“People Matter, so Respect Everyone! We’re a Team, so Work Together! Our Actions Count, so Make Good Choices!”

Children, young people, and leaders recite these phrases week after week in our after school programmes. They are the club values; the explicit statements in words that all of our actions are then measured against. However, children being able to recite words, and children putting them into actions when they are under pressure, are two different things.

Here are just a handful of the incidents that have taken place at clubs in the last few weeks;

– One boy threatened another because he didn’t like the way they looked at him, which was met by a counter-threat, a sudden punch, and a full fight within seconds.

– A 10 year old boy playing basketball went to take what he thought would be the game-winning shot, but it was blocked by a 10 year old girl … so he instantly threw the ball hard, straight into the girl’s face.

– An 8 year old boy threatened to slash the tyres of the Fusion bus because he hit his own head while leaning over a railing, and then blamed it on the leader who told him to stop leaning over because it was dangerous.

Although there have been many encouraging incidents too, the ones mentioned here can seem pretty discouraging, because the children involved have been reciting the words above for several years. When trying to encourage children to practice these values in a culture thick with generations of trauma, dehumanising abuse and violence, it can sometimes feel like we are not making any difference at all. But the funny thing is that this year has been one of the most encouraging years we have experienced in our ministry! I say this, not because all the children and young people are suddenly demonstrating the values in their actions in every moment and never missing a step, but because the heart of our ministry is in a better place than it has ever been.

The children are not the only ones who have been reciting important words but taking time to un-learning old patterns of thought and action, and re-learn new ones. As leaders, we have been ‘reciting’ a passage of scripture for years but have only learned a fresh way of putting it into our actions this year.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who remains in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. For without Me you can do nothing.” – Jesus (John 15:4)

As a Christian youth and community work organisation, our focus has often been more on youth and community work than it has been on Christ in us … and it dawned on us at the beginning of this year (in the season of epiphany) that more of our time and focus was given to trying to do things than it was to remaining connected to the vine. We realised that our words and actions were not matching up as much as they could, so since then we begun finding ways to correct that. We have been meeting in groups of three and going through a simple process of sharing verses of scripture, asking each other the real questions about how well we are applying it, and praying. Alongside this we have been having fellowship meetings where we have been studying both books of scripture and books about scripture together. We still do all the youth and community work that we were doing before, but it is now an extension of a much more alive relationship with God, as individuals and as a community. In the words of Shaboo, one of our team members; “It’s like all these years I have been working for God, but now I’m working with God.”

When it comes to the incidents mentioned above, the boys who fought were taken to one side and walked through a process of reconciliation. Two weeks later they were asked to decide a new policy at the basketball club to help manage behaviour for the whole club, and they settled on having everyone do 5 push ups the moment anyone troubles anyone else (and it has been quite effective)! The boy who threw the ball in the girl’s face told the leaders at the end of club (before they told him) that he knew he would have to miss club the following week, and it led to positive interactions with the mothers of both children. The boy who threatened to slash the tyres was listened to for a long time and is going through a lot of pain and rejection, but sadly has not returned to club since.

In each case though, instead of these incidents being sources of discouragement that the children are saying the values but still not demonstrating them in all their actions, they have been reminders to pray, opportunities to demonstrate the love of God, reminders of the importance of the role each leader plays in the children’s lives and motivation to keep praying for wisdom in how to be effective in this work.

It shouldn’t surprise us that, as our own actions line up more with God’s words, there is more fruitfulness in our ministry. It also shouldn’t surprise us that children, like us, take time to learn how to translate good words into good actions.