Friday, September 16, 2005
I don't do very well with deadlines. I was hoping to turn this into a group blog with some of my friends so that I wouldn't feel as much pressure to post, but no luck. We'll see if I'm able to gear myself up and get back into this. I don't know if I have anything important, funny, useful, revealing, or unique to say.
I spent my summer working at Kids Across America, a "sports kamp for urban youth." In practice, this means that 90% of the kids are black, that about 30% of them dislike sports, and that most of them do not live with both parents. There were 10+ kampers and 2-3 counselors in each locker (cabin) for each one-week session. Three sessions made up a term, and there were three terms over the summer. I was a "lifer" and worked all three, and as a result got the bonus gift of a very nice light jacket with the KAA symbol stitched on the arm. I worked at KAA-1 (10-12), as did one of my close friends (I don't know if she's okay we me saying her name, so I won't). Another close friend worked at KAA-2, another at Kanakuk K-1, and several other Hokies worked at the other KAA kamps and at K-Kolorado. It was an intense experience that drained me in mind and body, but helped me learn a lot about myself and about the urban culture.
I had a different co-counselor each term. They tried to have a racial mix in each locker, and as I'm white, that meant that I was always paired with a black counselor. First term, my co was a former petty criminal who became a Christian about five years ago and had worked at KAA for two summers. Next was a linebacker for a I-AA school who had been a Christian for about two years. Finally, I had a guy who was a former Blood, former I-A wide receiver, current successful entrepreneur, and recent signee to a NBDL basketball team who was in his fifth year of working at KAA. I learned a lot from all three. The first and third guys I mentioned each came to kamp single and left with girlfriends. The guy counselors were pretty spectacular, putting up with everything from kampers projectile vomiting onto their faces to chaperones throwing gang signs and challenging them to a fight. A lot of the guys had girlfriends, and I hope those girls realize what prizes they've got. I hope to be able to see these guys again; I was blessed enough to grab dinner with one from Texas A&M as he was passing through on a trip to NYC.
For me, kamp was a time to clear my head of girls. I eventually decided on a complete and total ban on entering into a relationship until a certain date in the future, with a re-evaluation at that time. This was sometimes difficult, as there were a lot of very attractive girls there. Now, through Navigators and World Impact I've been exposed to dedicated Christian girls who were intelligent, fun, and pretty on a regular basis, and so I thought I was pretty well inoculated. Nope. Luckily for me, hardly anyone at kamp lives within 500 miles of me, and that helped me in my constant battle to focus on the kids rather than girls. When I left, I said goodbye to pretty much all of the guy staff members and absolutely none of the girls. I was absolutely exhausted from the summer and a hard day's work of scrubbing and cleaning the pool and the Blob (a huge air cushion), and so I figured it was better to simply leave, rather than risk trouble. I would be remiss if I didn't make clear that the girls at KAA-1 are each going to be a blessing to whatever guy is lucky enough to land them. The Kitchiekomos, Office Girls, and female lifeguards especially helped me keep my sanity, not to mention quite a few counselors. One of the girls on leadership even loaned me her car without my even asking when she found out that the person borrowing my truck was late and was being delayed on my night off.
The kampers...I miss them. They were funny, exasperating, frustrating, awesome, lazy, ill-mannered, earnest, attention-craving, God-seeking, wonderful kids. Some had essentially no supervision or even adult presence at home, and were basically the Man of the House. Some were pampered by their parents. A few were regarded as nerds or gay because they were smart or sensitive. A lot had huge egos. There were mini-gangbangers and wannabe thugs. Having two kids standing in threatening positions all up in each other's grille while saying "I wish you would" was common, though not dangerous because it meant that they were just posers and nothing was going to happen. Some kids had stories which just sent me reeling. More than once, I had to go outside and ended up breaking down while talking to God after hearing some of their stories. I'll just tell one of the ones which affected me most.
"Tim" was a smaller twelve-year-old, though he was relatively muscular for his age and had some leadership qualities. It turns out that two years ago, his dad killed a guy and ran home. The cops were pounding at the door, and his dad was standing in the middle of the room with a gun to his head. "Tim's" mom and older siblings tried to move to stop him, but his dad was apparently freaking huge; "Tim" compared him to my linebacker co-counselor and said he was taller. His dad simply shoved them aside. Somehow, "Tim's" cousin had tear gas and was trying to throw a canister of it to incapacitate the dad, but the dad just picked it up and threw it back. "Tim" realized that the moment the cops broke through the door, there would be shots fired and his dad would end up dead one way or another. He was just ten years old, and was standing behind his dad on the other side of the room. He knew he wasn't big enough to take on his dad, and that if he approached from the front he'd be shoved aside. Faced with this, he ran up behind his dad, with the hope of giving him and uppercut to the stomach and making him drop the gun. However, he ended up missing and hit his dad squarely in the balls, causing the dad to double over and drop the gun just as the cops broke through the door and entered the room with their guns drawn. They arrested the man, and he's now serving a sentence in prison for murder. "Tim" was armed with absolutely nothing except for his love for his dad. He wasn't strong enough to take him on, and as a result was the one person in the entire world in a position to save his dad's life. His plan was flawed but its intent was right; I personally believe God made sure "Tim" hit the exact spot necessary, and at the exact right time. Since then, "Tim" has talked to his dad twice in the past two years, each time at the prison. His dad has never thanked him for saving his life.
I helped a few of my kampers become believers in Christ, and helped a lot more learn how to grow as Christians. I taught a few kids to swim and improved the soccer skills of others. Most importantly, though, I helped give these kids a week where they could really be kids. We had great food and got to do things like tubing and trampolines which most of these kids had never done before. We had tournaments, got hyped and crunk, showed these kids mercy for perhaps one of the first times in their lives, taught them some responsibility for cleaning and hygeine, and most importantly shared the Gospel with each and every one of them. I worked as a lifeguard, creating a safe atmosphere for the kids to swim, go off the water trapeze, use the high and low dives, go off the water trampoline, and use the Blob. I answered their questions, whether about Jesus Christ or about gang shootings. I treated them with respect and loved on them. I hope I made a difference in their lives.
Will I be back next year? I hope I can be. I haven't decided if I'd like to teach in Chester, PA or in London, UK next year. I'll probably end up in London. Options I've considered for jobs after teaching for a few years include political/religious author, college professor, Army chaplain, politician, and a host of others. I'd be good at a lot of things, but there's always more work to be done than there are workers to do it. I guess we'll just have to see.