Finding Life on Thursday Afternoons

Written by: Mariko Schaper Every Thursday we go to Johnson Elementary school. We go there to participate with Abundant Life Ministries. It’s an after school program that provides tutoring for kids among other things. The majority of the kids that go to Johnson Elementary are from the Prospect Ave neighborhood and Blue Ridge Common Apartments. Some of the students come from some really great families, but some come from broken homes. One of the boys was telling me about him hanging out with his father, who is out of jail for the 4th time; another said he’s never seen his father, while another said that their family is moving because they are scared to go outside due to the shootings that happen in the neighborhood. Despite what the students’ family lives are like, they all have something in common…they need lovin’ from us.

The boy that I tutor is 8 years old and his name is Ahmad. He is in the second grade. I remember the first couple of weeks that we started tutoring. The first day he was so apathetic and bragging about not caring whether or not he repeated the 2nd grade. He had to be pulled aside over and over to be talked to by Miss Kerra, one of the directors. But he just didn’t care. Anytime that he wouldn’t want to do something, he would totally and completely shut down. He wouldn’t do his work, he wouldn’t listen to anything that I would say or respond in any way. All he would do was sit there staring at the wall and ignore me. Some of the women running the program were talking about whether or not Ahmad could stay in the program because he wasn’t doing anything or making any progress.

…but that was in the beginning.

Now, he has been doing absolutely awesome. Ahmad wants to do his homework and the enrichment activities. They make him feel good about himself because he does well and learns from them. He talks to me about his weekend, about school, about lots of things. The kids got their report cards a couple weeks ago, and he was so excited to show me his. He got all really exceptional marks, they don’t do the whole A,B,C thing, like back in my day…haha I sound old. But anyways…he showed me his report card…and then Ahmad said something with such enthusiasm that almost made me cry in front of him…

“I’m going to the 3rd grade.”

He continued to say that after that he’s going to go to 4th then 5th, then middle school. He was so excited he hopped out of his chair, ran over to his cousin and said the same thing.

It has been so amazing tutoring him and spending time with the Abundant Life kids. I love going early and just running around and playing with them. The girls are hilarious playing tag and I just love dancing around with them. They are some of the most affectionate kids as well. They always want you to catch them, hug them, hang on your back or shoulders, jump on you…hold their hands. We took them for pizza and ice skating a while ago, and it was interesting to see their vulnerability especially on the ice. Though they were on the ice, their hard exteriors and the walls that they had up began melting away as they needed us and trusted us to help them.

I definitely have seen redemption in all of this and so much of God’s grace and love. It has been such a blessing to be able to be in these kids’ lives. To be able to let them know that they don’t have to be angry all the time; that people care about them; that doing well and working hard is awesome. The banquet that was held for them was quite stellar. They were brought into a room filled with several hundreds of people clapping and cheering for them for doing well. They were all dressed up and sang some Christmas carols after dinner and it was adorable. We were so blessed to be able to see them there and to serve them.

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” - 1 Timothy 1:14 …for this I am ridiculously thankful, but because it was poured out abundantly, means it should overflow into the lives of others around me. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” - John 10:10…Jesus came so we could have life, despite the fact that we so do not deserve it…freakin awesome!

These kids are meant to have a life abundant because of Jesus. It is amazing to think that we’ve had the blessing to be a little tiny part in that by just sharing God’s love with them.