Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Young Adult Years: Inner-city, The Pit, and Irreversible impressions

This is week two of “My Young Adult Years,” guest hosted by Ginny Marie over at Lemon Drop PieEach Monday or Tuesday, I will be posting on my Young Adult Life edition of Mommy's Piggy Tales. 

 Today I'm sharing a huge part of my heart and what has tremendously influenced who I am.  I hope you'll bear with me through this. I have so many memories ricocheting around my brain right now, that it will really be hard to choose just a few.

 Mont and I had planned to return to Haiti to work at an orphanage, but the 1986 Haitian revolt against the government and Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, made it unsafe to return and the missionaries we were to work with, withdrew their offer.  We had already begun raising our support and didn't want to but had to look at another option for the summer. 
Me and Mont - ready to go!
EAPE:  We were presented with several options, but the one that really stood out was EAPE.  Our parents were dubious because this meant inner-city - filled with gangs, dangers, and drugs.  Let's face it, two Kansas girls, in the heart of Bible Belt had no idea what they were getting into.  The closest thing we'd ever seen to inner-city was an abandoned building downtown Coffeyville. We requested to be placed in the same group after our acceptance, and before we knew it, we were on a plane heading East for a place called Philadelphia.  I really think it was a good thing that we didn't have the internet at time because if our parents had researched it, they probably wouldn't have let us go. Just sitting here thinking about those two summers there, I will definitely have to break this up and write about it some other time.

We were a rag-tag group
of 18-23 yr. old kids, about 75-100 of us from all over the US and some from Canada, meshed together in a program founded by Tony Compolo - EAPE. It would take me a very long time to explain everything and what we did, but basically we were counselors/summer interns living in the midst of youth were economically and spiritually disadvantaged. Mont & I soon learned we were not to stay in Philly but would be part of a satellite group of 12 starting up in Camden, NJ. We were guinea pigs of a sort and how we did would determine if it would continue there. No pressure! 

Hope Memorial
Driving through the dismal streets, Bruce Main, our director told us what we would be experiencing, and it just didn't sink in.  When we drove up to our site, on that one-way street, that big two story yellow building didn't look like much, but it became our home and those other counselors became our family. Hope Memorial Baptist Church, our sponsor church, was right in the heart of where we were working . I'm sure we seemed a little unconventional, but they welcomed us and treated us like family.  The building in the background was where we lived and held many of our summer activities.  The first week we were there, the bank on the corner (1/4 a block away) was robbed, a woman and her child were shot in the park because they were "worth more points", and a body was found less than 1/4 of a mile from us under a pile of rubble (Camden suffered along with Philly with the garbage worker's strike). In 2003-2005, 2009 Camden was been named the nation's most-dangerous city, USA Today. Yes, it was home.

A slice of life of Camden
Each morning we opened the doors to a throng of children from 5-12 years and ushered them up the stairs to the 2nd floor for opening skits that focused on the day's lesson, songs, and announcements.  It was there that Queena Gina, Captain Bruce, and more were "born" as we introduced many of them to Jesus, Moses, Esther, Ruth, Joseph, and more, weaving the stories into Bible lessons, crafts (that was my department), games, and music. The names have long escaped my memory, but the faces are there. I can hear them singing, each verse getting louder until the divided room was shouting:
"There ain't no flies on us. There ain't no flies on us!
There might be flies on some of you guys, but ain't no flies on us!"  
Our task:  There were two counselors per age group (there were 3 or 4 groups), one counselor per area (art, music, Bible, music, PE) and we had our work cut out for us. Montica was with an age group both summers, Karen (who now works for the GMA and Dove Awards) did a Psalty musical, and I did crafts. My job was to plan and teach a craft each day of camp and it was stretch for me.  When I first arrived and walked into the basement that would become my Art Pit for 2 summers, I was overwhelmed.  The stage area was PILED with supplies the congregation had been collecting just for us.  I was supposed to do something with ALL that stuff and this was before the internet.  I had a very small budget and it was difficult to stick with it. Let me tell you, there was not a WalMart just around the corner, it was all K Mart, but it was sparse. 

 The bad parts of Camden make the bad parts of Philly look like a playground
Teaching in the Pit
If I said it was all about just telling them about Jesus, I would be lying.  It was really about showing those kids who He was and building relationships with them.  Most of the kids we worked with had no hope of graduating from HS, making it out without a child to support, staying off drugs, or a staying out of gangs.  They sometimes walked 2-5 miles just to be there, sometimes through the worst drug area imaginable. Bruce  encouraged us to form close relationship with a few of the kids and in the process, they invited us into their lives, their homes, their hearts.  The kids who were there were desperate for hope and it still brings me to tears thinking about them. Many times after camp, we would walk them home, and sit outside on the porch or sidewalk waiting for their door to be unlocked because their parents were busy (prostitution, drugs, sleeping... you make a guess).  Many of those kids thought McDonald's was a FANCY restaurant, had never seen the ocean, or realized that KS and OK were not the Wild West that they believed.  They thought Mont and I rode around in covered wagons!  But in all of that, those kids were not the only ones who had misconceptions, and God took us to the most dangerous city in the nation to open our hearts.

Oh, this has been so tough, because once I started the memories came flooding back.  If you'll come back next week, I'll try my hardest to tell some lighter, memorable moments, but I'm not making any promises.

If you'd like to check out Camp Hope, it has since grown, and is now called UrbanPromise.  Last year they were featured on Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. Where it started from and where it is now amazes me and I'm thrilled that God has taken this ministry from a meager 12 to an organization of mega proportions it is today. 
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If you would like to read more Piggy Tales from other ladies, hope on Over to Mommy's Piggy Tales.   If you would like to join in and start recording your own Piggy Tales, contact Jana at Mommy's Piggy Tales to find out how  (jannajoy25 (at) hotmail.com). If for some reason you missed any of my previous posts, you can find them here.


Eos Mom said...

Wow, what a fascinating story--I can't wait to read more! Bravo for going out of your comfort zone and helping kids in serious need!

Ginny Marie said...

What an AMAZING story, Lynnet! How wonderful that God was able to use you to fill those lives with hope! Thank you for your memories, and for sharing them with us. I just love your descriptions, your use of bold and italics, your photos...you really used your heart to write this post.

MommaHarms said...

Ignorance is often bliss, yes? Wonderful service and memories. I doubt your mom would have let you go had she had Internet at the time!