A student I worked with in Boston told me part of his story one day. Barry was a disruptive sixth grader in an inner city school when someone stepped into his life and gave him a chance. His father had left the family when he was young, and the statistics said Barry would never graduate from high school and likely end up in jail, like his dad.
But Barry and other kids were removed from their drug-filled, crime-ridden neighborhoods and given an option to attend a boarding school in another part of the city, financed by an anonymous donor. There they received a second chance to experience childhood while getting a better education and learning to see themselves in a new way.
Barry told me the shift was unsettling at first because many of their old friends envied their new clothes and book bags and begged them for money. “Suddenly, we were no longer apprentice hoodlums from the projects.” Barry told me. “We are considered ‘rich’ because we ate well, used manners, slept in safety, were well groomed, and had bright opportunities ahead of us.”
Does this sort of reform school work and produce lasting change? Yes and no. This particular boarding school has a strong track record of helping inner city kids like Barry get away from the troublesome environment of their neighborhood and get a fresh start. Being able to focus on character development along with academic catch-up, with strong faculty role models and host families, contributes to the chance to re-boot your life. Some of the children refused to cooperate and were sent home. Others completed their high school education and graduated with a new sense of direction. Many, like Barry, took advantage of the opportunity and earned a scholarship to college. It all depended on their response.
When we are faced with unwelcome circumstances, we can react with resentment or acceptance. Maybe our professor gave us a grade we did not expect, but in reality it was what we deserved for the quality of work and the weak effort. Maybe our summer employer or school requires us to live in a place we don’t care for. Illness or death in our family may alter our future plans. We have to decide if it’s a God-given opportunity or the end of the road.
Read Galatians 1:11-24.
Just after Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the Damascus road, the former persecutor of Christians in the first century said, “I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17). We know very little about this three-year period in his life except that it removed him from his normal environment at a critical juncture. It was during this time that he received the understanding of the gospel (i.e., good news…the message) of Jesus that would radically redefine the direction of his life, even as mentors took him under their tutelege.
What kind of unwelcome change are you facing today? How do you think God may be involved in your circumstances? How do you decide whether you react with resentment or acceptance?
God may put us in new circumstances so we can learn to know and trust Him more. He may even bring a mentor like Barry encountered (initially an anonymous one) to assist in helping you get to where you have better options. That kind of “reform school” can be a life-changing time. It depends on how we respond. Live communally. Be teachable. Learn to embrace change.
Love is a verb,
©2013 by Mike Olejarz