December 11th 2016
Shots rang out. Eight total.
People screamed; panic ensued. The basketball court emptied. The swings were still. Mothers disappeared with strollers behind parked cars for protection.
“Get to the bus,” screamed Albert Vega, “Everybody to the bus, now!”
Without hesitation, our children responded to the voice of their after-school director and sprinted towards the UrbanPromise bus for safety.
“Everybody okay?” called Albert in an effort to calm the kids who had crawled under the bus seats. “Anyone hit? Anyone hurt?”
By now most of the kids were sobbing, some hysterical. Even growing up in a city plagued with violence doesn’t prepare you for a drive-by shooting.
As Albert continued to move around the bus, assuring the children of their safety, he noticed 9-year-old Tabitha. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t panicked. She just walked behind him whispering in the ears of her peers, “Everything’s gonna be okay.”
“Tabitha, I’m curious,” asked Albert a few hours later. He was dropping the last of the kids to their homes. “Why were you calm when all the other kids were so upset?”
Tabitha paused momentarily, looked at her favorite counselor, and then spoke with the innocence of a child: “I wasn’t afraid, Mr. Albert, because I was with you. With you, I’m never afraid.”
A few seconds—an eternity—of silence passed. Albert savored the sacred moment, realizing that his role was more than just a camp counselor. In the midst of a chaotic community moment, his presence, consistency, commitment, and compassion gave a 9-year-old girl a sense of security and safety.
It’s hard for me to hear stories like this, especially during the Christmas season.
Why must innocent, beautiful children endure such terror? Why must Albert—a father, husband, loyal colleague, amazing mentor—risk his life and mental health every day he works for UrbanPromise? No easy answers.
One answer is to just quit. Throw up our arms, surrender, shut down our programs, concede the challenges are too great, and walk away.
But then we remember Tabitha and the children who need comforting—who will stand with them? Who will fight for their security, dignity, and safety? Who will offer them peace in the midst of the chaos?
We’ve come too far to give up! Christ calls us to stay.
That’s why I’m asking you this Christmas to help UrbanPromise continue to be a haven for our children, to provide them with a day, a week, or a month of PEACE! I need your help to underwrite the cost of providing neighborhood-based after-school programs throughout the city of Camden. Our programs are staffed with incredible urban missionaries like Albert. We provide healthy snacks, help with homework, and dinner most nights before taking our youth home. We partner with families to provide safe, fun, educational, and loving spaces full of God’s peace for hundreds of children.
It’s an amazing thing to be able to do, to buy a child PEACE.
Dr. Bruce Main