August 10th 2009
Living so close by (geographically, anyway), we probably thought we had better ideas about Camden than most workgroups. Our local newspapers and newscasts are full of the stories. Yet we still did our research. We watched the 20/20 series together. We tried to dig a little deeper. But even with all that, had you asked any of us what we would expect to see on the streets of Camden, words like compassion, grace, patience, and abounding love were not the first words that would have come to anyone’s mind.
Yet upon arrival, those were some of the very first words we heard. Bruce used them when he spoke to us on Sunday night. Those of us at Camp Grace heard them again first thing Monday morning . . . and over and over again as the “basketball verse” each day of the week. No matter which of the three camps (Grace, Peace or Saved) we had been assigned to, we saw them being lived out on a daily basis by the interns and street leaders we worked alongside. We saw the results of that in the respect and affection given by the kids to their leaders and, whether immediately or eventually, to us.
We learned more about the power in those words when we talked more with some of the directors, interns and street leaders during the week. So many of them were former camp kids who have responded to God’s gift of Urban Promise by choosing to return and give back. Every one of them who chose to answer our question about what kept them off the streets, identified people both inside and outside Urban Promise who showed those qualities to them in one way or another. . . compassion, grace, patience and, most of all, love. Most of the rest of our state and our nation may have written Camden off as hopeless, but clearly God never will, and He carries out His work in a million small ways through hundreds of amazing people here. What a gift to have the chance to be even a small part of that!
Still, Camden is Camden, and the problems faced here every day that appeared so daunting from a distance (even a short one!) now threaten to overwhelm us as we have been drawn closer and been given even greater reasons to care so much more. Stories that previously might have drawn nothing more than a sympathetic response now break our peace completely and bring us to tears. We feel the need to do something, but find ourselves at a loss as to what that something might be. We have a hard time understanding that “fixing” Camden does not necessarily mean making it more like where we live. We don’t have to struggle and fight so much to get out of our softer cocoons and fly, so in many ways we are not as strong and will never fly as high or as far as those we have met here. God has not prepared us in that way, so perhaps it is for us to continue to be present and stand ready to help one of those He has . . .
There is much still inside us that we have no words to express, and probably won’t for some time to come. But through all of that, two things do come through quite clearly. First; humble gratitude for God’s grace and compassion shown to us in bringing us together, bringing us here, and teaching us – through you – more about how He works in this world and how we can join in His work. Mother Teresa said it best; “We are not called to do great things . . . we are called to do small things with great love.” Second; immense admiration for your incredible faithfulness, patience and love in keeping this ministry alive and growing for 21 years. Be assured you will have our continued love, prayers and commitment to help in whatever ways God may move (and in some cases already has moved) us to do so according to His gifts to us. In that Spirit, we offer these closing thoughts, both to encourage you and to remind ourselves what we can do and mean to each other.
“Never doubt a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
1st Corinthians 15:58
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church workgroup (Pennington, NJ)