When is the last time someone bit you? I stood with my arms crossed next to a child who had been in a ‘rage’ all morning, a state when something different spoke through his eyes – an anger, a past event, a deep hurt relived. We both leaned against the wall like trees after a storm. Focused on the speaker at the front of the room, my arm spiked a signal to my brain – was I just bitten? I was just joking, he said. I knelt down, looked at the calm child and said, I’m not mad at you, but let’s find another way to joke. So often I feel like we talk to two children in the same body, the sweet and innocent one they are, and one wearing a sick shawl placed on them. The day before, another student threw a rock into my back. Both of them kind children who could not see in a fog.
On the heels of four weeks full of improvements, our last eight school days included the passing of parents and stresses that sparked internal fights coupled with a general anxiety around the holidays as some families come to visit their kids, some don’t, and knowing in the end the parents will leave them at the home again. Kids said such hurtful things to one another. We broke up fights. We sat kids down, held them back from each other. We listened to disjointed phrases on repeat. Exhaustion. When one has had to raise themselves in a world of survival, what currency will they acknowledge but force? (Our aim is to teach another way).
And yet, our last day, the boys organized a football (soccer) game. They made teams, established the rules. We walked to the basketball court. For thirty minutes, the kids played a beautiful game. Elegant passes and ball movement. They shared shots on the goal. When the ball went out, they knew who would pass it in. They called their own fouls, moved forward. Sportsmanship defined. When fights started to erupt, fellow students stepped in to settle things themselves. My colleague Brady Black has worked relentlessly with this group on solving their own problems here, and this day, they did.
I cannot express what growth in character this shows. From ten weeks ago when kids would not go to class, would kick a chair over if they could not finish coloring something, when all was fight - here we watched twelve or so boys play in peace for no audience. I can still cry about it. I am crying right now.
The weight of darkness has never felt so heavy to me as living with the daily realities of our students’ lives. From here, we see how systems, even ones put in place to aid, leave certain people out in the cold. People who have only ever been abandoned, abandoned again. Something so present I dream about this at night.
For me this day at the soccer court was like Christmas. Amidst this weight, we have a story of hope. I see in Jesus that this is not the end of things. There is reconciliation to be had. There is a new day. You can look at the darkness and say, no. I will fight what you have done, because I have seen light.