Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mission Field

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28: 19-20

Hello readers.  Welcome to my heart.  Let's begin.

It was a hot Monday in July.  If you've ever experienced a hot Alabama summer day, you know the weight of that word hot.  I was headed to a nearby city to met up with some of my students from SWITCH.  And it pains me every time I drive up to the foreign town, because its an area still with evident poverty and brokenness.  But I wasn't in town to address that, simply just to play a little basketball with the students.  So as I pulled into the parking lot of the high school, which was in the middle of a neighborhood that consisted of wearing away homes, I realized that my first thought was "be sure you lock your doors."   

That was when my heart started to break.  Because I asked myself, "Why are you thinking that?"

So anyways, I got out the car and gathered my basketball shoes and walked into the gym.  Now my agenda was to again, simply, just to play basketball.  Nowhere in that agenda was I planning on being an emotional wreck.  But it started when I immediately entered the gym.

As I entered the gym, everyone knew I was a visitor.  Even the ones in the middle of their games shot gazes at me.  The town is small, so everyone pretty much knows each other---or they are able to find a connection by figuring out who family they belong to.  So I found my students.  And I gave them big greetings and sat next to them.  I watched how they interacted in their environment.  The gym was filled with just guys.  And a large range of age was represented, from 5 years old to 20 years old.  So I began to people watch, as I shyly sat on the side bleachers and became instantly afraid to play basketball with these guys.  Over the past few years, my inactivity has driven me into playing less basketball than I used to growing up, which has caused my confidence in my game to shrink to little to non-existent.

My first interaction with a foreigner was a little boy.  Strangely, he walked pass me and gave me a weird look.  This little boy, probably around the age of 5, was a bold little stinker.  He looked me up and down and his first words to me was, "Give me that necklace."  I smiled at him.  I liked the thought that I was being bullied by a 5 year old.  He then leaned closer to me and reached for my necklace. I grabbed his hands and held them in mine.  I was instantly in love with the kid.  He was my first new friend in this foreign town.  I then asked him his name, hoping he could tell me.  He told me it was J.R.  I said my name was Claude and I extended my hand for him to shake.  He fived me instead---which is far more cooler.  So then I asked, "So how are you trying to take my necklace and we just met?"  Pretending to ignore me, he smiled and reached for it again.  I grabbed his hands again and offered a deal with him.  "What will you give me if I give you this necklace?"  He smiles back at me, seeing a glimmer of hope for my necklace, he says the first thing that comes to his mind.  "What kind of animal you like?"  I grinned and thought to myself, "This will be easy.  Don't say one he can actually get me."  "My favorite animal is a tiger."  He says, "A tiger?  I can get you one.  I can get my dad to take me to the zoo, he works at the zoo, and he can get me a tiger for you.  Do you want it killed?"

"Um? No.  Why would I want it killed?  I want it alive, so I can pet it."  I responded. 
"You sure you want to pet a tiger?"  His face was precious.  It was like he knew I was crazy for wanting such a dangerous pet.  "You know they growl really loud right?"  I'm laughing at this point, because I'm holding a fairly intelligent conversation with a 5 year old. "Yes, I know they growl loud.  That's why I want one.  Can you show me how they growl?"  He leans his head back and let's out a baby tiger growl.  "Really?  You sure that's how they growl?"  I lean my head back and growled with him.  He laughs and does his growl again--much better this time.

"So here's the deal."  I bargained with him.  "Next time I come, you have the tiger, you'll get the necklace."  He laughs and runs away, which I'm assuming doesn't finalize any deal.  But, he's getting the necklace either way next time I see him.  He later came back to me with an interest in just small talk.  He grabbed my hands and brought them together.  He started to put all of his weight on my hands as a balancing act.  So I asked him, "Did you know you can fly?"  He smiles and tells me no he can't.  "Lean back on my hands."  And as he does that, I lift him up off the ground and up into the air.  His face lights up as is he's legs off the floor in flight aboe me.  I lower him back down and he tells me to do it again.  So I do it a few more times until some calls him away.

But at this moment, my heart is warmed over.  But then I return to the hopelessness running around in the gym.  Not to judge a book by its cover, but, let's just be honest.  

The gym was filled with broken young men, probably most of them without dads or good male role models. They want so desperately to change their situations, but they have no idea how.  And sadly, every way to work towards changing their situation isn't much encouraged in their community and culture.  I mentioned reading to one of my SWITCH students that was sitting next to me and he laughs, like reading is for squares---which I'm sure was a shared belief in the gym.  And if you've ever wanted to know why I have such a beef with the rappers now-a-days, this is why.  I see a gym full of guys who listens to these rappers music and adopt their words as if it was Bible, because they're just looking for someone to look up too.  And it was interesting to watch how the younger boys would stare and watch in awe at the older guys whizzing and darting around the basketball court, clearly in a search for a role model----but for the older guys, they're searching for the same thing and don't even know it.

So I finally get enough courage to play, with the kids.  To my defense, the court I was playing on was with guys younger than me but taller than me, so... good trade off.  So anyways, I'm praying for an opportunity, but honestly I was a little overwhelmed.  Like, God, there's 80+ guys in here, there's no way I can reach out to all of them and try to build relationships with all of them, that's impossible.  I'm sure most of them need you.

Just reach out to 1 or 2.  

So I did, and God was faithful with the opportunity.  I went after the guy guarding me the first game.  His name was Zinn.  He was a quiet one.  I had watched the entire gym and had quickly realized that it was filled with loud mouthed tough guys, but this guy had a gentleness to him, almost emotionless.  And Zinn was good at basketball.  I had a difficult task of guarding him, but I managed.  I made a few moves, got a little confidence, lost it again with a bad move.  That will be the story the rest of my time there.  So after we lost, we waited a few more games and we got to play Zinn and his team again.  This time I was determined to get a smile from him.  I started to trash talk.

"Hey, Zinn isn't scoring this game.  I guarantee it."  I looked at him and smiled.  And he just looked back at me, again, emotionless.  So the entire game, I was play tight defense on him, still saying he wasn't going to score.  And of course, he still manged to score, and I'd follow up with some praise for still managing to score on my tight defense. (yeah right).  The whole game I talked and talked, and he still scored 11 of their points.  After he made one his shots, I made a face at him and I got a slight grin from him.    Didn't last long, almost as if he was had a quick laugh at my pathetic attempt to stop him.

So that was my dealings with Zinn.  And there was one more guy on his team.  He was one of the loud-mouthed tough guys, so he was the majority.  Earlier I had overheard him talking about some girl,  it was a very vulgar conversation.  A tad dirty of a mouth, and all of this was entering into the 8th grade.  I was standing on the sideline watching him play and he got hot from behind the three point line.  He made two in a row!  And every time he would make one, he would do this silly dance while holding three fingers in the air.  It made me laugh, and it also reminded me that he was an 8th grader.  A "love to have fun", 8th grader.  So I yelled from the sideline, "Bet you can't do it again." He heard me and accepted the challenge. And sure enough, he got the ball and shot another three pointer, nothing but net. He did his dance again while looking at me.  I laughed.  So the next game, he invited me into his world.  He walked up to me and said, "I want you to guard me this game."  I grin and agreed to it.  His name was Boobey.  I'm sure that's not his birth name, but whatever, I can identify him now.  So the entire game, I played overly aggressive defense on him, which always seems to entertain people.  He was quicker than me so he was usually able to blow past me all the time, but he liked to somehow tease me with his dribbling. He tried a few threes on me and I wasn't having it, okay, he just missed them.  But after listening to his language and his disgusting look on women, it was fun just to laugh with him in a basketball game, because in that moment, we were just the same, a son of somebody, a breathing human, loved by a holy God, chosen to be adopted into His family.

So I left the gym a few hours later, heart heavy.  I've fallen into the trap of creating convictions because I've never had the passion for overseas missions, and in that moment as I drove the 30 minutes back to Auburn, God revealed to me with vision up vision of how He has given me a heart for missions.  My heart longs for the hopeless...period.  Doesn't matter what race or country, age or gender, my heart breaks for the ones who live without purpose, who live without love, who live without family, who live without life.

I'll share one of the visions with you that brought me to tears.  I was standing in a room, perhaps a church service was going on, and I saw arms raised praising God.  And it was arms of former thugs and heathens,  or better described as sons of God, tattoos running down their arms, the past shackles falling off of them in worship as they realize that their Creator adores them, and He's provided and conquered their generational curse with the gift of salvation, which IN THAT, their hope has been found.  Not a prosperity gospel to only focus them on getting a better Earth situation, because their aspirations for NBA and NFL and famous rapper satisfies that enough, but THE GOSPEL, the only one there is, to get them to focus on getting a better eternity.  To be back in the presence of God, to be living sacrifices for their communities, to proclaim the gospel with their lives----that's my vision.  To show them and labor with them until they are able to feel the weight of how dearly loved they are by God.  Again, that's my vision.

That's my mission field.

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