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until you step back

BY JUSTIN HAMPTON

In the type of work that we do at Common Ground Montgomery, we can often get caught up in the belief that the fruit of our efforts won't be seen, or even felt, for generations. The idea that we shouldn’t expect to see the fruits of righteousness in the children we serve can be a perpetuated thought that is given its legs in an attempt to insulate ourselves from disappointment.

We work long hours.

We tearfully pray for the life and destiny-threatening obstacles our kids face.

We watch as all too often they make poor choices and apparently disregard all the advice and so-called wisdom that we offer.

That is what we see in the moment. That is what we see when we correct a kid. That can be the daily unrewarding experience if we let it be. That is urban ministry --- until you step back; until you see the larger landscape of what God is doing here. 

Over the years we have developed ministries out of necessity. As children got older new programs had to be created that would not only create a safe place for them to be, but to inspire and introduce these aging students to change their lives and attitudes. At each phase the obstacles they face change just as their environments change.

Elementary students grow from being corrected in their respect for authority, to having to be educated about physical changes they experience and relational advances from the opposite sex. And as the program evolves for them it can appear as if the student enrolled is the same stubborn kid, destined to be like so many of their peers and on the road to continuing the cycles of poverty and pain that characterize their community --- until you step back.

Addressing new issues met with the same resistance as old ones can be frustrating until you realize that you aren’t addressing old issues because you really don’t need to anymore. The things you used to stress with this same kid don’t need to be stressed anymore because they are more mature, they have grown, they have learned. It sounds simple, but over the course of the last four or five years I’ve had the privilege to watch an amazing phenomenon: maturity.

Its growth is slow and its fruit is only seen by the most keen eye in the short term, but it is here. We now have high school youth in our urban entrepreneur program that were once 5th graders getting homework help and being told to respect their elders and given hugs for having achievement stickers on their school papers. These same students are now considering their post high school options; and good options, too. Some are preparing for college, others for joining the military, but all for a productive life, and most with the Lord leading it.

Our high school kids are what we have been looking for. They are what we have been praying for. They are the change we long to see as they continue to grow and produce two-parent families that honor the Lord, that care about their neighbors and communities, that know their worth, and see that they will not only change this neighborhood, but change the world.

Although it gets tough we have been watching the Lord bring the increase. As we plant and water he makes it grow, and the pace of growth can be painfully slow --- until you step back.