God has given my mentee Alexa a heart for people who are homeless. When Alexa prays before we share a meal together, she frequently prays for the homeless and those who do not have food, that God would give them food. Alexa prays with expectation that God will take care of those she prays for. At the same time, she looks for practical ways to show God’s love. We drive the same road to church each week and she knows at which points we can expect to see people who are homeless. We have gotten in the habit of giving out water bottles, and Alexa talks about wanting to make care packages for homeless people we meet. After lunch recently, she saved and packaged some of her food to give to a homeless person. She is constantly on the look-out for people who are homeless and she prepares to encounter them.
My church’s youth group has joined a ministry that serves those living in motels near Roeding Park. Alexa and I went to one of their outreach events where there were games and food for people who are living in motels or homeless. I was impressed by how comfortable Alexa was, how she dove into playing alongside the other children and wasn’t at all concerned about things that can make me uncomfortable. She was thrilled to be able to hang out with homeless people and eat lunch with them.
I am a huge advocate of empowering kids and students to serve and lead. I believe service opportunities can deepen their faith and make them proactive regarding the needs of others. At the same time, I am sensitive to the fact that it is far too easy for good intentions to turn into harmful cycles of dependency and I recognize that some of the things Alexa and I have done with the intent of helping may not have been helpful. Despite this, I need to not let my fear of doing the wrong thing and uncertainty regarding the right way to help translate into me acci
dentally squashing Alexa’s God-given passion to serve people who are homeless. I want to foster Alexa’s desire to love and serve those who are homeless while teaching her to do so in a way that is strategically beneficial for all involved.
I deeply desire for all kids to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and fulfill the purpose for which God created them. That typically involves education and career opportunities, but sometimes that includes connecting kids like Alexa with opportunities to serve others. I want Alexa to care about other people, but in my limited imagination, I expected that would involve us talking about how she could be nicer to her friends and family. We have done that as well, but I underestimated how she sees people and their needs through God’s eyes in ways I have grown to ignore. While Alexa’s longing to help people who are homeless is specific, the desire to serve others to better the community is not unique to her. There are other kids who have shared with me ideas of how to make their communities better, kids who point out people in their neighborhoods who are hurting. These conversations make me not only want to view people the way the kids do, but it also heightens for me the importance of encouraging them to lead by serving while expanding my vision of what it means to invest in the dreams of emerging leaders and what they want for their community.