They come from the neighborhood, these beautiful children. Each of them has a name, a story, a heart full of dreams, expectations, needs, and temptations. Their situations are unique. Some are first generation immigrants from other countries; others are second and third generation, or have a long ancestry in America. They hold in common residency in section 8 apartment housing for low-income families. And that is often how they are identified. By the government. Sadly also, by the church. But they are so much more than that. That is why I take the time to get to know their names, their families, especially their parents, and their collective stories.
So many of them. Ordinary children who often are looked upon by society as anything but ordinary simply because of where they live, their countries of origin, and the primary languages they speak. Most of the children speak fluent English, but not all. But they all have names, names I seek to learn and stories I seek to learn.
They aren’t so different from me when I was a child. I also loved to go on adventures with my bicycle. I did not want to be cooped up in the house all day. Of course, their reality is urban; mine was in the small town suburbs of tiny Newberg. There again, my situation garnered special notice from some of my peers, making me a target on occasion for unwanted attention. But at the heart of it all I was a child, as are these precious young people.
I think about them individually and collectively, their bright, curious faces looking with wonder upon the opportunities set before them. The experience is most potent as I explain to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, as I did most recently during each night of basketball camp. Their questions were honest. Some disagreed with me, apparently holding to the teaching they receive at home. Others nodded in affirmation, again confirming what they had previously learned. The difference is that each listened because they knew that they were known by name by me and the other coach. And if we could take the time to learn their names and stories, then perhaps God has done the same.