An Open Letter – Ministry In The Trap

You’re new.

Geez, you haven’t even started.

And I’m struggling with whether I should share this with you because I don’t want to scare you away so soon.

See, I was driving J home after STREETS tonight. He’s the one I was telling you about when we got together to go over the job description. From Grand Rapids, but came here recently to try and reset? Remember him? All the adults were in and out of his life growing up? Essentially raised himself, started selling around 11, and locked up (1 of 4) by 14? He started shooting around 15, that J. 

Anyways, he’s been coming around since moving here; usually, I pick him up after football practice, he comes in and eats anything and everything we have, “sort of” engages during our meeting, and then I take him home. After about 7 or 8 weeks of this, J starts opening up, bit by bit, revealing more of his story and never in the group but only when it’s just he and I. I can tell I am in a sacred space; this is not the type of dude to show or reveal anything that would indicate to others that he has weaknesses.  And on this night, he isn’t holding back AT ALL:

  • “I feel like God don’t even remember my name no more.”
  • “Big bro – I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to lose my life behind bars – But that’s curtains. Shows over. A or B”
  • “To be real, I am just waiting for you to give up on me as everyone else has.”
  • “Everything is a mess, yo. Ain’t no way He could clean me up, no way He would even want to?”

Why? Why am I writing you this? Why am I still sitting in the parking lot of his apartment complex? Why are these realities true? Why God? Why? 

You’re set to join our team in 10 days. I’ve known you since you were 13, and I’ve never lied to you, and I can’t imagine you’d want me to start your employment off on a lie, or at least by not telling you the full truth. The truth is, this next season is going to be awesome for real. We will get to work together on a mission that we both love so much. We will laugh. We will celebrate. We will butt heads. We will labor together for the young people of our city.

But friend, know this too, we will grieve. We will cry. We will feel with, and for those, we grow to love in ways that can’t be understood, and sometimes it will hurt. There will be nights you will wish you would have taken the job in admissions at the college. There will be nights where all of us as staff come back to the parking lot after dropping students off and simply just cry.

And as the one who pulled you all into this wild world of serving kids in the hood, I am sorry. I am sorry that I can’t prepare you better, I’m sorry that I can’t recommend a book that will teach you how to handle it, I’m sorry that I can’t shield your enormous tender heart from the hurt it will feel from latching onto and doing life with our students.

But know this, and I’m so serious! KNOW THIS friend, I am so hopeful. And not in the “you can hit me back if you stop crying” type of way we’d do with our little siblings or cousins, but in a real and genuine way, I am leaving J’s tonight ENCOURAGED! 

Before he got out, I told him I don’t have many answers. I told him I have a lot of questions for God too. I told him there are times I feel forgotten as well. But I told him if he thinks he is too far gone to be outside of God’s love, that he’s crazy. I told him his story is nothing compared to those we see in the Bible. He wants me to prove it, so we’re going to start getting together during lunch on Tuesdays to read about the worst people in the Bible; I can’t wait. He wants to see if I’m full of it, and I want him to see Jesus.

Will you pray for J? Will you pray he begins to listen to the voice of Jesus calling his name from out of the tomb of his choices and mistakes and cycles like he did to Lazarus! Will you pray for me and my heart on this night?

But pray for yourself as well. Pray for your heart, pray for your soul, cling tight to the coattails of Jesus, friend, for this ride you are embarking upon is a wild one. And I’m excited to do it together.

Let’s get after it, homie. We’ll do it together, and we’ll only make it with Jesus.

Update on J. 

He graduated high school, the first male in his family to do so. He went the junior college route for football and crushed it. Had a baby. He finished up his associates. Got a great job for the state working in the youth detention centers. He still struggles with Jesus, still struggles with anger and authority, still comes over on Wednesdays for family dinner. 

Patrick Sauer is the Executive Director of Streets 517 in Lansing, Michigan.

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