The thing is that our kids are all from welfare-type situations or "non-traditional families" (allow me a brief shudder at that phrase) or at best a family with some severe health concerns among siblings that has compromised the structure of the rest of the family. (can ya tell I'm a shrink's daughter? I mean seriously, who else describes families like that? I should just say, "They're messed up yo!") So there are several additional components to an already otherwise intimidating situation to anyone other than a masochist. I really think to work with preteens or teens you have to have a specific calling, or a previous calling to something that was incredibly far more intense. And there aren't too many things in 21st century America more intense than a van full of drama-riddled miniature females!
SO in summary there was a lot of screaming on the trip, a lot of talking over one another and brief spats of "That ain't so! You shoulda never'a said that!" (did I mention these were Kentucky kids? So please elongate all vowels by about 3 syllables when reading the dialogue) and multiple attempts at the braiding of hair that came to tragic ends whenever the van hit a bump.
For some reason the concept of an 'inside voice' is about as foreign to them as a consistent bedtime or paying one's bills on time. So for the first hour I had to keep saying until I felt like broken record, "Please stop yelling in my ear. Lets use our inside voice please. Is that our inside voice? Why are we yelling? Lower your voice please!" Fortunately THAT mission is far more easily accomplished than the, "Is Ms Rachel talking to someone else? Then wait your turn. NO DO NOT continue talking, wait your TURN!" I finally got Madea on them and said quite sternly (to one girl in particular need of a week's worth of home school disciplinary boot camp): " PUT THE SHUT TO THE UP!" Even though my inner good-girl cringed, I think I won some respect points from the rest of the kids for saying that.
Along with the preteens we had two 6 year olds with us. The one is my main source of encouragement as I've watched her grow the last two years and seen her consistent love of the church and zeal to learn more about Christ. The other - God bless her - is almost the complete opposite. Summary: this little imp has been known to jump out of the bathroom in front of the Youth Room on Wednesday night, strike a pose for all the boys and scream, "I'M SEXY!!" And then look around expectantly for some sort of applause.
And I have been using the description of 'imp' quite intentionally. If you look up in the dictionary the term 'imp' you will find that it was originally used to describe the changeling creatures that the medieval Europeans thought the faeries had put in their children's cradles when they stole their kids. And next to the description you will see a picture of this little girl's face.
However she and I had a little bit of a Come-To-Jesus moment a couple of weeks ago during our Play Practice. She had been asking after EVERY song, "Is this the last song? Are we done yet? Oh my gosh, ANOTHER song?? When are we gonna be DOOOOONE??"
Now, I shouldn't have gotten as irritated as I did, because that's normal behavior for a 6-year-old. However my nerves were already raw that day from a few other incidents. That and nobody is forcing this kid to come. She chooses to come by herself. Her parents get free babysitting and she gets more one-on-one attention from the various workers and myself than she gets anywhere else AND usually a fun snack to boot. Plus she just generally has a snippy attitude and I had had it.
My Grandpa is of German heritage from a farm in Wisconsin, so the family joke is that he talks mainly with his eyes. Growing up with that and living with a family of Transylvanian Hungarians for a couple of months has taught me the value of 'eye speaking' and I decided this poor imp was gonna get a good dose of it that day.
We locked eyes.
For a full minute.
And the entire room got silent.
Then I said very VERY quietly and deliberately, "That had better be the last time you ask that. I will tell you when we're done, do not ask me anymore. Do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am!" She chirped, sat down, and I haven't had hardly any problems out of her since.
Now I KNOW that these kids bad behavior comes from two things: they're depraved sinful hearts, and their horrible home lives. And I know that both of these things are outside their control. And I also know that, when they are ALL jabbering at once they are not TRYING to get on my nerves or drive me to insanity, they are just all desperate for one-on-one attention from a sober adult.
So when the imp-girl turned around in her seat after trying to get my attention in the usual fashion with no luck, locked eyes with me and said very quietly, "Ms Rachel, PLEASE look at me and listen to me for a minute!" it caught my attention. The imp-girl was learning!
So I looked her in the eyes.
And I listened.
And when other kids tried to talk to me I held up my finger in a silent command to wait their turn, which they did.
And the imp-girl told me that she had been playing with her toys the other day, and she heard her grandpa tell her to put away her toys and clean up like a good-girl, which made her sad and a little scared because her grandpa was dead.
So we talked about Jesus and praying and asking Jesus to comfort us when we're sad.
Now I realize that she probably heard someone else talking to her and there was no need for her to freak out that she was hearing ghosts or anything like that. But these kids are just as convinced that ghosts are real and in their houses as Calvinists are convinced that Methodists and Catholics are teetering on the verge of hell. And quite honestly, ghosts are in the Bible. There's not a theology spelled out about them from what I can tell other than we're specifically commanded to not seek them out. But they are there. So I bring up those passages and then move straight on into the passages about Christ being Lord of the Living and Dead, and how once we are Believers neither Death nor Life nor Powers nor Principalities can separate us from the Love of God.
Its interesting to my anthropologist-wannabe-mind how, once I made it clear it was the Imp's turn to have attention and I WAS GOING TO LISTEN TO JUST HER, and then started addressing HER concerns, the rest of the van piped down and started listening. Have you ever sensed/heard someone listening to you? There's no physical evidence to suggest they are listening to you but you KNOW they are listening to you. Thats how the whole van was.
And then once the issue was addressed, we started singing our Christmas play songs.
Working with at-risk kids like this in the straight-laced, blue-haired southern-baptist congregation the ministry is located in is the most challenging thing I've ever done. Its tons harder than working at the Orphanage in Romania or with the Gypsy church plants (although there are some startling similarities between this and the Gypsy church plants...) I can't tell you the number of times I've come home and the second the door is closed I either start yelling (and cussing) or burst into tears with discouragement. And i can't tell you the number of times I've kicked myself for not turning in my resume at the Highlands Latin School in the best part of town. I could be teaching Latin to cute little homeschoolers right now, instead of getting yelled at by a bunch of street kids, their white-trash parents, and the blue-hairs who are still perturbed at their saintly congregation being polluted by these sinners. But that would have been easy. It would have been inside my comfort zone, and I would have been living out my mom's dream for me. Sure I would have enjoyed it, but as my husband pointed out yesterday if I had done that I would have questioned myself the entire time and always wondered what else I was supposed to do.
As aggravating as this current ministry position is, I know its where God has me for the time being. Its a dry, hard, rocky road right now. But I know its only for a season and He will bring us out of this dry season to a rich time of blessing. And in the meantime I know I am ministering to the Least of These and filling a HUGE need.