Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Inner City

What I am about to say here may sound pretty pathetic, mean, hateful, and will sound very much like a man who has no faith in the power of God. I reckon it is fair to say that. However, I have to get this out of my head and onto paper...well, er, the screen...

Every Tuesday night, I go to our church and participate in the Montgomery Inner City Outreach. Basically, several churches around the city take a bus load of kids varying in age on different nights (We take 7, 8, and 9 year olds on Tuesdays for example). The night last 40 to 60 minutes. But class only runs for 40 minutes.

Essentially we have 2 to 4 classrooms with 7 to 10 kids in each class... 10 at most, sometimes 6 after you send the bad ones out. We read a story about Jesus, we answer questions, color, do a word search related to the story, etc... We all think of inner city kids as being mean, hateful, and rowdy. Well, in a way this is true. But honestly, they are just kids and there are a handful who are just as sweet as your own child. Then there is the one who has behavioral problems out the yen-yang because she got hit in the neck by a stray bullet and her brother molests her every night.

Here is where my faith in god may sound lacking. Our work seems useless and futile.

First of all, our curriculum is written on a 3rd or 4th grade level. Have you ever heard an inner city public school 8 year old try to read the word "Apostle"? Or even try the name "Daughter"? How about the one kid in every class that looks up at you when he comes to the word "then" because he cant pronounce it? So mistake number one is that these lessons need to be readable on a 1st grade level at BEST because that's how these kids read. Granted, there are the 1 or 2 kids in the class who love to read and read like an ace and my heart goes out to them because they have everything it takes to be successful yet they were dealt different cards in life as you and I and will have to work EXTRA hard to be successful.

Secondly, as these kids read aloud, the remaining 7 or 8 are in la la land either looking around, kicking one another under the table, flipping the other off, or trying to get out of their seat. And you cant really get mad at them. Heck, they are probably fussed at all day or worse, beaten. Best you can do is get the bad ones out of class and the rest are fine.

Okay, best case scenario: They come in, sit like little angels, read like a poet, comprehend every bit of it, and go home only after giving you a big fat hug... They get home, find mom (and maybe a dad) in the house selling dope or weed, repeating the F-bomb over and over, treating the child like an inconvenience, neglecting the child, and subjecting the child to rap music that does anything but lift a child's spirit. 24 hours later, the fact that Jesus died on a cross means nothing to this child. You can't force a mom or dad to be a good mom or dad...

Half these kids don't go to church and the ones that do go with their grandmother to some church OTHER than the one sponsoring this outreach program.

Now, here is where I come in.... I no longer feel like I am doing this work for God or the Church, but rather for the people that do it with me. Let me explain...

Before I did inner city, I was doing VBS. I noted that alot of guys and gals I knew and loved from church stopped coming to help with VBS. Being a sweet and innocent boy, I figured "I have no right to be upset that they aren't coming if I don't help THEM with inner city!" So it started. I started doing the inner city thing. Already for the wrong reasons.

Well, turned out, me being there didn't encourage anyone anymore to come help with VBS the next summer. Yet, I knew the need for inner city workers was great so I kept going. Not for the kids, not for God, not even for me, but so my friends wouldn't be deserted when a big bus load showed up and there are only enough teachers for half those kids. Guilt I guess.

Do I like doing it? No! On Tuesdays I simply stay at work till 6:30pm rather than drive to Wetumpka only to have to turn back around! I miss dinner and wife time in the process. I'd love to never go again? Why? Because I not only don't think I am doing anything worth-while, but I KNOW I am not doing it for God but rather my friends. TOTALLY wrong!

There, that's off my chest. I know God can do ANYTHING, but sometimes, it seems like Tuesday nights are His biggest challenges...


mullinz8 said...

It’s hard to think of something constructive to say about this.

It’s been a busy news week here and the company has hired a massage therapist to come in and give ten minute sessions. I’ve just had mine so I’m going to give it a shot.

I think you might be doing something good with all of this. I a very small way you are showing these kids that someone does care for them. I think you’re right in saying that maybe half of them have really depressing home lives. They may not remember you but there is a chance, when they really need it, they will remember these classes.

It’s sort of a crap shoot beyond that. I can’t tell you if you should think it would be worth while to continue this mission, that’s up to you. I think people have things they are good at and yours may not be inner city kids.

I hate that you’re not fulfilled by doing this but it could be worse, at least the whole thing doesn’t hinge on you.

Still do you hate it because it’s the way these kids really are or do you hate it because you feel hopeless?

Jamison said...

I dont hate it at all. A handful of the kids know and remember me and give me hugs when they come. I like the idea on paper, but it just isnt working I dont think. If the idea is to get them out of the house for an hour and let them be around christian adults who won;t beat them, then im fine with it. But is the mission to change their lives based upon an hours worth of work once a week only to send them back into the lions den?

mullinz8 said...

Perhaps your frustration with the whole thing is a calling for you. Maybe you need to design a way for the mission to be restructured.

I know your motivation to help was so folks would help you and perhaps you don’t want to step on any toes but maybe they ARE headed in the wrong direction.

Maybe they need someone to design something for the kids rather than giving them coloring pages.

Call a cop in to talk to the kids about “doing the right thing” or another inner city group that offers a “safe house” or “help line” in case the kids are really in trouble. Most of those kids are exposed to cops in a negative light and you guys showing cops and EMT’s in a positive way could do wonders, especially if they are black.

It’s obvious what you’re doing isn’t fixing the problem because I’ve never heard of a crayon solving a problem but you’ve also obviously made a connection and by doing so; you’ve got their ear and can help in one way or another.

Think of what they need day to day and figure out a way to introduce them to it. Provide them positive roll models and you’ll see a difference.

Jamison said...

Good idea with the police... problem with that is that even at 8 years old, they hate the police, fear them, and look at them as :bad" because their parents have taught them that.

bigsip said...

I'm gonna go off in left field and say, "Don't continue to do this."

The fact that you don't believe in what you're doing is causing you to have undue stress and whether you think so or not, kids are perceptive and know if you don't want to do it/don't believe in it. That very fact could mean you're inadvertently sabotaging the program.

No offense, there's just now sense in you doing it if you're not onboard and it's a hinderance to you and the kids.

Charlie said...

I agree with Mullins and Sip. I don't think you should continue with the program...unless you feel you can help make it better. If you can't improve it, put your energy and efforts into something that does give you fulfillment. That fact that you do anything at all, no matter what your original intentions, puts you a few notches above a lot of other people who don't even try. So take that willingness to help into something you care about.

P.S. "I like the idea on paper"...din't we used to say that a lot during our school days? Made me smile.

CL said...

What you said has echoed through me in a big way. Mainly because I can say, "been there, done that."
Finally I stopped. I had this stark realization about Jesus.
Jesus never sent buses and people out to bring people to Him. He went to them. My biggest struggle with "Inner City Ministry" as we've become so accustomed in the coc is that we expect these poor kids and families to come out to our neighborhood.
Think of the stress that would put on you if you were having to go in to theirs to be taught in an environment that frankly doesn't speak your language.
I think the inner city programming in the coc is broken at best, but that's another post.
The more important question, that I think you've already started asking is, how do we become Jesus to a group of kids who so desperately need to see Him in a context that not only makes sense to them, but is also memorable?
I think it starts by going to their turf to do ministry.
Next, I think coloring pages and stories about the "Apostles" are great. But rather than that why not change the wording to "Jesus and the twelve dudes who did" (a favorite childrens book of mine)
Our expectations are too high for these children at entry. (Not because they can't learn, but because we aren't speaking their language) And the bigger issue is, we are looking for a sterile environment to keep US safe. Sadly, its not about us.
I think my other homies are right. You need to stop, unless you will accept a greater mission to these kids by asking lots of new questions about why you do what you to (to leadership) Talking about the unsuccessfulness of the program (cause let's just be real, it's unsuccessful.) Those are your options. But if it is going to be attempted we should atleast be willing to incarnate Jesus in their place, on their schedule and in their language.I've rambled enough...

Jamison said...

Good stuff everyone, and thanks for the well thought out replies. Chris, always welcome.

However, it is so easy for ya'll to say "Just dont do it anymore." because you arent there.

I have close friends who do it with me. David, Mark, Rob, and sometimes Dean. Okay, we have so few workers and teachers that if ONE of us is sick or out of town, we struggle that night to teach and keep the insanity at bay.

I've admitted that I dont do it for me or the kids but for my friends. That's a worthy cause isn't it? To help my chrisitan borhters do what THEY feel IS working and IS right?
If I were to ditch them, think about how heavy that would weigh on their heart... they even may start to rethink THEIR involvment in the ministry and it could all fall apart because of my selfishness.

CL said...

Maybe I should clarify, I didn't mean you should just walk away. I meant that maybe you should step back and ask some hard questions about why you're doing what you're doing? (Which you have by the way.)PS Don't ever let your faith be a pulley for someone elses. I found out a long time ago, it didn't work with my parents, it sure won't work with anyone else.

mmullinz8 said...

I think you owe it to the others in the group to discuss what's on your heart. there is a chance they might feel the same way but are as lost as how to bring about a more successful change.

Showing up once a week and expecting these kids who are maybe in touch situations to suddenly have some revelation about some dead guy in a book is silly. Most Christians I know have a hard time putting Jesus in the flesh, expecting these kids to do so could be questionable.

My suggestion is to change gears and give them something they can use hence the cop and positive black roll model idea. Showing Christ might be best served by showing they something they can use and make real.

Pray about it and don't give up perhaps they need a new direction more than anything else and perhaps that is why this is weighing on you so much.

Ryan F. said...

Let me share some thoughts with you from a fellow Inner City worker in Montgomery of 8&1/2 years.

At times I have felt EXACTLY the same as you feel. I have often wondered if we are even doing any good with it. But, you must look at the big picture.

First of all, we are not the only ones who ever work with these kids. The Inner City church and their members DO go into the the "hood" and they do a lot of good there. Do they reach everyone? No. Do they reach most? No. But, then again, Jesus said the way to eternal life is a narrow one, and there are FEW who go in by it.

I have supported Inner City with $25 per month for the last 5 years. That goes towards their "mentoring" program. They are working 1 on 1 with many of those kids. Will most of them obey the gospel and go to heaven? Probably not. So should they just give up and not do it anymore? No.

Second, realize that part of what you are doing is giving these kids memories. When they turn 25 and are at a dead end street in their lives, who knows how many will say, "I remember going to Tuesday night Bible class with people who cared about me and taught me about Jesus. I am going to go visit one of those churches and see if I can get my life straightened out." If you can at least cause them to remember who you are and what you are trying to do, later on in life, it may pay off. Chances are if it does, you will never know it.

I don't encourage you to quit, but rather to remind yourself why you are doing this and renew your commitment.

That being said, you may want to think about bowing out for at least the first year of your child's life. That may give you the time to think about things, renew your spirit, and get back in there and keep battling. Remember we are in a spiritual warfare EVERYDAY. We can't get tired of fighting, although Satan tries to discourage us and make us want to quit. Just remember that is what he wants. For you to think you aren't doing any good and give up. The less good influences on these kids lives the better as far as satan is concerned.

Love ya bro!

Jamison said...

I got good advice from each end of the spectrum, but I gotta say, Ryan's was the best, and looking at it that way, perhaps my thoughts and feelings were SAtans army just getting the best of me...
Thanks Pal.

Rachel said...

On the one hand, Jamison, you need to remember that you're planting seeds. On the other hand, I like what Mullins is saying about using this frustration to talk it out with your friends at IC and make it easier, heck, possible, for those seeds to take root- mainly by speaking those kids' language and bringing them the message in simpler terms. But don't overextend yourself (and your family), especially with this little one coming soon.

Jamison said...

Thanks Rach, FYI, why is it that when I call your house, it rings 3 times then nothingness...?

bigsip said...

Our phone does weird things sometimes.

I'm in the stage Ryan mentioned right now i.e. the dropout stage. With two little boys, I can't give the time and energy I need to for something like IC.

You may or may not find oyurself in the same situation soon. Pray about it, talk about it, and heed God's guidance.

Ryan F. said...

Ah Rachel sums up what I was trying to say in like a paragraph or 2. Planting seeds. I like it. Thanks Rachel. That's exactly what I was trying to say in my essay.

I know I sound kind of contradictory, but your family is the most important thing to you. You definately need to spend quality time with them. You'll never regret spending too much time with your family.