It’s Math Dare night at UrbanPromise. As I arrive 12 year old Tyree is having a hissy fit. There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is one of our bushes is under assault. The good news is Joel Orr is about to intervene.
“You makin’ me mad! I didn’t do nothin’!” An Oscar worthy pre-emptive defense, but Joel is ready.
“You’re making yourself mad.”
Joel isn’t paid very much, but I bet he’d be a millionaire if he had a dollar for every time he’s had that exact same conversation with the junior high kids he serves as Camp Amen Site Director.
No longer pummeling our bush, Tyree begins to squirm and writhe in a vertical position in front of Joel. Imagine a fish flopping while standing on two feet. Part of me thinks maybe beating the bush was better. It’s a prize fight, Joel vs. Tyree, no punches, just a boxing match of wills, round… 15? 25? I don’t know, but I do know Joel answers the bell every day. It probably won’t become the next Rocky movie (though I can definitely see Joel running up those steps) but I have no doubt it’s on Jesus’ highlight reel every day.
Here’s the curious thing: the story below is the one I intended to share with you. But the short vignette above happened today. Completely by ‘chance’ the ‘Battling Bush’ episode was about the same boy who’s the center of the story below.
The principal’s voice thunders from the loud speaker, “6th grade bus riders are dismissed at this time,” and here comes Tyree and hundreds of his classmates. Tyree excitedly tries to give Joel a handshake, holding up the line in the hallway.
“Alright Tyree, let’s head out to the van, we can talk there,” Joel says, trying not to cause a commotion in the hallway. A sea of middle schoolers surges to the door, seeking their freedom from a long day of school and crowds.
The tide of students has filled the UrbanPromise van and the trek to Camp Amen begins, and so does Tyree’s chatter. Starting this trek each day with Tyree’s commentary and questions is as good as tuning to ‘talk radio’. Leading off is an analysis of the merits of our van. He starts with his opinion of the seats and ranges to the fact that the van needs gas.
As they make their way across town, the spotlight shifts from the van to the merits of Camp Amen. Tyree’s banter includes advice on what Camp Amen activities should be to suggestions for the snack menu.
Tyree’s eyes light up when the van stops at a red light in front of the YMCA. Here’s some juicy material for commentary.
“Alright, now it’s time to look at the pros and cons of Camp Amen versus the YMCA!”
Joel and superhero intern sidekick Clark (not Kent) exchange knowing glances. Unspoken agreement: “Where’s this going to go?”
Tyree begins, “Well, the YMCA has a nicer building, they have lots of TV’s, they have play station, they have a pool…… Camp Amen, well….there’s lots of rules, it’s strict, you learn the Bible.”
Pregnant pause; the punch line was coming and it was probably going to be a left hook.
“OH! Wait! You get to see your friends at Camp Amen! And Mr. Joel is there!!!” The wisdom that pours out of the overflow of kids’ hearts is pure and deep.
Tyree is immature, he’s been through major family trauma, and his annoying behavior makes him an outcast. But Tyree is a child of God, made in His image. From some deep place he knows that what he needs is love, not things. Amazing.
“In that moment he made me reflect,” Joel shared. “What makes an after-school program dynamic? Is it the building? Not really. Is it the TV’s, the toys, a pool? Nice, but no. The most important thing is Tyree having a living, breathing example of Jesus Christ, dedicated to spending a year (hopefully 3 years) teaching and encouraging him to become the young man God created him to be.”
Amen, Joel, amen.
I loved this story when Joel told it to me, but God gave me the ‘Battling Bush’ episode today to make me see more deeply what it costs Joel to love Tyree every day, and paradoxically why Tyree loves Joel.
Friends, every day Joel answers the bell at Camp Amen, climbs into the ring with high risk junior high kids, with no cheering audience (though Clark (not Kent) is in his corner!). These kids pack a punch. It’s lonely work, glacial progress, and lots of bruises. But Joel is a champion, and so are the many staff like him who go toe to toe every day. Truthfully, this daily love is the only way many of our kids will find their narrow path. And as Tyree revealed, they want it. They don’t want excuses or indulgence, they want to be loved with high expectations
I’m asking you to buy a ticket (the enclosed response card!), find a ring side seat, and cheer Joel and Clark (give!), cheer all our staff and love our kids with them (pray!). It costs $50 a week to trek the Amen van around with kids. $250 will support Clark (not Kent) to be in Joel’s corner. This month Joel’s kids (and others) are going to spend a night at the University of Delaware (go Blue Hens!) to get a vision of themselves in college. $120 will sponsor Joel’s kids meals. Let Joel hear you cheer, give $500 to support him in the ring, loving our kids.
P.S. Tyree calmed down, got on point, and went into the Math Dare and did great! In this match, when Tyree wins Joel wins. We all do.