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  • Eric McIntosh

Broken Windows


We always thought the office should just get rid of the windows.

It became a major expense for the apartment management to continue to fix them over and over again. We thought they should at least put in some sort of alarm system, a better lock, security cameras or even fake security cameras to discourage people from breaking the windows. The apartment management didn’t do any of that. They just paid for new windows and went on with their lives.

The windows I felt were a symbol of the world around me.

Our broken lives, so torn to pieces by the bad around us, ripped apart from the inside by the bad in us, and let down by the bad in this world that we cannot control. I wished things were different. I think Jesus did too. That’s why he came.

My neighborhood aches and groans for the coming of something to save us. Our decisions determine our future, but with a sinful heart, what decisions do we have but the darkness? Without the light within us, we cannot truly be transformed.

I probably should have seen it coming. It was during bible study of all times. We were sitting in our after school program room. The kid was having an alright day, some ups and downs but nothing too serious. I wanted him to focus during the study and stop distracting the other students so I took the ball that he was playing with away from him. He left. The first time I went out and got him to come back in. The second time one of my volunteers encouraged me to let him go.

Just then, I looked over and there was a rock flying at the window and a kid’s arm stretched out just behind it. The glass shattered and the kid took off running. I didn’t know where he was going. I knew his parents and where he lived. The class looked over, shocked. The windows had been broken before; we had just never seen it happen right in front of us.

I did the necessary things. Went to tell the office, gave them his registration form so they could charge the parents — someone in his family would be paying for the window — I called the parents to tell them what happened, and the kid wasn’t allowed to come back for some time.

If I’m honest, I still don’t know why the kids break the windows. There was a time when the windows got broken every week. Some kids would say that this kid did it or that kid did it. but it was just a bunch of he-said she-said. I couldn’t take their word for it. Maybe it was because they were angry at something and needed to break something. Maybe it was because it was fun, and gave them a sense of freedom and excitement. Maybe they just didn’t like what we were doing at the after school program. Maybe they just didn’t care about anything. All valid and all very possible reasons, boil it down and the reason underneath is a sense of brokenness.

Belonging. We all want that. Most of the kids that I work with don’t feel like they have that. They have been neglected by so many people and are hurting because of it.

I have been trying to figure out how to make people feel wanted. I think it is pretty simple. Just keep spending time with them. Eventually that connection will grow. And one day they say or do something that lets you know you have really touched their life. That is the good stuff.

For every bad thing that happens, if I look, if I’m honest, there are plenty more good things that happen. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. When the window got broken over the summer, I really saw the kids band together. They all jumped in to help pick up the broken glass (with the broom, not their hands) and started to devise plans as to how to stop this from happening again. One of the kids suggested we put up an alarm system. Another that we camp out all night in the program room to catch whoever was breaking the windows. We couldn’t really do either of those things, but I appreciated the enthusiasm. A good amount of students really cared about the room.

The environment has an effect on a person. If you grow up believing you live in a “bad” neighborhood, a neighborhood that is “a dump” or “the hood,” then you start to live into those stereotypes. You start to throw trash on the ground because this place is “a dump.” You start to vandalize because this neighborhood is a “bad” neighborhood and so therefore we must be bad. You start to run around picking fights with people because this is “the hood” and we need to protect ourselves. And in this neighborhood they do need to protect themselves, but not to the extent that they think they need to. They don’t need to go around picking fights.

The environment of our old program room had an effect on the students. One of my bosses would always say that it was“cursed.” It definitely felt like it. Students just got in the habit of making a mess of the place. We pushed back, encouraging kids to pick up after themselves, having every kid help clean at the end of the day, reorganizing the messed up supplies, sweeping up the broken glass, wiping down the stains off of the walls, mopping the floor, picking up the trash from outside, and cleaning everything. When the students did it themselves, they felt a sense of ownership for the place. This was their room and they were responsible for it.

Like many things in this neighborhood, the good was not enough to stop the tide. We eventually lost the room because there was just too much vandalism going on with it. We were room-less for a few months, so we hosted a program outside.

Eventually they gave us a new room in the office. The floors and the walls were clean, the furniture was nice, there were more than enough supplies, the bathroom worked fine, the drinking fountain didn’t squirt water too high, and everything about this room was better. And the environment mattered. The kids treated it better and felt happier, like they were valued now. They worked harder to keep the room clean and did more of the program stuff.

There was still the same amount of stress on my end. With management next door we had to maintain a higher level of quiet. Kids will wander off into the hallways just next to where people were working and I have to bring them back. The stress is worth it for the kids. They deserve the best.

When people value their environment, they keep it clean. When they don't think it is "a dump" they pick trash up instead of throw trash on the ground. My team with help of a few of the parents in the neighborhood helped teach the kids this, through giving them fruit for picking up trash to telling them to pick up trash if they threw it on the floor. We talked about the importance of having a clean neighborhood and taking pride in it. Some of them really got it.

Maybe we needed the old to be taken away and something brand new given to us.

Broken windows can kind of be like our spirits. Over time, our spirits get broken down, by bad things we do, by bad things other people do, and by bad things that just happen.

Broken windows like our broken hearts. Pick the pieces up and realize we don’t know how to put them back together. Put the pieces down and we keep breaking. Give the pieces away and realize that just leaves us empty. Come to Jesus, he takes them away and gives us a whole new set, making us new.

Lord, continue to make us new. I hope He makes you new. If you go to Him, He will.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

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