September 10, 2012 – Why the Long-Haul Matters – by Joel Repic
If you weren’t familiar with our work in Aliquippa, you may have thought it was just a small thing, but actually it was huge.
A teenager who has participated in one of our A Future Anticipated Cohorts had a conversation with one of our staff members recently. This staff member had stopped by just to catch up and see how the beginning of the school year was going. He had also stopped by out of deep, abiding concern.
About a year ago, this teenager had begun to drift. We noticed behaviors developing that seemed to indicate he was experiencing an intense internal struggle between a future in the streets or a future of hope. We would see him hanging out in places we knew were less than safe. He would reference things in his conversations with us that gave us a red flag. It seemed the streets were calling, and that voice was getting louder and louder.
But more than just observed behaviors, we saw a growing attitude of hopelessness and despair. In fact, at one point he said to one of our staff members, “The truth is – half of us are going to end up dead or in jail in our twenties. We appreciate all you do for us, but nothing is going to change what’s coming.” He wasn’t being disrespectful; he was just expressing how he felt. That’s how many young people feel in our community, and he was voicing the all-too-common notions of hopelessness.
At Aliquippa Impact, we know if that voice wins the day, there is only tragedy ahead. So we intensified our praying. His mentor continued to show up. Aliquippa Impact staff members continued to offer stable compassionate presence and youth development programming.
Then all of the sudden – a glimmer of hope. Recently when our concerned staff member stopped by his house, it suddenly seemed if something had changed. The tone of this young man’s conversation was entirely different. He spoke of hopes and dreams he had to one day participate in a vocation related to a particular trade. He thoughtfully talked about the dangers of the streets and the importance of responsibility and making good choices. He was positive about the future.
Our staff member left that conversation encouraged, thanking Jesus for His mercy, and with enough motivation to keep on serving in the community for a long while. Good thing people didn’t give up on this young man when he began to talk the talk of hopelessness. Good thing Aliquippa Impact was still there even while he drifted.
What am I saying by sharing this story? Do I know now this young man will never be tempted in the streets again? Am I sure he will always make the right choices? Can we look forward to a happily ever after ending in the months ahead? Truthfully, I can’t promise any of those things. Our role in Aliquippa is more like an ongoing battle with small victories along the way than a fairy tale.
But here’s what I do know: without long-term presence in the lives of young people, even the small victories wouldn’t be possible for some of the young people we serve. This is why Aliquippa Impact is committed to compassionate presence in the community for the long-haul and why we resist hit-and-run approaches to ministry that don’t produce true long-term fruit. Sure, the young man I’m talking about has an uphill battle even still. I’m sure he will experience days ahead where hopelessness begins to speak its demonic voice yet again. But we’ll still be here regardless – for the bad days and the days when we witness small victories – because we are committed to Aliquippa for the long-haul.