Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Garbage Men Who Love Their Job

A passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

"Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: 'What does his voice sound like?' 'What games does he like best?' Does he collect butterflies?' They ask: 'How old is he?' 'How many brothers does he have?' 'How much does he weigh?' 'How much does his father make?' Only then do they think they know him."

       I don't want to tell you numbers. I want to tell you who my friends are.

       My friends are kids from all over the world and living in so many different cultures that I don't know how they keep track of who they are or where they are. It's not a bad thing. These same kids are some of the most creative, active, intelligent, well-rounded people I know. Most of them speak more than one language and are able to travel around the world unaccompanied by a grown up. They're social contortionists, changing their mannerism where the need calls and adding new ones as they move through life. That's why I feel so blessed to see who they actually are when they finally feel they can trust me.
       The problem is, you really have to sift through a lot of barriers, walls built up to protect themselves over the years as people have come into their lives and left without a decent farewell. Like all kids, you have to earn their trust. Like all kids, they attempt to surround themselves with familiar faces and friendships that offer a holistic sense of identity, grounding them in a comfortable culture that offers its welcoming, open arms no matter who they are or what they've done. Unlike the general masses of mono-culture kids (not a bad thing to be), they have such a transient life style that it's even more difficult to find that "safe place."
       I was talking with a brother of mine this morning, retelling an encounter I had with some parents. The encounter went along these lines: (the names of the people in this encounter have been changed to protect the identities of the people in this encounter)

Mrs. Barclay: (directed to Mr. Reynolds) "Have you been introduced to Bryce? He works with BlueSky doing youth ministry."
Mr. Reynolds: (said wistfully at first, but then changed to an appreciative, understanding tone) "We have met, once or twice. I wish I had that job. I wish I could hangout with kids all day... Well, no I don't. I really appreciate what your doing; you have a really hard job. But I wouldn't want to do it."
Mrs. Barclay: "Me either. I couldn't do it."
Me: "Thanks?"

*Please understand that the recounting of this encounter is not meant to be a negative reflection on the two parents, but rather a positive reflection on an opposite opinion of youth ministry.

My brother had this to say about that: "Youth ministers are like garbage men who love their jobs. Everyone knows it's a necessity to do the job, but no one wants to do it themselves." Now, understand, the analogy does break down. I'm not calling kids garbage. What I'm saying may best be comprehended through a word picture. (Maybe not, though. I don't always have the same conductor as everyone else's train of thought)
       Imagine if you will, an excited, happy man, zipping up his jump suit, slipping on his gloves, and jumping onto the back of a filthy dump truck. Gripping the handle on the side of the truck, he simultaneously endangers his life with every acceleration and screeching halt of the truck and grants himself speedy access to the garbage that families have built up over the week. He welcomes this juxtaposition of adventurer and janitor with an early morning inhale. The smell isn't pleasant, but his attitude is as he recognizes his lot, and accepts it whole heartedly. For some reason, this man considers his job a treasure when others only see it as a burden that doesn't smell very good.
In truth, at times the smell does get to him. He imagines quitting, getting a better paying, less filthy job, but something about the gathering up of peoples' neglected trash carries for him a poetic attraction. He is a man for whom garbage is both a job and a friend. No one else quite understands and thinks him odd. But everyone thanks him... when they remember, that is.

       I had an opportunity to see through the garbage, into the lives of some of the guys in my small group more recently. It was really a blessing. One of them collects currency from all over the world, notes and bills from here and there. He knows more about the world than I do, and he's in Middle School. The other, is relishing every moment he has here as he anticipates moving back to live with his mother in the states. This is the first place he feels he has made friends. He knows that what he looks forward to in the states is more change. His mom looks for the greener pastures in different states every few years. He won't have solidity. But I get to be here with them. I get to meet with them, and others, every Friday morning before school. I get to speak Jesus into their lives as they get distracted, blatantly ignore me, tell stupid jokes in the middle of a verbal pause I intended to be one full of depth and introspection.
       It stinks sometimes, but I love these kids.

I hope that portrays that I really love my job and that, although there is some crap to get through, I love what's happening here. Thank you, Lord, for setting me apart for this job.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A Time For Prayer

       For those of you who don't know, I recently went on a trip that took me half way around the world and back. I've been attempting to write a post over the past few days that speaks more to what I had done over the course of my travels than it did my needs (or what my ministry's team needs) are or have been since coming here. But every time I tried to write that post I never had the words to say. I haven't had the heart to back up what I was writing. So I'm taking a break from that update to write about some of the spiritual setbacks that have arisen since I've moved here and specifically since I came back from my brief, but wonderfully uplifting trips to both Malaysia and Maryland.
       Spiritual Setback #1: Greed in men's hearts and hopes resting on idols.
       Unbeknownst to me, there have been many greedy bureaucrats holding up the process for passing our permit to renovate the building that would be both our climbing gym and youth room. This setback is at the forefront of all of our minds since not only is there resistance on the part of the people asking for bribes to speed up the approval of the permit, but we have been setting our hopes on the completion of the rock gym and the youth room. As we have chosen to not bribe bureaucrats, or otherwise work around the regulations imposed on us, it has caused us heart ache and resentment toward those people and more recently toward God as we're questioning his motives in "teaching us patience." (Maybe "resentment toward God" is a bit strong of a phrase, but I'm afraid that we might be moving closer to that stage.)
       Spiritual Setback #2: A lack of unification of the body of Christ and an abundance of Pride.
       Unbeknownst to the guys I live with, I have started to resent them. I don't want to write this, but it's seems like my only avenue to express what's going on in my heart. I feel so alone. I'm blaming them for this feeling, but I know that it's not their fault. I'm comparing them to the people in my life who know me  and love me, and have for years. And I've found them wanting.
       Having just come back from spending time working with my brother and sister-in-law, Drew & Lindsey, in Malaysia, surrounded by people so unified, focused, and established in what they do, it's hard for me to come back here and work with a ministry that's in the throes of finding their foundation in the community of Nairobi. Furthermore, I just spent two weeks states side in MD with even more of my family and friends who not only love me when I'm doing my best, but have seen my worst, helped me through it, and love me even now.
       I'm terrified to be honest with these guys. I have changed who I am. At fear of losing their respect, I've kept some of my more odd tendencies hidden. Now that might seem like a normal reaction to most people, but not to me. I'm homeschooled. Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler. I never had to deal with the pressure to fit in so much as I have since moving here. Growing up, I was with my goofy brothers. At college, I had people who understood that I was odd and that was just how it was going to be. Here, breaking expectations is met with ridicule and mockery, that has little to no foundation in love. And the worst part is that I participate whole heartedly. I want to be part of the group. Therefore I belittle.
       Spiritual Setback #3: Fear, Worry, Distractions.
       I'm too afraid to do anything about it. I see the disunity in our team and I don't want to cause more, so I keep my mouth shut, convincing myself that the appropriate time will arrive later. I'm afraid of being perceived as the "holier than thou" and "goody little two shoes" of the house/team. And on top of that fear of losing face in the house I live in, our ministry is full of worries about our image in the eyes of the students. We haven't had the amount of kids showing up to events that we believed would come, and it is disheartening us. We worry too much over "this and that," and lose sight of Christ, who conquered the world, which, in turn, brings us right back to "this and that."

So, broken to the point of not knowing any other course of action, I'm asking you to pray for and with my team and me. We have a lot of crap to work through and a lot of faith to find: faith in our identity in Christ and faith that his plan is exactly what we need. Pray that God will grant us peace. Pray that he will show us that he has truly overcome the world, and that we, like him are more than conquerors; we are inseparable from the love of God. Pray that our identity wouldn't be wrapped up in the perception of each-other, the students, or ourselves. How can any petty issues like pride distract us from the one whose image we bear. We have been adopted as Children of God and heirs with Christ.