a letter

I wanted to share with you all, a story from my friend in West Philadelphia.

He grew up in Winston Salem, did Young Life in Concord and graduated from Davidson College with me. Then he decided to move up to West Philly to do a thing called the mission year. He and five other white graduates moved into one of the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

He said that community is used to white people coming down there for three reasons: 1) to buy drugs 2) as cops or 3) as narks to the cops. Therefore he has had a very difficult time feeling like he can minister to this community. I just got this email from him today, and thought it is a perfect example of how God will pursue each of us.

“On January 22, I finally began a new community service job as a teacher’s assistant at Overbrook High School. During the weeks that I waited for my paperwork to clear, I often walked past that massive five-story schoolhouse, towering over its neighboring row houses like a medieval cathedral. Occasionally I saw a face or two pushed against the windowpanes, or loud voices within. Maybe it was only the effect of months of anticipation, but I began to suspect, with fear and excitement, that working at Overbrook would be my biggest challenge yet.

My first two weeks in Ms. Breese’s ninth-grade English class quickly confirmed this.

I have discovered that caring is not enough to be a good teacher at Overbrook. You have to be willing to aggressively enforce the rules and win regular power struggles with kids who are determined to break them.

As Ms. Breese explained to me, discipline is the affection for which these kids are the most starved, and they clamor for it all day long.

Teaching is a luxury that we have when we are not physically keeping these kids in the room, or keeping those kids out, or telling any combination to watch their mouths. I was cussed out on day two for asking someone to return to their seat. As you might imagine this can be fairly discouraging and quickly exhausting.

That’s why when the moment of grace arrived, it was not a moment too soon. I walked out the front door of the school at the end of a full week of tutoring and began the long walk back through the snow to Master Street.

About a block away, I saw Justin from my fourth period class heading the same way. He shuffled his feet and pulled his hood up over his head.

“Justin!” I yelled. He turned and waited for me to catch up.

“Mind if I walk with you?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said.

We kept walking, and I kept the conversation going, asking dumb questions and probably talking too much. Finally, we got to his house.

“Mr. Hughes, is this the way you usually walk home?” he turned and asked.

I said no.

“Then why you walkin’ this way now?” he asked.

“I guess I just wanted to talk to you,” I said.

He thought about this for a second. If you had turned your head for even a moment, you might have missed Justin’s smile.

“That’s cool,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Nah, next week,” I said. He said okay, waved goodbye, and was gone.”

Even though it was a quick smile, and an even quicker goodbye, I believe that Justin understood for the first time what it means to be pursued and cared for by someone. Tim simply walked out of his way, yet that floored this teenager. Perhaps no one, especially a teacher, has showed Justin that kind of attention and care.

Yet Tim is doing this ministry not to make himself feel better, but so that he could move into a community and share the Gospel with his life.

Please keep Tim in your prayers, and it is my hope that you too will know that God will pursue beacuse “I guess I just wanted to talk to you.”

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