May 26, 2014

Lessons Learned From This Year of Afterschool Adventures

Well, we have closed the chapter on the first year of Afterschool Adventures.  I never dreamed that I would be so involved in something in which I hadn't really ever intended to participate.  It was all God getting me there, keeping me there, and leading and guiding our awesome leader.  It's had it's ups and downs.  And a HUGE learning curve.  I'm not sure any of us knew what we were doing when we started...not sure we really know what we're doing even now.  We have had no success getting the kids or their parents to church on a Sunday morning, but the kids' attendance and participation for Family Quest has only grown.  As we look ahead to our story time with them this summer and pray with nervous and excited anticipation for next year, I couldn't help but reflect on some things God used this ministry and these kids to teach me.

  • Ministry is hard.  Now, I grew up as a preacher's kid, so I already knew this, but it was just reinforced this year.  It seemed that anytime we thought we had things figured out, it was all then thrown upside down and it felt like we were starting over.  Anytime humans are involved things are messy and complicated.  This was messy on steroids!  I'm still not sure I have all the relationships and families figured out.  Their lives are a far cry from the way I, or anyone else I know, grew up.  I really have no idea how to love on and truly reach these kids.  Each week I rest on the promise that God's Word will not return void.  I pray that He'll use those memorized verses, songs, and stories to grab their hearts, even in the darkest of moments.
  • There is no worry that my little homeschooled kiddos are sheltered.  Especially after this year.  Thanks to the Afterschool kiddos my kids have heard some colorful language, lots of name calling, seen lots of anger on display, every possible bad choice in dealing with said anger, and they now know what DFS is and why there is a need for foster parents.  They didn't need to be in public school for any of these things, just ministry.  (But I am thankful they are there with me each week, seeing that others live a very different life than they do, learning to love and care for others, regardless of who they are or where they're from.)
  • Prayer is needed work.  We couldn't do this ministry without prayer.  I know that Jennifer would tell you that our worst days came on the days we spent the least time in prayer.  In fact, prayer and preparation became so important that it's now an unwritten rule in our house that on Wednesdays school is done at lunch, regardless of what we've gotten done that day, so the kids can get in a good rest/down time and I can get a good time of prayer in specifically for that day's meeting and the students.  I'll admit, the control freak in me doesn't always want to stop if we haven't finished what was on my to do list for school that day, but I've seen how differently Afterschool goes when I prepare my heart and my kids' hearts, minds, and bodies this way.
  • Messiness is beautiful.  I can't really explain it.  Most weeks we're all just a hot, glorious mess.  But it's also somehow one of the most beautiful things I've seen as God has S-L-O-W-L-Y melted some ice cold hearts as these kids begin to trust us and we begin to love them.  Admittedly, sometimes it's hard because there's little to no discipline we can give these kids to help them to truly have a change of heart along with their change of behavior, but every frustration, tear, and even moment of panic has been worth it.  We may never see the result of the work we are doing.  But, if God grabs hold of even one of their hearts, draws them to Him, and changes their lives, then He's also changed generations of families as they move from barely acknowledging Him to serving Him and training their children to do the same.  Generations.  
  • People who only see a flight or fight response will only have a flight or fight response, even if they're in 2nd grade.
  • I need to spend more time in prayer for our Christian public school teachers.  For 9 months out of the year, these kids spend the majority of their time with them.  It's hard to be with them for 2 hours, I can't imagine what it's like for 7, with 25 others thrown in the mix.  These amazing people are called to be salt and light, love on, care for, and encourage these kids who are so hardened by life.  I don't know how they do it!
  • Sometimes, love is given because someone deserves it.  Sometimes love just makes no sense.  I've seen these kids, whose parents pay little to no attention to them, blow most of their money on drugs, discipline them in cruel ways, and can't even pay rent, love their parents fiercely anyway. They fear the day DFS knocks on the door and they will possibly be taken from their parents.  I'll be honest, I don't get it.  There's nothing about that that makes sense.  I know many of our foster families in town and they are so loving and caring and would do anything for these kids, but it's their parents they love.  It makes no sense.  But you know what, God's love for me makes even less sense.  How this holy God could love me when I lie to Him, ignore Him, constantly choose other things over Him, could send His Son to die in my place just to restore right relationship with me...mind.blown.  It makes no sense.  But, I am glad that He did it.  And I am glad for this weekly reminder of His love for me.
  • Don't hate me for this, but my goal is no longer to merely get people to come to church on Sunday morning.  If that's my goal, then this ministry is a failure. We've tried to get them there.  We've failed in that every time.  You know what they need?  To know the truth of my Savior and their need for His salvation and to be loved here in a way that shows Jesus is real in my life and is real in theirs.  They need to know their need for forgiveness and redemption.  And this takes time.  Lots of time.  Lots and lots of time.  Like, I've come to accept that I may never see any of these kids or their parents in church on a Sunday morning, but they'll remember that God came to earth as a man and died on the cross for them.  One day when they're older and at the end of their rope, I pray they'll remember the scriptures they memorized and the Bible stories they heard and will turn to Christ.  All I can do is love them like Jesus and leave them in His hands. (Which is the same thing I have to do with my own children.  I don't know why I ever thought this would be any different!)
  • Maybe a Saturday evening service isn't such a bad idea after all! ;)  People who didn't grow up in church don't get up on Sunday mornings.  It's a day of relaxing and sleeping in.  For many, Sunday may be the only day they don't work.  Especially if they work 2 or 3 jobs.  Getting them up and going on a Sunday morning has proven to be virtually impossible.  (Of course, part of this may be that we haven't truly let them see the joy of being in a church family, being loved on as a church family...they only ever see the bad side of churches, and who in the world would want to be part of that?!?!)  
  • I desperately want my church family to fall as much in love with these kids and this ministry as I have. Yet, I also know that not everyone will.  I think most think it's a great and needed ministry.  Several have donated money or snacks for us to use each week.  But, my deep and honest prayer is that God will lead several couples to walk alongside us in this journey and adopt some of these sweet families. I pray that they will step up to take these kids with them to Family Quest each week where the kids will study God's word, see how the Word affects our everyday lives, and see how a loving, caring family can truly function.  They need this.  They need this desperately.  So, if you are a member of Calvary Baptist Church, keep an eye out in the coming months for some ways you can be involved in this ministry.  Pray and ask God how He would have you be His hands and feet with these families living so close to our church building.  
Lord, move in a way that I've never seen before as you grow and change this ministry. Give me Your eyes to see others and Your heart to love them.  Help me to live this in front of and with my children, that they might see You in all I say and do.  Use this time that my kids spend with these Afterschool kids to draw them to You.  Help all of these kids to see their need for Your salvation.

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