Experiencing the Kingdom of God at Springdale
by Samantha Carroll
And calling a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3
I have to apologize to Bubba. This inconvenient truth rattles around my head as I try to ignore it, focusing instead on driving down the street, avoiding potholes, and finding parking. “Why, God? Wasn’t he in the wrong?”
Last week at Girls Club at Springdale, things got a little out of hand. During our meeting, Jazir appeared and started distracting the girls. (I know teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but Jazir is one of mine. He has always been a quiet, watchful, and intense boy. Now he’s growing up into a quiet, watchful, and intense teenager. He’s getting taller and filling out; he loves football and is on a team every year. Jazir almost always has his much younger brother with him, and Jazir accepts this without question, as if his brother is part of his own body.
I worked to create a Boys Club specifically for Jazir, so I have to wonder why he’s not at Boys Club tonight. (Boys Club runs concurrently with Girls Club in different rooms.) My girls seem hyper, so I kick Jazir out without much thought. The thing is, he won’t leave. He stands outside the glass doors making faces and laughing. He brings Bubba and other kids over to join in. I have to leave my girls several times to try to get them to leave, but they won’t. Things slowly degrade from there with me asking, then imploring, then ordering the kids away from the door. Bubba loses it, and starts screaming at me to go home. In some mockery of a battle, I raise my voice and tell Bubba he’s out of line. It’s the worst night I have ever had at Girls and Boys Club, and I leave feeling sad and defeated. Later, I found out Jazir had made some poor choices earlier in the day, was mocked by his friends, then was kicked out of Boys Club for threatening another kid. I’m reminded that in the absence of parental care and love, some kids are getting their own education, but it’s a distorted one.
Looking back, I am embarrassed by how I played into Jazir’s perfect storm of humiliation. I should have known something was up and I could have tried to deal with it instead of dismissing him. I never discipline kids outside of my programs, so why was I yelling at them? I realize I should apologize to both Bubba and Jazir, but this is the last thing I want to do.
I return to Springdale the next week with dread. Parking my car, I say a quick prayer to God to give me a little time with the girls before I have to apologize. God has other plans.
As I walk into the gate, Bubba is the first person I see. Really, God?
Bubba sees me, pockets his candy from the vending machine, and affably says, “Miss, Sam? I’m sorry about yesterday. I was WAY out of line.”
“What, Bubba?” I ask.
“Yesterday. Or maybe last week…I should never talk to an adult like that. I was wrong.”
With these words, everything breaks inside of me. All my worry, all my hurt leaves. I bend down to talk to him. “Bubba, that’s crazy! I was coming to apologize to YOU. I am sorry for the things I said. I have no right to come to your house and tell you how to act. I was wrong.”
Bubba looks at me, and we spend the next couple minutes going back and forth apologizing, but we part as friends.
This is what is special about Springdale. I feel like it’s a heightened experience of the Kingdom of God. I can see such dark forces at work, but also experience incredible moments of grace. Buoyed by Bubba’s easy forgiveness, I meet with my girls for Girls’ Club. When Jazir warily walks thru to go to Boys’ Club, I approach him and apologize for the previous week. I say I am sorry I told him to leave. I tell him I care about him, so I wish I had taken some time to check in with him. He just nods and walks on, and then I join my girls.
And then later, in Boys Club, something crazy happens. The boys were playing a game (as usual), when Jazir suddenly interrupted. “Can I ask a question?” Bryan, Jason, and Arnold (the adult mentors) said yes. “I’m sorry for last week. I acted wrong because I was mad.” The other boy, the one Jazir had threatened nods, and everyone goes back to their game.
Do you see the importance of the moment? All of the volunteers were so upset the previous week at the kids’ bad behavior, but we were also pleased that there was never a physical fight. For a lot of kids, violence is so easy. They record fights on phones and endlessly gossip about it. We encourage the kids to walk away from charged situations, so when Jazir walked out of Boys’ Club, we considered this a success. But then, the next week, he came back and apologized for his actions! Forgiveness is something that we struggle with as adults, yet here are these children doing it perfectly. FOL volunteers have created a safe place for these children to be, and God’s Kingdom is starting to take root. This was such a beautiful moment. Even though I wasn’t in the room that day, I like to think I had a part in Jazir’s apology. However, all this really started with the easy, sweet sincerity of a kid named Bubba.