August 6th 2008
impressive and energetic young people, who volunteer to help UrbanPromise, always enjoy the time when they get to share the events of the prior week. There are always lots of laughs and spontaneous shouts of encouragement.
This year was different when Mary struggled to her feet. “The doctor gave me
the bad news eight days before I was supposed to come to Camden.”
Everyone became quiet. Mary is one of our 45 college interns who volunteered this
summer. She is a dean’s list student at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California studying Social Work. She had our attention.
“My doctor told me that my joints were disintegrating rapidly—knees and ankles primarily. My muscular dystrophy would allow me only about 5-hours day on my feet--or less. I would need periods of rest.”
For the past week our staff and children had all watched Mary struggle to walk around the UrbanPromise campus leaning heavily on her cane. But Mary would not be deterred. and she never complained.
“I thought about not coming to Camden,” she continued, “wondering what value I would be to an organization that works with such energetic kids. But I really believed I was supposed to come! So God opened doors and I sensed I had important work to do; besides, my friends, my church, and my family were all very supportive of my making the trip.”
The demands on our summer interns are strenuous. Our young men and women work long hours with energetic kids, walk long city blocks in the hot sun and humidity, and stay up until the wee morning hours planning exciting activities for our kids. Then they bunk in our cramped row homes and apartments (without air conditioning!)--not
the best conditions for someone whose health is in decline.
“I can’t coach basketball. I can’t walk kids home. I can’t lead the charge at the swim trips,” she continued. “But, I’m delighted that the children have begun to ask me questions about my cane and my limp. The conversations we have are amazing—conversations about faith and pain and God, and, often, about courage.”
“I now realize that God is working through what I thought were my weaknesses. Children in Camden relate to my vulnerabilities.”
Certainly, Mary’s testimony about courage and perseverance was a challenge to all of us last Sunday night. She reminded me and the others how God turns our perceived weaknesses into amazing opportunities to move beyond the superficial and connect with young people at a deeper level—a level that can not be reached if there is no trust, no respect, or no ability to identify.
For the last six weeks Mary and her colleagues have been running our day camps, coaching basketball teams, mentoring those who are still shaky in their school work, teaching bible verses, loving and sometimes just listening. Interns like Mary receive no financial compensation; they pay their own travel expenses, and they work long hours in South Jersey’s heat and humidity. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, they are contemporary saints.
Dr. Bruce Main