Today was an important day.
Today started with an all too familiar routine.
My morning started with class, as per usual. Class flowed into chapel, which led to ever popularly attended after-chapel coffee get together at the base of chapel plaza steps. After-chapel coffee, of course, finished with a trip to the library to scan through the free book section. Being unimpressed by the already well picked-over books, I prepared for a stocking day at the campus food bank where I work.
This is where the routine came to a halt.
About halfway through stocking, I had to leave early to head to one of my educational modules required for my program. This particular module was an institutional module at the Department of Justice.
I show up to the St. Louis County Justice Center (Jail) at 2:00pm and meet my supervisor. His name is Chaplain Vince Stanley, a Michigan native, who was ecstatic to discover I was a greater Port Huron area native.
He told me how his mother was from Port Huron and that he travel there to visit her frequently, where they would enjoy parties at the Port Huron Yacht Club. So we shared our fondness of the Blue Water and St. Clair River.
We eventually got to the module requirements. Learning under Chaplain Stanley, I will have several experiences working inside of the jail. With his supervision (and only under his supervision) I will be meeting one-on-one with those being housed in the Justice Center. I will also be partaking in weekly group Bible studies with inmates.
Entering a jail alone is rather intimidating, but being told that I will be working one-on-one with inmates who I have never met before made it so I could literally feel the boundaries of my comfort zone stretch out like a rubber band.
This opportunity is overwhelmingly exciting; however even with a police officer for a father, I still live with socially constructed (and very physically constructed) boundaries that I will have to consciously learn to traverse when sharing the gospel with those who are incarcerated. This is me getting the opportunity to wrestle with Hebrews 13, like I was able to share with you who I saw at Immanuel a couple weeks ago.
After leaving the Justice Center, I came home to grab a quick bite to eat with Krysti. We had white (not yellow) macaroni and cheese. While not mind blowing or necessarily noteworthy, it fit too perfectly in the non-routine theme to not mention. When did macaroni and cheese stop being yellow?
Following our quick dinner, I took whatever paper-thin shreds were left of my normal routine, balled them up in the palm of my hand and threw them head-on into the wind.
I went to help lead youth group at my new Resident Field Education (RFE) congregation for the first time. My new RFE sits right in the heart of North St. Louis.
Before I got there, I was nervous. To be clear though, I was not nervous or worried for my safety. I know that at all times God is in control (though I might have to remind myself that constantly at the jail).I was nervous because I did not know if I would not know how to interact with these children God was placing before me.
I can drive through their neighborhoods; I can see the shattered windows, the broken glasses and burned up houses; but, I will never be able to understand what it is like to call these streets home.
When I arrived we played in the gym for about an hour. The gym was on the third floor of the building, and it was a little stuffy and filled with that classic St. Louis humidity. The kids thrived though and there were so many of them! They were rounded up by the van load by our van crew at church – it was incredible!
Following gym time we all moved into the sanctuary where we had a worship time and object lesson by the pastor, and then we were broken into grade levels where I was asked to help lead the fourth grade in a classroom discussion. Before long it was already time to wrap things up and take the kids head home.
Taking the kids home – I thought that would have been a real eye opening experience. The staff even asked if it was something I really wanted to go do, warning me of things I might see in the process.
Out of all the neighborhoods and the streets we visited while we were dropping off kids, nothing really made me feel as uncomfortable as I thought it would. Nothing seemed too shocking. I was partially upset with myself – I felt I should have been more astonished, rather than unaffected.
Maybe it was because the kids got off the van with a smile the same way I would get off the bus after elementary school, running up to their front door, where they’d disappear inside of their home. Maybe it was just that whatever is taking place, I knew God is in control. I do not know; I cannot explain it.
There were a few instances tonight though that really made me stop and made me think about what to say next. The most poignant came during gym time.
I had taken a few things out of my pockets so I could run around with the kids: my phone, keys, etc… A few obviously asked if they could play with my phone, but more of them wanted to grab and hold onto my Bible. They were mesmerized by the leather binding and gold edges of the paper. They opened and folding and crinkled a few pages, which I got over quickly enough.
Several of them then would turn to me and asked if I could read it to them. So, my heart filled with joy, and I proudly opened up its pages to readily share all of its ecclesiastical wisdom… … … until I realized that that was not really what they were asking. They were asking if I could simply read. They wanted to know how to pronounce what was printed onto the page.
Even as I type this upon reflection, I still do not know how to properly respond to their questions other than sounding out for them “Ezekiel” or “Daniel.” It was heartbreaking.
It was eye opening.
At the end of it all though, I was asked to come onboard as a family leader. This meant taking a family of church kids and mentoring them throughout the week after school… I had a whole conversation about a description of what the expectations were, but the point of it all was to “LOVE. YOUR. KIDS.”
These kids more than anything need to know that they are loved by Jesus.
There was lots of Jesus today. There was a lot of Hebrews 13: 1-3 today. There is a lot to reflect on. There is a lot to pray about.
There were many other things from tonight that left an impression upon my heart, but frankly it’s late and I am tired from a long, yet incredibly blessed and rewarding day.