Feature

The Message We Bring

Our Story is Hope

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On a cold autumn night, I was watching a movie in my house with my wife, Chelsea, and two of my friends, Matt and Ryan. Through the window, I saw a shadow move onto my front porch. Someone began to knock frantically on the door, and I recognized our 17-year-old friend Raquis, standing in the cold wearing just his jeans and undershirt.

As we let Raquis into the house, we saw that blood covered his hand and was spattered across his face and shirt. His thumb had clearly been injured. While my wife helped him clean up, Raquis began to talk so fast it was hard to make out what had happened. Finally, he calmed down enough to explain.

Raquis lived across the street in a home filled with poverty and drugs. His mom’s boyfriend was addicted to crack. This man had become increasingly hostile to Raquis over the years, and Raquis had more than once expressed to me his desire to kill him. The night Raquis showed up at my house, the boyfriend had attacked Raquis during supper.

I had noticed that this man had a bad habit of treating Raquis as if he were a little kid, but Raquis was hardly a child. Over the years, he had grown into a strong young man with a lot of anger and resentment hidden away in his heart and mind. When the man attacked Raquis, it came flooding out. In one punch, Raquis put the man on the floor and hit him in the face several times. When the man started bleeding, Raquis, showing a large amount of restraint, chose to stop. The man got up and went to get his gun. Raquis then fled to our house.

After the incident, the boyfriend, badly beaten and embarrassed, moved out of the apartment. He had been paying for the utilities, so when he left, he had them cut off. For a few days, Raquis, his mom and his two younger sisters (one with a baby), lived in an apartment without heat or water. Finally, the family was forced to move in with their grandmother in a neighboring town.

DREAMS ON HOLD

Recently, I went to his grandmother’s house and picked Raquis up. We sat in a McDonalds and talked about the events of the previous few weeks. On one hand, Raquis was glad his mom’s boyfriend was out of the picture. He never liked the drugs he brought into the home or how he sometimes abused his mom. On the other hand, the events have been especially unfortunate for Raquis.

Against all odds, Raquis had reached his senior year in high school. He grew up in a home without any furniture, sleeping on a hard, wooden floor much of the time. His dad has been in jail since he was born. Raquis has had three infractions exposed to drugs and the violence of the streets. And yet, Raquis is one of the most brilliant young people I know, with a mind that is naturally hungry for knowledge. His vocabulary is extensive. He has a writing ability that is poetic. For these reasons, he pursued his education.

But now, because of the violence in his home, because of the lack of utilities, because of the sudden move, Raquis is no longer in school. He had been hoping his mom would enroll him in another school, but, overtaken by despair, she has not had the courage to do this. So it is official—Raquis, against his own will, has dropped out of high school.

As Raquis and I sat in McDonalds discussing all of this, I could not help but get a clearer picture of who he is. Raquis is not a project for me or anyone else to work on. He is not a statistic. He is not trash. Our society has spoken all of these things to him, but in Raquis I see the image of God. He is a human—and one with much potential. He is smart and funny. He has learned to laugh even in the most difficult of situations. He knows he can’t get a good job without his diploma, so he asked me about getting his GED.

A DIFFERENT STORY

He needs his GED, so Chelsea and I and Matt and Ryan are going to help him get it. When someone comes running to your door bleeding and crying for help, you have to help them. It is not a matter of whether you have the time or not; it is a matter of whether you love God or not.

Raquis reminds me why we are in Aliquippa, part of the urban fringe of Pittsburgh. We work with children and youth in our programs who have difficult lives to various degrees, but many of them have experienced some or all of what Raquis has gone through. They are stories of Adam and Eve in the garden and of the Fall of mankind. They are stories of Satan prowling like a lion, seeking whom he may devour.

But the people of God in Aliquippa come with a different story, though we don’t always come with all the answers. Many times, it is much more important for us to listen than to speak—to hear the stories of others before we give trite, simple responses to difficult problems.

But nonetheless, we do come with a story of our own. It is a story of Christ crushing the head of Satan and bringing life to the whole world just as Adam brought death to the whole world. It is a story of Satan being bound up and thrown into hell, never to deceive the nations again. It is a story of a tree that never withers and bears different fruit for the healing of the nations, families and individuals. It is a story of hope.

SHOW AND TELL

If Christ’s gospel is not for Raquis, then who is it for? And if God’s people do not tell this story to Raquis, then what are they doing? Raquis has not yet come to faith. Understandably, he has difficulty believing in a loving God. But, as of the time I write this, the only true friends Raquis has are Christians. They will study with him for his GED. They will hang out with him to help him get his mind off things. They will call him and check up on him. They will tell him that they love him. They will work with other children in equally difficult situations in Aliquippa.

And hopefully, the witness and words and actions of ordinary Christians will serve a part in drawing Raquis to Christ. Someday, Raquis will come to faith in Jesus. When he does, you’ll know. He knows so many people on the streets of Aliquippa that his faith in Christ will quickly spread. He will turn Aliquippa upside down. That day is coming.

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