On a hot, muggy evening on the west side of Springfield, six 13- to 15-year-olds arrive at the Hannah House, a home for single moms. As the sun is setting, people appear on their front porches, driven outside by the lack of air conditioning and stifling heat. Some eye the kids suspiciously, wondering what a group of teens is doing in the neighborhood.
The kids themselves have questions about what they’re doing. They’re here as part of SCYM’s REACH Student Leadership program – a two-week intensive experience for kids who’ve shown leadership potential through our year-round programs. Tonight’s focus is service, helping kids understand practically that Jesus’ model of leadership isn’t about bossing people around; it’s about serving.
Liz and Kevin, recent Cedarville University graduates, facilitate the program. Tonight Liz helps explain to the kids what we’ll be doing to clean up the grounds, and I tell a little about Hannah House, how it’s a place for single moms who don’t have a place to stay. The kids nod understandingly. No doubt many of their families have been in the same boat at one time or other – without a place of their own, most likely living in a relative’s living room for a while.
I ask the kids if anyone would be comfortable mowing the lawn. An enthusiastic young man named Scott shoots up his hand. “Can I change my shoes first?” he asks.
“Where do you live?” I ask.
“Over there,” he points. His house is across the street. I agree, and within a minute he’s returned wearing different shoes.
While we wait for access to the lawnmower, we start with pulling weeds in Hannah House’s community garden. It’s fenced in and locked to prevent damage or theft. The kids laugh as we talk and pull weeds together – trying to determine what’s a vegetable and what’s a weed (a few beets inadvertantly get pulled), seeing who can find the most disgusting bug. By the time we’re done, the garden is weeded, the lawn mostly mowed (gasoline shortage), and trash picked up.
As I weeded with city kids that night, I was moved by what God was doing in these kids spiritually through REACH – pulling weeds from their lives. Weeds of apathy, indifference to the problems rooted in their neighborhood, like drugs, crime, vandalism. Weeds of hopelessness. Weeds of worthlessness. In place of those weeds, God is using REACH to plant in these kids a deep sense of their value, their potential, their ability to change their own community and neighborhood.
REACH isn’t over – this week brings more learning opportunities, especially as they head to a camp retreat this weekend where they’ll participate in high ropes and outdoor learning. Most of all, they’ll bond together with peers and leaders who model a godly example and teach them about Christ’s leadership for their lives. Pray for these kids – God is cultivating growth in them and in Springfield!