As this stage of my ministry has drawn to a close, I have been reflecting on what God has been doing with me. It has turned out quite different from what I had been expecting. First, of course, came the biggest surprise—almost three years ago—that I was going to be the caretaker for an 8-year-old boy, whe we'll call Alex.
Alex, who was on the verge of being homeless, came to live with me while his mom struggled to establish a solid income and a home for him. I enrolled him in school in Ambridge, PA and helped him with his interest in martial arts. (Photo: Alex receiving his Orange Belt.)
Next came a gradual transformation in which I found myself ministering to not just Alex, but his closest friends. Out of the three "best buds" in this photo, two were relatively homeless. The second (after Alex) was staying at a friend's house after he and his mom were evicted from their apartment. T-Bone (we'll call him) got out of school each day at 3 pm while his mother did not arrive from work until 6 pm.
Alex also participated in activities offered at no cost by Ambridge Youth Ignite under Eric Geisbert. This included a new program offering the lacrosse sport, and a summer Arts Camp and Sports Camp. At the end of Arts Camp that first year, I volunteered to help supervise a trip by the kids to see a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game, and snapped this group picture. (The Pirates lost, as usual.)
I also brought Alex and watched him participate in Little Bridgers Basketball for two years, as he increased his circle of friends. The first year his team won the championship, and the second year they were runners-up in the championship game. Some of these youth also participated in the summer Camp programs.
One of the high points for Alex was his participation with his friend T-Bone in the formation of Ambridge's very first lacrosse team. Although the new team (in blue) was soundly trounced by the more experienced and established teams in the area, they did manage to score a few goals and even to win one game. While I was attending these games, I became familiar to more kids with whom I would later develop deeper relationships.
Then came the initiative by Church of the Savior (COTS) in Ambridge to offer the Alpha program that teaches the basics of Christianity. By this time the Spirit had made me well aware of the needs of the pre-teen kids roaming the streets of Ambridge, and I strongly urged that the Youth Alpha program be offered also. Eric Geisbert also felt that need, and he volunteered to lead Youth Alpha alongside COTS.
My plan was to help supervise the Youth Alpha activities, and to teach a couple of the classes. I did teach the classes titled "Why Read the Bible?" and "Does God Still Heal?" both of which held the interest of all the youth attending. After the Bible class, I was able to hand out some really cool youth Bibles which were well received by the kids. During the Healing class, I was able to present a strong anti-drug message. (Alas, I have no photos of Youth Alpha, but from the same time period, here is the baptism of Eric's son at COTS.)However, God's plan included a bit more. I was bringing more and more of Alex's acquaintances from the street to the Youth Alpha meetings, and I found myself prowling the streets looking for kids to pick up and bring to the meeting. Sometimes the kids would come because Alex was going to be there, and other times Alex would come because most of his friends were going to be there. While each of the meetings began with a meal and some games, the presence of the street kids engendered some lively discussions and some challenges for the teachers to answer.
With summer came the Camps again, and I was fully involved with the morning Sports Camp registering kids, taking attendance, and helping to supervise their snack breaks. Here is a remarkable scene: Late in the Camp season, this unwieldy horde of kids, up to 40 at a time, became quite self-organized for a moment. While waiting for the supervised sports to begin, the kids formed themselves into teams and started up a well-disciplined game of kickball on their own. On Thursday evenings I would find myself prowling the streets again, encouraging the kids to join us for Pizza in the park. There they would hear Christian testimony (pictured) then chow down on Pizza and sometimes watermelon.
This would be after many of them had attended the five-day-a-week morning Sports Camp and/or the accompanying 5-day-a-week afternoon Arts Camp, with lunch inbetween, all free.
Arts Camp this summer centered around the production of a movie, produced, directed, acted in, and largely written by the kids themselves. The movie was titled The Youth Center, and portrayed kids who were attempting to prevent the closing down of their youth center by profit-hungry adults.
The ironic backdrop to the plot of the movie is that Ambridge does not have a youth center and desperately needs one. There is often no place to go other than on the streets for kids and youth at loose ends in Ambridge. A youth center for Ambridge has been sitting on the sidelines as only a dream, imagined by Eric and others at Rock the World headquarters, the parent group for Ambridge Youth Ignite.
Such was my experience in Ambridge. I came as a street evangelist trained in outreach to the homeless and the addicted, went through a new season as a single parent-substitute, and ended as a street evangelist to kids and youth.
But all things come to an end. In the second week of September I drove Alex—now 11 years old—to Georgia to be reunited with his mom in their new apartment. Then I drove back to Pennsylvania alone.
So now that this ministry phase is over, what's next? One possibility is a renewed interest developing in establishing the missing youth center in Ambridge. Long before the kids created their movie, I told Eric that what Ambridge needed was a youth center, and that if he was able to start that up, I would gladly participate in staffing it while it got established.
I'm also looking into other possible ministry tasks in California and Nevada, and was recently apprised of an Anglican priest with an evangelical background interested in planting a church in the less wealthy sections of Pasadena, where I spent several years putting down roots.
In the meantime, I'm alternating between being on vacation and taking care of my dear 95-year-old mother, assisted by my brother and sister. It is from her house that I write this overly long missive.
Keep watch here on my web log, where I hope to soon be posting the photos of my travels through Mount Rushmore, Little Big Horn, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, and any more places I have a chance to visit while i'm on vacation.
Thanks for all the love you've poured out on me, and may God bless you.