Imagine crossing a street. Getting across is easy and relatively low-risk when there’s not much traffic. However, the experience is radically different if trying to cross a busy expressway. The chance of catastrophe is likely. For far too many, life is like this busy highway. Traumatic, life-shaping experiences are common place, beginning in childhood and continuing for the entirety of life.
One prisoner at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York described his childhood as like getting on a train. He boarded the train at five years old; it made a series of stops,
but he never had an opportunity to get off the train. His train took him to jail.
Whether it be someone in jail, a young man standing on the corner, or a misbehaving student in school, everyone has a story—everyone has a why. More often than not, the reason is traceable to unsettling events from early years of life. Professionals call these experiences Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Although such experiences occur across all geographic, racial, and socio-economic strata, there are places where ACEs are a lot more likely. In these neighborhoods, simply being born within that locale exponentially increases a child’s risk for damaging outcomes. These rural, suburban, and urban neighborhoods are called communities of need.
In Luke 4:16-18, Jesus gives his mission statement. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He was sent by God to make a difference to those with the most challenging circumstances. He accomplished this mission by meeting needs, building relationships, and changing lives. To his disciples, Jesus gave the same mission. He said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Jesus didn’t give his disciples an easy assignment, He gave them a difficult one. One that is still on the table today.
There are many ways to accept Christ’s call. One meaningful way is by creating a supportive environment for children, teens, and families through afterschool and summer programs. These programs can provide students and parents access to what professionals consider the greatest weapon in combatting ACEs, meaningful relationships. It’s these same relationships that become a bridge to introduce people to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only thing that makes a difference in the end.
The prisoner in Sing Sing didn’t need a professional to tell him what makes a difference. He already knew what he wanted to do when he got out of prison.
He wanted to go back to his neighborhood and stop that train in kids’ lives. He wanted to be a train-stopper!
With 45,000 Southern Baptist Churches across the country, imagine the difference that could be made if each one heard Christ’s call to take the most challenging assignment and served the most vulnerable. The outlook, both earthly and eternal, would be radically changed for thousands of children, teens, and families.