Blog: December 2016

Sunday, December 11

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. 
—Saint Francis of Assisi

Shots rang out. Eight total.

People screamed; panic ensued. The basketball court emptied. The swings were still. Mothers disappeared with strollers behind parked cars for protection.

“Get to the bus,” screamed Albert Vega, “Everybody to the bus, now!”

Without hesitation, our children responded to the voice of their after-school director and sprinted towards the UrbanPromise bus for safety.

“Everybody okay?” called Albert in an effort to calm the kids who had crawled under the bus seats. “Anyone hit? Anyone hurt?”

By now most of the kids were sobbing, some hysterical. Even growing up in a city plagued with violence doesn’t prepare you for a drive-by shooting.

As Albert continued to move around the bus, assuring the children of their safety, he noticed 9-year-old Tabitha. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t panicked. She just walked behind him whispering in the ears of her peers, “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

“Tabitha, I’m curious,” asked Albert a few hours later.  He was dropping the last of the kids to their homes. “Why were you calm when all the other kids were so upset?”

Tabitha paused momentarily, looked at her favorite counselor, and then spoke with the innocence of a child: “I wasn’t afraid, Mr. Albert, because I was with you. With you, I’m never afraid.”

A few seconds—an eternity—of silence passed. Albert savored the sacred moment, realizing that his role was more than just a camp counselor. In the midst of a chaotic community moment, his presence, consistency, commitment, and compassion gave a 9-year-old girl a sense of security and safety.

It’s hard for me to hear stories like this, especially during the Christmas season.

Why must innocent, beautiful children endure such terror?  Why must Albert—a father, husband, loyal colleague, amazing mentor—risk his life and mental health every day he works for UrbanPromise? No easy answers.

One answer is to just quit.  Throw up our arms, surrender, shut down our programs, concede the challenges are too great, and walk away.

But then we remember Tabitha and the children who need comforting—who will stand with them? Who will fight for their security, dignity, and safety?  Who will offer them peace in the midst of the chaos?

We’ve come too far to give up!  Christ calls us to stay.

That’s why I’m asking you this Christmas to help UrbanPromise continue to be a haven for our children, to provide them with a day, a week, or a month of PEACE! I need your help to underwrite the cost of providing neighborhood-based after-school programs throughout the city of Camden. Our programs are staffed with incredible urban missionaries like Albert. We provide healthy snacks, help with homework, and dinner most nights before taking our youth home.  We partner with families to provide safe, fun, educational, and loving spaces full of God’s peace for hundreds of children.

It’s an amazing thing to be able to do, to buy a child PEACE.

Thank you.

Dr. Bruce Main
President

Give the gift of peace

Saturday, December 10

Auburn Sandstrom lay in a clump on her apartment floor, clutching a tattered piece of paper. Auburn knew she'd hit bottom. It was 2 am, it was 1994.



The only reason Auburn wasn't out hustling drugs on the cold Ann Arbor streets, was the two –year-old baby sleeping in the next room. Despite the fog of her addiction, and the chaos of her life, she still had some semblance of maternal responsibility.



Auburn didn't grow up a drug addict. As a teen, she attended an elite private school, studied abroad in college, took opera lessons, and earned a Master's degree.

Then she'd met the wrong guy, lost her bearings, and became hooked on drugs.



"If you're ever desperate and need some advice," urged her mother three years earlier, "call this Christian counselor."  Placing the paper in her hand, it was the last time they talked.

 

On this night, she dialed the number. "Hello?" responded the surprised voice on the end of the line. "How...how...can I help you?"

For the next three hours Auburn unloaded her story to this anonymous listener--her idyllic childhood, a destructive relationship, the drugs, the unplanned pregnancy.

"

You have any Bible verses you want me to memorize?" asked the still-skeptical Auburn, noticing the early morning sun coming through the blinds. "I mean, you are a Christian counselor aren't you?"



"I'm....I'm not, actually a Christian counselor. You must have dialed the wrong number."

Auburn sat stunned in a moment of sobriety.  Another person had given up his time and sleep....for her.  A stranger.

"

At that moment I realized there were random bits of LOVE in the universe and some of it was meant for me," she confessed later. "At the darkest and most despairing moment of my life, all I needed was a pinhole of light and all the grace in the world could pour through."



Pinholes of light....

Auburn's life dramatically changed direction that night. She walked away from a destructive relationship, worked on being sober, and became an attentive mother. Last year her son graduated from Princeton University.

Reflection:

How we respond to the serendipitous events and encounters of our lives can have eternal implications. Every random human interaction is an opportunity to remind others that they are not alone in this vacuous universe. Christmas reminds us that LOVE exists and pinholes of light wait for us all. God may just need you and me to be the ones who deliver.

Friday, December 2

The instructors were skeptical that the week’s recipe with its emphasis on mushrooms could sway our 5th grade gourmands. But the class was just as concerned with walnuts being in the sauce.  “Why are there nuts in it?” asked Cianni Green, and we talked about different foods that can add valuable protein to our diets.  But our conversation on the benefits of meatless meals was put on hold—our first knife injury in 6 weeks came as Brazil Taylor was chopping onions.  Good thing instructor Becky Bryan is Nurse Becky at UrbanPromise, and Brazil was in good hands while the rest of the cooks did their best to carry on: chopping celery, grating carrots and getting salted water boiling on the stove.  “Watch this,” said A’layvia Green, using the side of her knife to press the cloves of garlic and remove the skin before mincing, like a pro. Instructor Jane Berkowitz explained “al dente” to the girls, and Nailah Lipscomb confirmed that the pasta was indeed al dente.   “Not too hard and not too mushy!”

Our girls had an addition to the menu.  Earlier in the semester, we had picked two spaghetti squash from the UrbanPromise garden and saved it for this week’s lesson.  The girls scooped out the seeds and rubbed it with olive oil for roasting.  “It just looks like yellow squash to me,” said Malaysia Williams, and 30 minutes later, she and her kitchenmates were surprised to see the strands that we scooped out of the halved squash. Seasoned  with salt and pepper and tossed with olive oil and some grated cheese, every one tasted it, but no one was overly enthusiastic. “It is just okay,” said Cianni.

Brazil was back among us to toss the salad and set the table, tapping her fork before everyone dug into the steaming pasta.  “I just want to thank everyone for supporting me during my injury and all,” she said raising her water glass.  Nailah joined her.  “To the good life!”  All six girls ate the Bolognese without complaint, and there were no leftovers.   “I give this a 10!” said Malaysia, digging in.  “This is good,” said Brazil.  “but I think it would be better with meat.”

Friday, December 2

The instructors were skeptical that the week’s recipe with its emphasis on mushrooms could sway our 5th grade gourmands. But the class was just as concerned with walnuts being in the sauce.  “Why are there nuts in it?” asked Cianni Green, and we talked about different foods that can add valuable protein to our diets.  But our conversation on the benefits of meatless meals was put on hold—our first knife injury in 6 weeks came as Brazil Taylor was chopping onions.  Good thing instructor Becky Bryan is Nurse Becky at UrbanPromise, and Brazil was in good hands while the rest of the cooks did their best to carry on: chopping celery, grating carrots and getting salted water boiling on the stove.  “Watch this,” said A’layvia Green, using the side of her knife to press the cloves of garlic and remove the skin before mincing, like a pro. Instructor Jane Berkowitz explained “al dente” to the girls, and Nailah Lipscomb confirmed that the pasta was indeed al dente.   “Not too hard and not too mushy!”

Our girls had an addition to the menu.  Earlier in the semester, we had picked two spaghetti squash from the UrbanPromise garden and saved it for this week’s lesson.  The girls scooped out the seeds and rubbed it with olive oil for roasting.  “It just looks like yellow squash to me,” said Malaysia Williams, and 30 minutes later, she and her kitchenmates were surprised to see the strands that we scooped out of the halved squash. Seasoned  with salt and pepper and tossed with olive oil and some grated cheese, every one tasted it, but no one was overly enthusiastic. “It is just okay,” said Cianni.

Brazil was back among us to toss the salad and set the table, tapping her fork before everyone dug into the steaming pasta.  “I just want to thank everyone for supporting me during my injury and all,” she said raising her water glass.  Nailah joined her.  “To the good life!”  All six girls ate the Bolognese without complaint, and there were no leftovers.   “I give this a 10!” said Malaysia, digging in.  “This is good,” said Brazil.  “but I think it would be better with meat.”

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