I recently witnessed a turf war between teenagers and the story generated a lot of comments. A police officer later said that the boys likely wandered into a rival gang’s territory. Warnings were given and threats made to stay away. “It happens all the time,” the officer too-casually stated. For the month of August many are praying specifically for children trapped in a life of violence and poverty.
Recently, I met Steve Jennings, head of TOP (Teens Opposing Poverty) and discovered one of the best answers for helping children trapped in a life of violence and poverty comes from children themselves. Steve writes: “At Teens Opposing Poverty we work to develop ministries that give youth the opportunity to interact with the people they are serving. When the interaction occurs, everyone benefits. Many youth who participate in TOP’s ministries learn to appreciate their material blessings and develop greater understanding of those who are less fortunate. They also realize they are doing something important for other people. Homeless and poor people have benefitted from this interaction as well.”
Steve wrote of an example: Gerald had a crack cocaine habit. It had ruined his life and dumped him on the streets with only the clothes on his back. For over two years he struggled valiantly against his addiction until he finally beat it. He said the key to overcoming a crack addiction is to hate what it does to your life more than you love the high it gives you. We met him about six months after he quit using.
Over the next few months, I accompanied a number of youth groups on trips where they encountered Gerald. He loved the attention they gave him and delighted in regaling them with stories and teaching them life lessons he learned the hard way. He couldn’t wait to tell them he had gotten a job, which began another round of life lessons on the value of a good work ethic whether you like your job or not.
About two months after Gerald started working, he came excitedly to tell us he had enough money saved to move into an apartment. He asked if we could help him equip the kitchen, get linens, and a host of other little things. I made a trip to his apartment about a week later.
Gerald greeted me with his contagious smile and showed me around. It was a sparsely, but comfortably furnished one-bedroom apartment. There still weren’t many clothes hanging in the closet. When you’re homeless you don’t have much to store. When we walked into the dining area, I noticed a foot high stack of booklets on the floor. Gerald noticed that I saw them and said, “That’s my collection. Wanna see it?” His collection consisted of dozens of Gospel tracts. He had “The Four Spiritual Laws”, “This Was Your Life” and a whole bunch of tracts I had never seen before. Gerald, who was quite a talker, launched into a ten minute dissertation on which were favorites and why.
“Where did you get these?” I asked him.
“People come through the park and hand ‘em out. Most of the time they don’t say anything to you. They just hand you a tract and keep walkin’”
”So did one of these tracts lead you in your decision to follow Jesus?”
“They taught me the facts, but that wasn’t enough to convince me to make a commitment. It wasn’t until I saw these kids care about me, and listen to me–” His voice trailed off as he searched for the right words. “I knew they were there because of Jesus. And they were so different from the other kids who turn away from us or drive by and throw things at us, that I figured He must be real.”
Steve goes on to write: “TOP teens offer encouragement and an openness not often seen in adults. As a result, the youth have been able to gain insights into the special needs of the people they serve. They have been instrumental in helping a number of people get off the street and into productive lives. It is good to provide for the material needs of poor and hungry people. TOP teens add prayers, hope, encouragement and a listening ear. Our mission is to raise up an army of youth who are actively involved in the fight against hunger and poverty, not just as an annual event, but as a regular part of their lives.”
Maybe having children help other children through the guidance of the church is the best idea of all. Check out the TOP website at www.TeensOpposingPoverty.org
Note: If you would like to respond or offer ideas about children, poverty and violence that worked for you, your church or your community please write: LarryDavies@SowingSeedsofFaith.com Some of the letters will be used in future columns. More to come next week, as we continue to focus on children.