They scrambled across the roofline of the church annex building; two male teens, likely 13 to 15 years old, dressed in typical urban youth fashion with just enough cheap bling adorning their necks to call attention to the cultural preferences which influence them. It was Saturday. The church facilities were closed. They had no business being up there and they knew it. As they noticed my car turning into the church parking lot, they raced to descend from the roof. The taller of the two made his way toward me on the ground as I parked next to the building.
“What are you two doing on the roof,” I asked. I remained in the car with the engine running, my doors locked, and the window lowered part way. I was not sure if they had backup nearby or if they had concealed weapons. It may seem to some of my readers like an over-reaction, but keep in mind that street gangs are active in the area. I wanted to appraise the situation before letting my guard down.
“My friend left his cell phone up there,” the boy replied.
“What was the cell phone doing up there in the first place?”
Mumbled response. As he stumbled over his words, I noticed what appeared to be a ladder being manipulated on the back side of the building.
“You might want to tell your friend to come here,” I said, pointing in the direction of the ladder.
He yelled for his friend to come over. Soon the other boy, smaller in stature, approached from the far side of the gymnasium, as if to make it appear he had not been on the roof. I quickly pointed out to him my awareness of his involvement.
“You need to know that the police regularly patrol this facility. They will not be as forgiving as I am. You can’t get on the roof. It doesn’t look good. You say you are looking for a cell phone, but they will not see it that way. We have had problems here before. Make sense?” I kept my tone conversational with a slight smile. Yet, I was firm as well.
The taller boy apologized saying, “Sorry.”
I said, “When the church is open and people are here, we invite you to be a part of what is going on. However, when it is closed and after hours, you cannot hang around, especially on the roof. We have a youth group on Wednesday nights which you might enjoy checking out.”
He then mentioned that he had already attended the last few sessions of youth group, citing specifically the activities which had occurred. I realized that this part of his story checked out as I recognized the activities. I let them off the hook at that point saying, “Thanks for your good attitudes in this conversation. Take care and I hope to see you soon. Have a great day.”
Then the taller boy took his skateboard and his friend mounted his bicycle, and they both left. I stayed in the parking lot for awhile to make sure they did not return, calling my pastor to inform him of the encounter as well. I had intended to visit families in the local apartments, but because of the onset of a storm, none of them were outside. Instead, God orchestrated an unexpected encounter with two bored youth who need a godly influence in their lives. Time will tell what opportunities this might create. It is the stuff of cross-cultural mission in an urban environment.