I asked both Shaboo and Leo to share a recent story, which are below, but to help understand the context I will start by telling a short story from a few years ago …
We were running a youth basketball club in Majesty Gardens, and a young man ran onto the court, grabbed the ball from Freddie (one of the basketball team members, who was 14 at the time) and started shooting hoops. Freddie asked for the ball back and the young man walked over to him, put his hand on Freddie’s face and pushed him hard, so hard that Freddie almost fell over. Our coaches intervened and the young man settled down, gave up the ball, and strutted off the court … but some older men from the community were watching and were appalled that Freddie had not retaliated, so two of them then ran onto the court and started demanding that Freddie go and thump the young man down for disrespecting him. Freddie started to listen to them and headed towards the other young man, so the coaches had to intervene again. It led to a serious discussion with all the youth on the basketball team about what it means to live in a setting where failing to retaliate means you are seen as weak, and violence is seen as the way you demand respect. Having the emotional strength to stand your ground, but do it with compassion and dignity, not violence, was a one of the most significant things that the basketball club worked to impart to young men in that context. I tell that story just so that you are aware of the culture of retaliation that has shaped the children and young people Leo and Shaboo talk about in their stories.
Leo shares a story:
In our last kids club the theme was anger and what do we do when we are angry. One of the ways we highlighted was to forgive and be kind, and we used the passage from Luke 6:28 “bless those who curse you”. After a while we had a chant going
Leader: “When somebody step on yuh toe and don’t waan seh sorry, wah yuh seh? (When somebody steps on your toe and doesn’t want to apologize, what do you say?)
Kids: In a synchronized shout “Di Lord bless yuh!” (The Lord bless you).
Leader: “When somebody a cuss yuh, instead a cuss dem back, wah you seh?”
Kids: “Di Lord bless yuh!”
The leaders were quite amused, knowing it’s a radical response and even one that we ourselves sometimes struggle with (and personally as a new driver it was a reminder of how to respond to taxi men on the road). Throughout the rest of the club in small groups, whenever prompted with a situation that would make anyone angry the kids wouldn’t necessarily remember the other responses we had talked about, but someone was always quick to remember “di Lord bless you”.
When we had the kids club mum’s helping with the food packages last year, we told them all that verse and encouraged them to respond by saying “The Lord bless you” whenever someone wasn’t happy with a food package. One of the Mum’s was so inspired by the experience of helping people in need that she organised a cooked food distribution for her birthday this year. She sent a text afterwards to say; “One man cuss mi today because he said he need two food … suh i remember when you say bless them … i even mention your name, n we all jus bless him.”
I look forward to the day when both parents and kids of Trench Town respond “Di Lord bless you!” to provocation.
Shaboo shares a Story:
My highlight from youth club was reading scripture with the youth and seeing how relatable it is to their lives. It really spoke to them. We did Ephesians 4:25-32, and verse 29 got us into such a good conversation. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” They can really see themselves and their situations in the verses we read.
As I reflected on both of their stories it struck me that it is the simplest things that can have such a positive counter cultural impact. Taking the simplest instructions from Scripture and showing how to put that into practice in a fun but real way is producing a ripple affect in the children’s and parents behaviour. Just a passage of scripture, a network of people who pray, a handful who go into the community, and a little bit of time – these are the simple ingredients that are drawing these young people in and making a difference in their lives.