Surviving to adulthood isn’t really something too many of us think about but for so many in our world, this is something that isn’t assumed. In so many urban centers, the potential for derailment, even death, loom overhead. Yesterday I began reading a book titled Nobody Cries when We die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood by Patrick Reyes. It is probably the best book I’ve read this year and I read more than most. It captures well this idea of simply surviving to adulthood as a noble achievement.
Reyes survives an abusive home, gangs all around, witnesses a young girl being murdered, is mocked for reading books and valuing education. His mom’s boyfriend pulled him off the ground by his throat and attempted to strangle him when he was a small boy. One day he and his buddy were wearing the wrong colors when gang members shot at them. They missed and killed a school girl on the same playground. Experience after experience occurs when Reyes finds himself at Boston University studying theology.
At the start of one of his classes, the professor goes around the room asking grad students how their life trajectory has prepared them for this moment. Echoes of privileged and ministry exploits are told. Most of the white students began to tell how they’d gone into ministry situations working amongst those least fortunate, started this program or that program, proved themselves in research of some sort – all of which are wonderful contributions as Reyes admits. They come to Patrick and the best and most honest answer was given. “I survived to adulthood.” Everyone laughs. The professor tells him to give a real answer.
Reyes goes on to explain that everything in his life that had prepared him for that moment was mocked. Relatives who had been shot and killed. Dark walks home at night. A fight for education amid people who put him down for his pursuits the laughs and the shame did not change the truth. He had made it to adulthood and it was time to fight to make a theological contribution to the world.
It really got me this morning as I read. I think often about these sorts of things as we are trying to train up leaders and see them released into ministry. Their sets of circumstances are just so very different from most of the folks rolling into suburban local churches, bible colleges, or missions agencies. The precedent has been set based upon the life experience and set of conditions you are dealt.
I know people in our neighborhood who have been unable to see their family in 25 years because they were working for the Bhutanese government at the time their relatives were kicked out of the country. I work with friends who had no place to sleep for several years at a time because refugee camp life was so bad at home. I’ve watched families breakdown almost overnight as people move to the US and the pressures are just so great and substance abuse becomes the answer. Just last week in Vermont, a man who grew up in the camp with some of our friends snapped. He had just gotten out of mental health treatment when he lost it on his wife and killed her in the driveway with a butcher knife and nearly killed his mother-in-law. When his daughter came home from school, everything had changed. Will she survive to adulthood?
So what then does ministry training and leadership development look like for those who barely, just barely survived to adulthood? I don’t see my friends rolling up to the most prestigious Christian college with their parents helping them unpack all teary eyed. I don’t see them going to churches and mid to upper class churches/individuals and becoming supported missionaries. They have survived to adulthood and the conditions are just so incredibly different.
Two weeks ago, we had a big celebration for 15 Nepali church leaders who went through a 12 month leadership and discipleship training that I was honored to facilitate. They asked me to be the main speaker for the gathering. Local Nepali pastors from other congregations were there. Members from other churches came. A local American pastor who is well known in the Nepali community was present. There were probably more than 100 people there and the atmosphere was electric. To those who have access to this sort of thing we say, “so what’s the big deal? It is such a minimal length of study.” For someone who survived, for people who have survived hell, it was something with few words to describe. I will never forget that weekend. It was perhaps the most meaningful thing I’ve ever been part of and I’m humbled by all that transpired.
But I know that this is just the start of something bigger. For a couple months now I have been dreaming with others what a yearlong training program could look like with the privileged and those who survived to adulthood. What would it earn to have a strong, robust training program that is both theoretical and practical that includes both crowds? Not just “an immigrant thing” or “white guys thing” but truly a time where 8-10 folks move into the neighborhood and work their tails off to become the kinds of leaders God has called them to be?
We are looking at next fall as a launch to start such an internship where the holistic Gospel is embraced and celebrated and where the playing field is leveled. We dream of the day where people do care when you die, where surviving to adulthood is not laughed at, where suburban servants of Jesus come with all their access and say, “yes, we too bring something to the table but it is so very different now because we are learning with our Nepali brothers and sisters.” We dream of an even playing field where Nepali students who have survived to adulthood would say, yes, this is awesome to be part of this together with those from different circumstances. We are not better. You are not better. We all are after this Jesus who has so changed us.
As we continue to move things along around here, pray with us that we honor one another with the utmost respect and remember that we are all simply servants in God’s vineyard. He is the King who has conquered but He is also the God who has struggled with us. Pray that this would be expressed in our every word and deed as we announce the Kingdom.