We’re twenty minutes into the PEACE Program and I’m sitting at one of the tables in the homework room. Currently, I’m encouraging the young girl beside me to begin working on her character venn diagram. She has yet to be persuaded. The front door opens quietly, admitting one seven year-old boy. He stands at the threshold, looking at me, waiting for some sort of instruction. I smile and greet him warmly. This might only be his first week of the semester enrolled in the program, but he’s no stranger to PEACE.
“I’ve got some homework! Mostly math,” he matter-of-factly informs me.
“Great,” I respond, “can you get started on that?” At this point, I’m a bit hesitant about how diligent he’s going to be. In years past, diligence has definitely not been one of his strengths. I turn back to the young girl but out of the corner of my eye, I notice him get his work out, locate a pencil, and begin. He does this all silently and without disturbing any other child. If you know the kid, that alone is pretty amazing.
What’s even more amazing, is that he continues to diligently work on his math for the next thirty minutes! For a seven year-old boy, that’s a long time. For this seven year-old boy, that’s an eternity.
Why is this story important enough for me to share with you all? It’s nice and all but not the most thrilling. Well, let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s go back to when this boy first came around PEACE three years ago.
He was four years old and not too impressed by the PEACE Program. In fact, the only reason we saw him in those days was because he was friends with another four year old girl who loved spending time with us. If he came in, he usually was trying to get her to come out and play. He liked kickball. Or maybe I should just say, he liked kicking. One or two volunteers learned that the hard way.
Over the course of a few months, he began warming up to us. He would come around a bit more, staying for five to ten minutes at a time. Whoo! Progress!
It was probably around age five when he really began to like us. He’d even sit at a table for several minutes! Albeit, singing some crazy song with lyrics no five year old should sing.
I have countless memories of this child running through the building, shouting ‘weee-whooo-weee-whoooo’ at the top of his lungs, imitating a siren. There would always be one or two volunteers trailing after him.
Then there was his ‘your mom’ stage. The point in his life where if you asked him anything, his response was ‘your mom’. I can’t even tell you how many times I fell victim to that!
Now, seven years old, he wants to be at PEACE. So badly that he promised his mom he’d follow all the rules, not be crazy and not run out just so she would enroll him. Why? Why does this boy want to be at the PEACE Program? What would cause him to want to change?
And this verse came to mind:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3 NASB) The MSG Bible says it like this, “God told them ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’”
God’s love. God loves that little boy. He loves all the children that come through our doors every day. He loves them passionately and eternally.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from volunteering at the PEACE Program is this: If you want a child to listen to you, to trust you, to open up to you, you have to show them. Show them you will be there for them. Show them that they are more than just a fleeting thought or a good deed you did once or twice. Love is about commitment. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. It doesn’t give up on someone even through the years. And through the years, the only reason the PEACE Program has been able to continue, is because God loves His children and has never given up on them. A love like that is what makes a difference. It’s what changes the game for us all.
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly as He knows us. But for now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-13 MSG)