Monthly Archives: June 2009

I Support the Separation of Church and Hate

jitcrunch

 

 

Today my daughters and I attended the Veg Fest, a vegetarian food festival.  Two of my daughters are now professing vegetarians.  As you would expect there were a number of animal rights groups, and books on how to be a vegan, and tie died banners with peace symbols…you get the feel.

In addition to lots of tofu dishes, there were also a number of non-profits; the one that caught my eye was Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I was thrilled to see someone who valued the lives of children as much as the lives of animals.  I found it ironic that of all the human services agencies in the city that this particular agency was present.    

You see, last night we had dinner with friends who had just attended a conference on the need for paternal involvement in the lives of young people in our city.  The statistics for Richmond city of young people growing up without a father are staggering:  Non-marital births in Richmond City are nearly twice that of the United States or Virginia at large currently at 63% with the white rate at 24% and the black rate at 84%.

Below is a quote from The Virginia Department of Health:

Fatherless Children are:

  • 5 times more likely to be poor
  • 2 times more likely to drop out of school
  • 150% more likely to experience teen pregnancy
  • 70% of juveniles in state institutions grew up in fatherless homes
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without their fathers

None of these stats were surprising to me.  The statistics within RRHA public housing, where many of our clients reside, are even more depressing with close to 95% of families being single parent households. 

When my friend suggested I start going to the meetings around this issue, I got a bit irritated.  I have sat in meeting after meeting with folks spouting statistics and calling for change but never see anyone put forth a plan or take action to help the young girls and boys who are caught in this vicious cycle.  I ended my dinner with my friend asking “So what can we do about it?  What is the solution?”

Then today, there they were:  Big Brothers Big Sisters!  Amid homeless dogs and multi colored cauliflower sprouts, they were a shining beacon of sanity….someone I could relate to as a carnivore.  I rushed to the table eager to learn about their program.  The volunteer behind the table was very helpful explaining that their program pairs at-risk youth with caring adults in a one on one mentoring relationship.  I then asked her what the greatest need was and she said, “Caring adults, we currently have 400 children on the waiting list.” 

That broke my heart, 400 kids eager to have a meaningful relationship with an adult and no adults willing to invest in those children.  I then shared with her that I ran a non-profit called Embrace Richmond and surprisingly she knew all about us.  I shared that we had lots of congregational partners and that we were targeting three high risk communities where many of our clients lived and would love to explore partnering with their program. 

Then she dropped the bomb on what I thought was a God ordained meeting, she said “Oh Church people do not make good mentors, we have had really bad luck working with them.  College students are far better mentors.”  I was a bit shocked.  Jesus loved little children, he was the one who said “Let the little children come to me.” 

I inquired as to why they had had such a negative experience with Christians and she said “They always have a hidden agenda, they don’t do this out of a desire to love the kids, they are only interested in ‘saving their soul’ but have little interest in developing lasting relationships.   A desire to ‘convert’ someone to your way of thinking is not a healthy basis for a lasting relationship.  My heart sunk to the floor.  I knew what she was saying was true; it is the number one challenge we face in recruiting “encouragers” for our adults.  It is so hard to find Christians who just want to love people; Christians who are willing to leave the ‘saving’ up to the Holy Spirit; Christians who just want to be like Christ and love like Christ, unconditionally. 

With this blow, I convinced my daughter it was time for us to go.  As we were walking out there was a car parked next to us with a bumper sticker that read “I support the separation of Church and Hate.”  It reminded me of a recent conversation I had with my daughter.  She said, “Mom, I don’t want to be called a ‘Christian’.”  I asked her why and she said “Because everyone thinks Christians are judgmental, closed minded, arrogant people.”  I thought to myself, “If that what Christian means, I don’t want to be one either.”

Micah 6:8 says “What does the Lord require of you?  To do justice and love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”   I think the church needs to rediscover biblical teachings on humility.   My greatest frustration with the church is the level of spiritual arrogance; arrogance that keeps us from working together and arrogance that causes the world to see us as hateful people.  Lord grant us humility!  Help us all support the separation of Church and Hate!

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, I ask you all to say a special prayer for all the children in our city who are growing up without a father.  Pray for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the work they are doing in raising up caring adults to help these young people avoid become just another statistic.  Pray for the adults called to be big brothers and big sisters who are out there but who don’t know how to connect.   Also pray for all the fathers out there who need to be reconciled with their families. Lastly, pray for a movement to spread across this nation reversing the current trend toward single headed households.   May God raise up fathers both biological and spiritual!

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Empowering Youth through Mission

youth painting

For the past two months we have been doing home visitation with more than a dozen formerly homeless families all of whom live in Richmond public housing.  As we walk through these neighborhoods, I am always astounded by the number of children playing outside in the barren front yards littered with trash and broken glass, the gatherings of teens hanging out behind the buildings, and the number of adults sitting on the front stoops.  We come in contact with literally hundreds of people as we walk these communities.

The contrast to my own suburban community is stark.  Our yards are lush and green, we have nice safe hiking and biking trails that run around a lake with more than a dozen playgrounds.  However, I rarely see more than a handful of children outside and it is even rarer to see adults.  Our children are huddled inside in the air conditioning playing video games, texting their friends, posting on facebook, participating in organized sports, or listening to their IPods.   

The youth in the inner city lack constructive activities, the youth in the burbs are over scheduled, the youth in the projects lack opportunities, the youth in the burbs lack perspective, the youth in the hood lack material goods, the youth in the burbs are obsessed with consumerism and materialism.  However, both have the same needs; a sense of purpose.

In the book “Reclaiming Youth at Risk; Our Hope for the Future” by Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockem emphasize the dangers of this loss of purpose.

“Poor black youth who shoot up drugs on street corners and the rich white youths who do the same thing in their mansions share a common disconnectedness from any hope or purpose”  Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund

“More and more people today have the means to live but no meaning to their existence.  Young people cannot develop a sense of their own value unless they have opportunities to be of value to others. “

“German educator Kurt Hahn described modern youth as suffering from the “misery of unimportance.””

“Deprived of opportunities for genuine productivity, lured into consumptive roles, young people come to believe that their lives make little difference in the world.”

“There are many calls for a return to the spirit of service among contemporary youth to counter the attitude of “looking out for number one”. “

This summer we will be putting the ideas discussed in this book into practice as we bring together urban and suburban youth around the shared mission of being a blessing to their community.   

If you feel called to this mission of empowering urban and suburban youth, please contact me at wendy@embracerichmond.org. 

If you want to know more about the book “Reclaiming Youth at Risk” we will be discussing it  in more detail at www.unity-works.org.  Please  get a copy and join the conversation.

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Filed under Urban Ministry