I kneel by the worn, beat up couch in the foyer of the church building we use to minister to kids every week. The kids are in their classes, and no crises have arisen as of yet, so I take this treasured time to pray and talk with the Lord as He ministers among us. As I bow my head, an aroma meets my nose from the cloth of this dilapidated couch. It’s a familiar smell, seems to be something I’ve smelled many times in my work in the inner-city. It’s like a mixture, a blend of so many different things – it smells like sweat and dirt from kids playing outside; it smells like worn out shoes that should have been tossed long ago, molding and dirty, too big or too small, yet still worn by kids who don’t know better or don’t have better. It smells like houses that are old and clothes that are worn out, like mothballs and the smell that houses get when they begin to crumble at the seams – perhaps you know what that smells like? It has an odor of cigarettes and weed, and even of urine from kids who couldn’t hold it long enough or didn’t have a parent to tell them to change before they came. It’s the kind of smell that one might notice and pass by or turn away from if you didn’t know, but it strikes me tonight anew.
To me, that smell tells a story. It tells me of kids who love to play and laugh, but don’t have the parents to tell them to change their wet pants or to toss those grimy shoes. It tells me of kids who still know innocence, yet grow up in crumbling homes where drugs pervade and sometimes their innocence is taken away from them. It reminds me of the kids who have so little but whose hearts are so big. This is a world they grow up in. There’s a lot of trouble here sometimes. It seems like the greatest kids can always be found in the worst circumstances. Maybe that’s because your love means more to them because they haven’t had it as much as some other kids have. But that’s ok, Jesus said there are some who are last that shall be first, and when we look these kids in the eyes, we know what they are in Christ – World Changers.
See, there’s hope for them. There’s hope for this whole community. This smell from this beat up couch would be to some a distasteful aroma to quickly turn away from; but I breathe it in deep. I want to embrace it, to remember it. To me, this smell reminds me of all I’ve seen and heard in the inner-city over these years, and it brings me hope. God is moving! I ask myself, “What will make the difference here? Will YMCA’s or government programs do it? No, because when the money runs out, they leave, and helping a community because you get paid to do it is no substitute for reaching out to your neighbor because you love them. What about more money, though, to invest in this community? More parks, more recreation centers, more after school programs? No, it just doesn’t seem like money fixes the heart issues around here. So what do they need?” Do you know? I think I do.
They need transformation. They need someone who can take their whole life and bring something new out of it, something beautiful. They need someone who can take the pain of being molested as a child and heal it. They need someone who can forgive them for all the crappy choices they’ve made and restore them, like they were born again, starting all over. They need Hope. Joy. Peace with God. With others. With themselves. They need to have a purpose for their life bigger than getting high or having sex. They need someone who will be their hero and never let them down. This is why I know only Jesus can bring the answer this community needs, because only God can change the heart, get in their where all the grit and darkness and pain is, and bring transformation that sets you on a new path. This is the hope, this is what these children, these parents, this community needs.
So, how do we do it? No professionals here. Where’s the pre-programmed how-to-change-your-community manual? Haven’t found it yet. But we can pray. We can go to the Answer Himself and say, “Jesus, how do you want to change this community? How can we be a part of that?” And He will show us. We don’t need any charismatic personalities or big shows. We need the love of God and the Holy Ghost. These kids know the real deal. We may have lost our intrigue a long time ago, but the kids keep coming, because God is bringing them in. We get to rest in Him and watch Him advance on the gates of hell day after day. Yes, there is hope for these kids. This smell I savor reminds me of so many pains and struggles that are faced here. But it brings me hope too, because I know God is here, and He’s doing big things.
Luke and Katie Yagelski