I’m just now recovered enough from my week in Washington Heights, NY working with Operation Exodus to form a cognitive thought and to sit down and put thought to paper. Our theme while we were working with inner city kids in New York was “A Story Teller’s Adventure“. We walked the kids through books that are mysteries and stories that need solving, all the while weaving the thread of how God is writing OUR story (which can be a mystery in of itself) as we journey through life. It was crazy preparing for that week and somewhere in all the stress of planning and preparing I lost my mind, and I gotta tell ya….I’m exhausted. Even before I stepped foot on the plane….I was exhausted. Can you imagine how God feels?
I will say that my story and how it intertwines with the ministry there is so less taxing than the stories that God is writing in the lives of the tutors at Operation Exodus. These young people – mostly Dominican or Puerto Rican in their early 20’s – live in the heart of an urban city where life isn’t always as easy as the suburbia that I live in and they have to live their faith actively on a daily basis. I don’t know if I have to do that all that often. I mean, I have a pretty cush life here in No. California….I drive a nice car, have my family around me, and other than perceived “hardships” I really don’t have to practice living moment by moment in my faith. Sure, my faith touches everything I do ….but I don’t have to rely on it quite as much as some of the kids and tutors there in Washington Heights and Inwood.
It reminds me of believers that travel from Africa to serve as missionaries here in the United States. Now that’s a shift! For two hundred years and more, Western nations have sent Christian missionaries to the continent of Africa. Now, in a remarkable turn of events, Africans are sending missionaries to us. It’s a sign that the center of gravity in world Christianity is shifting away from Europe and the United States to places where its people HAVE to live their faith day by day in the reality of poverty and death, witchcraft and magic, and disease. We have become mission fields to them. I would suggest it is because we are complacent and too comfortable in our Christian faith.
So what does that have to do with Operation Exodus and story telling? Well, each and every one of the tutors that teach at Operation Exodus are SO committed to their faith – they’re SOLD OUT to God’s faithfulness – not because someone told them to believe that way but because they have had to live it and rely on it in their own lives in a personal way. They’ve either lost parents, or have family members in gangs or who have been gunned down on the streets, or have siblings from different fathers, or have family who live on the streets, or have friends living a promiscuous lifestyle, or expectations are that they won’t graduate from High School. You name it – they’ve had to deal with it a whole lot more than I have and they all have stories…great stories of God’s redemptive power.
So that means they’re all writers! Writing stories that don’t match the norm of where they live. Writing stories of a better way to live life. Making a difference in the lives of young kids by mentoring them in a program that gets them off the streets and directs them to their Creator and gives them tangible tools to succeed in life. And it’s hard and exhausting and yet they continue to walk alongside these children – day by day, and sometimes on Saturdays, and then they spend several nights a week at their churches worshipping God (mind you…not for just the 90 min. every Sunday that we here are accustomed to but more like 3 hours on a Sunday morning), growing in their own character and living a lifestyle that far outshines my feeble faith. They are writing their own personal stories…and helping the kids at Operation Exodus to write theirs. And it’s exhausting, but they live for storytelling…and they’re so good at it.
The grace part of this is that the heartbeat of Christianity is being awakened by God, whether you live in California or the Inner City of New York, sought out by His relentless love despite our tendency to wander, despite whether we worship for 90 minutes or 180 minutes, and then by God’s grace making a difference. Its amazing and I am in awe and overwhelmed by being forgiven. It makes me whole, which makes me more helpful in this world and helps me understand this grace thing, which better enables me to serve others.
Operation Exodus tutors! You ROCK…..and I was honored to work alongside you all.