July 23, 2005

Being broken-hearted with God

Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once wrote in his Bible a simple prayer: "let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God."

My sister is in the midst of knowing what it's like to be broken-hearted with God. She's been working with Little Lights, an Evangelical ministry working with kids in Potomac Gardens, a run down, bullet-ridden housing project just 16 blocks from the White House. During the summer they host Camp Heaven, a day camp for the kids with all kinds of fun activities, like going to Six Flags amusment park, that the kids would probably never get to do if Little Lights wasn't there to do it with them. While in many ways she's sort of a glorified babysitter of a group of 5 and 6 year-old African-American boys, she's loved being with them. They've been her boys. And she's been Miss Tammy to them. Who likes them real much as one boy pointed out to her.

But it's been hard for her to see her boys internalizing the realities of what it means to be black males in America. The boys she worked with last year are, at seven years old, already accepting that they are going to grow up to be worthless. Even the little boy who was preaching to his fellow kindegartners back in December. And often the whiteys who come in to help for the summer look at it as their time to do charity and then go back to their comfortable white life and say that they know what it's like in the inner city because they worked there. Even though they still think that it's dangerous for a white person to be out by themselves, when, as Tammy often points out, Black people know better than to hurt a white person. Indeed, she will point out that 97% of black violence is to other blacks.

Her frustration with the situation was achingly demonstrated the other day when they took the kids to see a movie. For some reason that she was not privy to, all of the kids had lost their snack privileges that day because of some transgression that her boys were not involved in. The volunteers have all been told that they are not to buy their kids anything unless they are prepared to buy everyone the same thing. As they sat in their movie seats, Tammy noticed that someone had bought candy for kids in his group, while her kids sat in their seats without. "Miss Tammy, I'm hungry," they pleaded with her. However, she didn't have the money to buy them snacks (hell, who does at $3 for a box of Milk Duds?). She sat angry and helpless through the movie as her boys sat with empty bellies.

Now, in the big picture, it's a fairly small injustice. But then I thought, isn't that just the way it is in America? Her boys watch TV and see movies where those outside of Potomac Gardens live in nice houses. Have loving families. Jobs. Self-esteem. Lives that don't include a one in three chance of being in prison at some point. They watch people who have a future that is far brighter than theirs. And as Tammy watches them watch this and internalize it, it breaks her heart. Has her calling me in tears each week because just being there and liking them real much isn't enough to save them.

Being broken-hearted with God hurts. A lot.

[Cross-posted at Behind the Surface]