This week our youth group worked alongside an inner-city church that recently bought an old Greek-Orthodox church. You could easily tell it was originally Greek-Orthodox by the ornate inlay in its arched ceilings, cupola dome, bell tower on the western side and sanctuary on the eastern.
Going unused for years, the church like many old buildings in Detroit, fell victim to copper thieves. This raping of it’s infrastructure eventually led to water seeping into the plaster walls, disintegrating them to nothing. Part of our job was to get the loose material off of these walls, which was easily done with a paint scraper. One of our more tedious tasks included trying to scrape off glue residue from the marble floor because it had at one time been covered with carpet, that took forever!
The other reason why we were there was to help facilitate a VBS program put on for kids from the projects. I don’t use that term lightly, these were kids that came from an apartment complex more dreadful in appearance than any housing situation I have seen. Brokenness spilled over into the attitudes and behaviors of these would-be, should-be innocent children. Walls existed that a week of impact could not tear down and pain so deep that a few days of scraping away would not even scratch the surface.
After tirelessly picking off a small section of the tacky glue from the marble floor, I found our youth pastor working on one of the many crumbling walls of the church. Reluctantly, I asked a question that youth group volunteers probably aren’t supposed to ask; What’s it matter? Why are we doing this? What’s the point? Our group of a dozen or so would never be able to restore the church to the extent it needed. We didn’t have $20,000, we didn’t know how to plaster walls and our floor scraping would have been much more efficient with a large floor buffer.
His answer was simple but resonated with me; “Every little bit of progress we make is less work for someone else.”
It was true not just for the work we were doing on the building but also with the kids. Those kids may not remember the exact details of that week, what church we were from or even any of our names, but it was a few more good days and a few more good experiences for them and that is something. Every little bit of progress we made in telling them about Jesus was a little less someone else would have to do.
In the building we worked on there was a tree protruding from the roof. Seeds had found their way inside and with the water from the missing pipes and the sun shining through the torn shingles on the roof, it was just enough to grow. I’d like to think that in the midst of the chaos these children face on a daily basis, our week with them planted seeds.
I’ve been asked “Were you ever scared?’ The answer is yes. I was terrified as I drove out of the city, north past eight mile, away from the pain of the children we met from the projects this week and into a world that retreats from the brokenness and keeps the light of Jesus in our comfort zone. That is what scares me the most; that nobody will continue the process we got to be a part of because as I found out, it does matter.