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when you can't change anyone

BY JUSTIN HAMPTON

It may sound simple, but one of the toughest lessons to learn as an agent of change is that you literally can’t change anyone. As we've had the privilege to watch many of the youth in our program grow up from lovable elementary school students, to high school students being enticed by every temptation imaginable, a funny thing begins to set in. Some of them, if not most of them “get it.”

Many of the boys that were once knuckle heads, weed smoking, gang-sign throwing, rabble-rousers are now leading the charge for a life devoted to Christ. We have some high school young men that are literally traveling around the southeast United States performing their recorded gospel rap music before audiences of seeking youth. These young men that were once on generational paths of destruction are now snatching others out of those same patterns and leading hearts to commit to the Lord Jesus! 

Seeing them gives me hope. Hope that the ten or so middle school boys currently in my program will “get it” too. That the current batch of young men, hardened by life circumstances and unfathomable conditions, will be receptive to the gospel as well. It's a long road however.

My boys are just entering adolescence and are experiencing the same negative draw that the previous generations of youth have experienced. They are relating to girls differently, visualizing their futures differently, and believing different things about themselves. The innocence of wanting to be a fireman, policeman, cartoonist, or astronaut has long subsided and is now replaced by mixed aspirations .

Often I’ve felt that its my responsibility to revive their dreams; to rekindle that innocent heart that lives behind the tough facade used to mask their hurts. But, as the temporary nature of both my assignment at Common Ground Montgomery, and in fact on this Earth, are made more evident with each passing year, I’ve begun to understand that the responsibility to change lives rests not with me or my efforts, but with the power of God.

Sometimes it's two steps forward and three steps back. One of our most troubled young men got elected as the middle school class president, helped bring order to a disruptive classroom through his leadership, and then got suspended the following week for his own participation in a fight. The silver lining in the clouds is always a source of encouragement, but if we are not careful that same source of hope can serve to drag our morale down if it goes unrecognized, uncelebrated, or is simply non-existent.

We work hard, and sometimes the fruit of our labor shows and sometimes it doesn’t. If we seek to gain our satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from the visible strides made in character, or morality, of one of our youth, we stand on unstable ground. No matter how many trips they take, classes they attend, talks they receive, or bible studies they endure, there is no guarantee of transformation. I’ve learned that my responsibility is to simply stand in prayerful hope that our efforts will plant seeds of change and water existing ones. My measure of success is not in the number of souls saved, students graduated, or families moved into new housing. It can only be in my willingness to yield to the empowering grace of God.