floated around the class talking with the kids and helping them with homework, and even encouraging them to do their work.
For example, there was a student in the program who happened to be the oldest in the class during my visit, and he would encourage the younger students to be loud and joke around and defy authority (to an extent). I didn't say much about it on the first day because I was still an outsider. However, on the second day they recognized me as a member of the staff (to an extent, of course), so I asked God to help me to encourage them. Even though I did not speak up against the older student's misunderstood behavior on the second day, I was able to take part in their bi-weekly activity for creative arts. I went with the group who did acrobatics.
This was THE MOST fun I have had outside of the U of I and outside of my hometown of Decatur, Illinois because I literally felt like I was home tumbling with my family. Their coach allowed me to participate in their warm-up activities (running, stretching, practicing cart-wheels, etc.), and the kids wanted me to do everything they did. A couple of them actually told me that I had to do everything they had to do, and I was fine with it....at first. They did things I was able to do, but once they began to do hand-stands I wanted to sit out, and one of the students told me "Come on, man. Just do it." He wouldn't let me get away with something as small as not participating in his activity.
Because he was persistent in encouraging me to participate, I complied with his offer to help me. I did a few hand-stands, and I even did a few back bends (which I hate to do). All the while a couple of the students were looking over in my direction to make sure I was doing what they were doing, and they were ecstatic that I was just as capable of doing something as they were capable. Once I showed them that I wasn't going to give up on them, they continued to encourage me to participate. When they did cart-wheel and round-off drills, they gave me a place in their line so that I could be a part of their team.
Every one of them respected my decision to participate, so they wanted me to participate even more. Once they were finally on to their favorite part (learning to do back-flips or simply showing off their skills), they were REALLY excited to know if I could do back-flips too. (Take note that I have been tumbling for 15-16 years), and when I had done my first back-flip, their coach asked me who taught me how to tumble (I'll let you guess the answer I gave him). Anyhow, the students grew in their excitement because they had not experienced a short-term volunteer who could also tumble as they could. It was extremely encouraging to them, and they didn't want me to leave. They asked if I would come back that Friday to tumble with them.
One student prompted me to take him and the other guys to the bathroom when we made it back to their classroom. He ran up with a smile, grabbing my arm and said: "We want 'Mr. Rico' to take us to the bathroom!" I saw the excitement on his face, but I had to return to my respective place in Circle Urban Ministries because I had stayed a little longer than I was expected to on that day. I personally didn't want to leave when I had, but the staff told me that I should go and be with the other CUP students/staff. I complied, and walked through the building with the biggest smile on my face and a story to tell because those students encouraged me. I didn't expect them to encourage me, but they did.
On the last day of my visit with the "Circle for Success" afterschool program, I talked with the older student periodically. I prompted him to let me know if he had any homework, and I told him that I would help him if he needed it. At first he told me that he had finished all of his homework in class, but when I came back shortly thereafter, he informed me that he still had math homework to do. I asked him to pull it out, and he did. I saw that he was half-way done, so I said it would be better for him to finish it now so that he could do what he wanted later. He started to do the work while I was there with him, but he stopped when I left. I returned about ten minutes later to see if he made any progress, yet I did not see his math homework anywhere. Therefore, I asked him how much work he had done, but he pulled his backpack closer to him (it lay on his desk) and said "I finished it."
I asked to see his homework, and he gave me the same response. He began to laugh as I lifted up his backpack to see if it was there. Sure enough his homework rested (undone) beneath his backpack, so I asked him why he didn't finish it. He told me that he already knew how to do it and that he didn't want to waste his time doing it now. I sat and talked with him for a lil while, then he finally confided in me enough to sit there and do his work alone. When he got stuck, he sought my help. That really encouraged me to know that he was willing to do his work, but he just wanted someone to care about him doing his work. That's all he wanted. All he needed was for someone to be relentless in encouraging him to do his work.
How can someone look me square in the eye and tell me that these students are expected to fail? How can they tell me that it would be great for the students to go to college, but they have to first make it to high school? How can they tell me that these students are at risk of being deemed incapable UNLESS they have no hope for them themselves? Being in Chicago and working with the students in the community of Austin for THREE days has shown me how little the public system cares about those who are unfortunately born into a less-fortunate neighborhood. They have everything taken from them, and now they are being deprived of a decent education.=
We must be the generation to speak out against the injustice of innocent children being deprived of their only way out: an education! We must be the people to encourage those individuals who are "supposedly" at risk in the eyes of the world. We are the people who must love on someone who does not experience love in their homes or in their schools or even in their community. We must reach out to those who feel that no one cares that they even exist. We are the people who must believe in the goodness of the LORD God Almighty and work for our Father in Heaven so that we can intervene as Jesus had.
Is it too much to ask that we stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves? Is it too much to ask for people to encourage a child who doesn't experience love on a regular basis? Is it too much for us to believe in someone who doesn't believe in himself? Is it just too hard? Or is it just too difficult for us to stand in their place and take on their suffering? Maybe it's not even worth the effort because we have already deemed them worthless in hearts! If we don't stand up on their behalf, then we are encouraging the injustices that they experience every day! If we don't speak out for them, then we are perpetrating the very ideal that anyone who is less-fortunate is less capable! If we don't acknowledge that God has called us to be HIS heart in the world, then WHAT GOOD ARE WE AS CHRISTIANS FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
We must bring compassion to push out against the lack of love! We must seek justice to push out against the injustices! We must harness fullness to push out against the emptiness! We must give in abundance to push out against the poverty! We must LIVE FOR JESUS CHRIST to push out against the brokenness of this world! We cannot save the world, but Jesus can through us! We, as Christians, are obligated to live a life worthy of the grace of God! We, as Christians, are obligated to allow our hearts to be broken for what breaks the heart of God! We, as Christians, are obligated to follow Jesus Christ into the mess of this world! We have to take on the suffering of those who do not deserve it so that God can be exalted. We have to bring hope to the hopeless so that God can be glorified. And most importantly WE have to display the love of God so that HE can be seen as the ONE and ONLY ALMIGHTY GOD! If you really want to show God that you love Him, then you will be more than willing to allow Him to do His work through you. Live for Grace Over Desire!
To God be the glory,