"Was It Worth It, Jesus?"

I spent last week working in northeast DC alongside a team of volunteers from Memorial. We were working with a wonderful ministry called City Gate which provides after school activities and summer day camps for disadvantaged children in eleven locations around Washington. Our team provided leadership for a week-long day camp at a large, Section 8 apartment complex. We had about 80 kids and we adapted a Vacation Bible School approach to this unique setting. My job was to work with sixteen 6th - 8th graders, who were actually too old for the program, but came anyway because they had nothing else to do. Believe it or not, this is my favorite age group to teach or coach, not quite too cool for school, and still able to be motivated and engaged, at least for short periods of time.

We didn't have a room, since the younger kids filled up the two classrooms inside the community building. So, we put a canopy over a picnic table in the yard to give us some shade from the heat and cover from the rain.

I guess I had one advantage from the start - being a man. Most of these kids have so few men in their lives, even fewer that express any real interest or concern for them. They seemed surprised that I was coming back, committed to being with them all week. I'm afraid most the volunteer teams that come through drop by for a day or two and then head to the Smithsonian. Everyday, "Are you coming back? You'll be here tomorrow? You here all week?"

"Sure, I'll be here. See you tomorrow." Hard to believe that a single week of contact with these kids could represent so much more consistency than they usually have in their lives. So, day by day, we began to get acquainted - Tilly and Tomiwa and Tyler, Josh and Hivan and Kerod, Jalia and Toure' and Makayla, Tiwalade and Latasha and LT, Daniella and Brandee and Adetilewa and Raivlyn. Man, I thought Bible names were tough. They seemed to pick up "Drew" pretty quickly.

"Help me remember who you are. Tell me your name and tell me about your best day ever." Around the table and the tent, each one shared. Some hesitated, "My best day ever? Hmmm." "My best day was my birthday. I got to go skating." "My best day was when my little sister was born." "My best day was when I got to go to Six Flags."

As we were nearing the end of that conversation, Latasha asked, "Can we talk about our worst day?" I said, "Well, you don't have to, but you can if you want to." When her turn came, she said, "My worst day was when my grandma died of cancer." I said, "I'm sorry you lost your grandma. Did she live here close?" She nodded and said, "I lived with her."

Around the circle we went, each one sharing their worst days, some not so bad really, others heart-breaking stuff, right out in the open. It was real. No pretense, just raw life experience. It was quite a conversation. Here's a few exerpts from our study time each morning, my questions and their answers:

If you were the Creator, what kind of world would you create?
  • No apartments, only houses.
  • No killers, no rapists. No kidnapping or car-jacking. No stealing.
  • Everything is free.
  • No aging. (We stop getting older at 28.)
  • No getting sick.
  • No war.
  • No dentists.
  • No rich people. 
  • No Donald Trump.
  • No commercials.
  • Skittles, lots of Skittles.
  • Rainbows every Tuesday.
 If you were starting a new church, what kind of church would it be?
  • Gospel rap.
  • Involved in everything.
  • Serves the neighborhood.
  • Helps the homeless.
  • Feeds the poor.
  • Teaches about God.
  • Has Vacation Bible School.
  • Gives away Bibles.
  • Sunday lunch.
  •  A celebration every day.
If you could interview Jesus on your own late night talk show, what five questions would you ask Him?
  • What did it feel like to be born into a homeless family?
  • Were you ever afraid to do what God asked you to do?
  • Why did you have to be crucified?
  • Why did you have to go alone?
  • What did you mean when you said, "It is finished,"?
Tilly's group came up with a final bonus question for Jesus:
  • The way the world is today, was it worth it?
 As you can imagine, we had lots of great conversation, talking about their thoughts and ideas and questions. I remember seminary classroom debates that were not nearly as gritty and challenging as talking with this bunch at City Gate.

In the afternoons it was touch football, between two sidewalks, a building, and a row of trees. And watch out for that manhole cover. I was quarterback for both teams, kind of a seven on seven drill, and we had a great time each day. Of course, I could only throw to one person each play, so the others let me know how open they were and why I should've thrown it to them. Tomiwa said repeatedly, "You are the worst quarterback in the history of the world!" He kept track of how many picks I threw, eight in one game, but I also threw 22 touchdowns, so not too bad. The score was 98 to 84. By Thursday I thought my arm was going to fall off. It's been a long time since I was coaching youth football.

My worst moment at City Gate was my last. When I handed the football back to LT at the end of the day Friday, he looked at me and said, "So, this is it? You're done? You won't be back next week?"

"No, LT. I won't be here next week, but I hope to come back sometime before too long," being careful not to promise more than I could deliver. "Take care of yourself, LT. Remember what we talked about." He nodded looking down at the football in his hands and then he was gone.

I wouldn't trade my week at City Gate for anything. I was exhausted, sunburned and sore, yet somehow refreshed, renewed. It took a bunch of kids in the projects to remind me of just how good the Good News is, and how great is the love of the Father for all His children. God bless them all.


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