Serving God : Serving Others

August 3, 2010

Freedom Outreach: A ministry of caring relationships among friends in the city. Passion for Christ. Compassion for People. Period.

Playing in Riverside.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

It all started with Rachel Coates: “You should volunteer for our Easter  Party.”

“But I don’t do little kids,” I said, “I’m called to teens and young adults.”

“Still, you should come and help. These kids are awesome.”

I felt the usual immediate satisfaction of serving God; after all, “it is better to give than to receive.” However, it was a slow progress for these kids to work their way into my heart. Because of a faithful few volunteers, a few of the kids who were at the party were actually regulars at our church service. It only took one time for us to meet before they would run up to me at church with joy and ask to sit with me during worship and to make me play with them after the service. Eventually, one of them asked, “How come you don’t play with us during the week?”

Freedom Outreach is an organization based at Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Volunteers from the church and community have the opportunity go into the projects of Wilmington, Delaware, including Riverside and Southbridge, once a week and play with the children in the neighborhood. The goal is to simply build relationship with the children on their turf, the places where they call home. Freedom Outreach also organizes bigger events like holiday parties held at the church, and Vacation Bible Schools and annual barbeques held in the neighborhoods. Once leaders in the organization build relationship with the children and their families, they are invited to a session at Camp Josiah in Port Jarvis, New York. The church partnerships with the camp and some members of the church sponsor individual children to help pay their way to camp, and the kids also help raise money for themselves through fundraiser like carwashes. One major goal of Freedom Outreach is to mentor the children until they are teens and then train them to become mentors themselves.

Building castles at Camp Josiah.

Becoming a regular volunteer for Freedom Outreach was pretty tough for me at first. The kids were tugging on my heart, but I had my own children to worry about, and I thought for sure with my busy schedule, the Lord would let me off the hook. But between the Lord and the kids working on me, I moved from just helping out with special events, to going up to play with the kids in their neighborhood on a weekly basis. God quickly began to bless me through it, but not in a way I expected. Between my job as a high school teacher, and working on my masters in an attempt to earn more income for the future, and helping to raise two boys as a single dad, life was full of stress. However, here was two hours a week I could just play with kids and not think about anything else. Instead of having one more thing on my schedule, playing with the kids in Riverside became a break that I looked forward to each week.

The kids have also kept me humble. It was hard to complain about American lower-middle-class frustrations when I got a weekly dose of the realities of poverty these kids face. Some have moms and dads in jail or on drugs or even both. Some have parents or guardians who are struggling to do their best for the kids they love, but they just can’t get ahead of their past mistakes. Either way, most of these kids have been exposed to, and even been victims of, the darkness of mankind’s soul way too early in life.

Because of the environment they live in, they can often be very challenging, but it is amazing to discover the childlike beauty that is still in action in even the most hardhearted of the children. When I see the wonder of imagination and the magic of their hearts at work in them, it enables me to have greater compassion for my at-risk students, only a few years older, when they act out in my classroom in anger and fear. I know these students once did not feel the need to smother the magic that is still hiding within them. When I see the courage these kids need to face life every day, it teaches me not to judge their adult counterparts who came to age living in the same fear and neglect. Despite the many disappointments these children experience, I can still see hope glimmering in their eyes, and after a time I have felt the genuine love that some of them have come to trust me with, and I came to realize what loving your neighbor truly means.

When I spend time in the city, John Wesley often echoes in my brain: “But for the grace of God, there go I.” For what is God’s grace to us were it not for the people he has sent into our lives to be his hands and feet and even his mouth? If more kids and even adults can learn there is a better way of life, a road to freedom that our God teaches us, the cycle of poverty can be broken in their families. Many Freedom Outreach kids are growing into mature children of God, and it is a blessed thing to be a witness of; however, many more still seem to slip through the cracks. It is hard for seed to take root in concrete and asphalt; however, when the seed is watered by love and truth from a caring person; the stone can erode and crumble into ground soft and tilled, and God can create miracles that cause roses to bloom.

If you would like more information regarding Freedom Outreach, or would like to support the ministry in anyway please go to:  http://www.vcfbarn.com/service/freedom-outreach/ 

Peter L Richardson
7/9/2010

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