy and start a children’s service, but if He wanted me to do it, I would. I am a firm believer that God wants us to know his will, so, like Gideon, I put out a fleece. If God sent someone to directly ask me to be the children’s leader, I would say yes, but I was not going to put myself forward in any way. (To put it bluntly, there was no way on earth I was going to just step up and volunteer.) The request would have to come unsought.
Then, one Thursday evening in July, quite out of the blue, I received a text sent on the behalf of Andy. He wanted to know if I might be willing to be the children’s leader for his Sunday service and could I possibly start that coming Sunday.
Here was God’s undeniable response to my prayer. What answer could I give, except for “yes”?
Let me return to where I started this post: Every time I’ve honestly drawn close to God, He has given me something to do. I’m sure it is no coincidence that my girlfriends and I were studying the book of James that summer. Few books in the bible give a stronger message about the direct correlation between what we do and how much we truly value our relationship with God than James. It is in James that we are instructed to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (1:22); and where we are emphatically told that “anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” (4:17). Furthermore, James uses the example of how we treat the poor to make his case: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:14-17). For us middle-class Americans, rich by all worldly standards, we should be deeply troubled by the dichotomy James establishes between the rich (“in the midst of a busy life, [the rich] will wither away” [1:11]) and the poor (“God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him” [2:5]). Ouch! Are we expending our lives in self-centered busyness or are we linking our lives with those who are positioned to be “rich in faith”?
Would you believe that I received Andy’s text as I was on my way out the door to go to bible study? By the end of that same night, I had my volunteers in place for the coming Sunday. My friends, Lacey, Becca G., Becca B., and Jill (as well as my husband, Cliff, Lacey’s husband, Aaron, and Becca B.’s mom, Hazel) joined me at the beginning and are still helping me today. God also sent a new set of friends, Denise and Martin, to El Crucero, right at its inception.
Certainly, I’ve needed all the help I could find. Since that first Sunday more than 2 years ago, we’ve had about 150 children (between the ages of 4 months and 16 years old) pass through El Crucero. We’ve split into an elementary school group and a separate middle school group. On our biggest nights, we’ve had close to 80 children. They mostly come on their own. We rarely see the parents. The older girls are generally charged with the care of their younger siblings, so we always have a few toddlers in the mix. My husband has become something of the Pied Piper of the neighborhood, gathering children off the streets for church on Sunday evenings. The children at the core of our group no longer need to be gathered, though. They are waiting on the steps of the church when we arrive at 5pm to begin setting up. Bibles in hand, they race up to our car before we even get fully parked, arms wide for hugs. I’m tearing up as I write about it. There is quite a bit of flux in the children that come, but every week I drive up and feel like I’m being reunited with my own kids.
The journey has already been filled with some amazing emotional highs, as well as some seasons of discouragement, exhaustion, and frustration. Over time God has trimmed away most of my other commitments, making El Crucero my primary ministry outside of my own home and family. It’s a journey I expect and hope to be on for many, many years to come, God willing. I hope to see these children grown, and I deeply desire to be allowed to encourage, advise and assist them along the way.