Mike and Clete left for Buffalo, New York this past Friday to go to a conference. That gave Ruth and me the great opportunity to take all of our boys to play in flag football games Saturday morning at a neighborhood school. A Christian man who lives in the suburbs but has a heart for the inner city decided a few years ago to start a free, five week flag football league for the kids in our area. He, along with some friends, has organized the games for children ages 5 to 16. They provide the jerseys, flags, footballs, snacks and water. About 50 kids showed up ready to go. The first game started at 10:30 and consisted of 5 to 7 year olds. That was a blast to watch because most of the little boys were more interested in picking the dandelions and rolling around in the grass than playing football. Clay Bontrager was in that game (he was serious about the game though, of course you know his dad!). The second game was the 8-11 year olds. Ian Hanafee and Clete Bontrager played in this one. These boys were much more serious about the game. The final game was the BIG boys in which our oldest son Kevin played along with three of his buddies from school. It had rained quite a bit the day before, so by the time this game started, the field was getting pretty muddy, AND the mice/rats started coming out which made quite a distraction. However, the coaches did a wonderful job of keeping things going, encouraging positive attitudes, teaching sportsmanship, and making it fun for the kids. One little boy named Sterling had a bit of a rough time during his game and wanted to quit, but Kevin and his friend Vonte went over, put their arms around him and encouraged him in such a positive way that he stayed—in fact he stayed the rest of the day.
After all the games were over and most of the kids left for home, our children and some of their friends, including Sterling, stayed at the park to play for a couple more hours. I went home to get ready for the “passel” of kids I knew would be showing up when they decided they were done at the park. How surprised I was when we ended up having 23 kids in our house!! Some played Barbie dolls, some played on the X-Box, some were out in the yard playing football (again) or tag, and some were playing with our dog Coal. My heart was filled with joy to see so many children (even a college age friend named Anthony) playing together, laughing, and just having a great time being with each other.
But while all this fun was taking place, and my heart was excited and thankful for what God is doing with the children in our community, I was deeply grieved and concerned for a little girl named Erin who the kids had met when they stayed at the park. She is a nine year old who was happy playing tag until her mother showed up. Her mother started yelling at her and grabbed her arm, twisting it up and behind her back. She then proceeded to not just slap Erin, but hit her repeatedly in the head while screaming horrific things with expletives that I cannot share. She then said, “You have one minute to get home before I break your neck.” Oh how my heart is aching for that little girl, and so many others who are living in violent, abusive, neglectful homes. You see, physical and verbal abuse is not uncommon, nor is it hidden here in Detroit. To see a child slapped or punched, yelled at and screamed at, or just not provided with simple care or attention, is not unusual.
We are finding that our home is becoming a place of safety, refuge, peace and genuine love to children who are not getting those things in their own homes. It really may be something as simple as a hug, looking at a child in the eyes when they are speaking to you, or reading a bedtime story to them (that is one of Ian’s friend’s favorite things when he spends the night! And the book he always wants me to read is “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones.) I have realized that my home is going to be full on the weekends with high schoolers all the way down to the little ones, and I need to be prepared by keeping my freezer stocked with food (lots of chicken nuggets)! But I also want to be prepared for those awesome gospel opportunities like when Ian’s friend, Eddie, asked, “If God expects everyone to be perfect in order to go to heaven, and none of us are perfect, how do we get to go then?” Wow, I was so thrilled when he asked that!!
It isn’t rocket science. Every one of us can open our hearts and homes to those around us. You just need to be willing. If you have experienced God’s love, graciousness, patience, kindness, mercy…for you, then you know how to give that to others. There are abused and neglected people, both children and adults, who need to be loved and accepted. My prayer is that those who come into our home would come to know and experience God’s love and acceptance of them through Jesus Christ. Please pray with us about that. Please pray for the little girl, Erin, that she would be back at the park next Saturday, and that we would be able to develop a relationship with her and her family, especially the mother.