I think that God must have a playful side. I think He must enjoy startling us with the unexpected, like a magician who delights in amazing his audience by making something disappear from one place and mysteriously reappear in another. One of these splendid surprises happened to me one evening not long ago. I was sitting in my recliner enjoying a cup of tea with Peggy when the phone rang. A woman's voice asked: "Bob, do you know who this is?" I didn't have a clue. "It's Brenda. Brenda Zachery. Well, it's Sellers now."
My mind raced back across 20 some years to a young girl from the projects who had been a member of our youth club. Brenda, a round-faced, smiley girl, was just entering her teens when she started coming to the group. She was an energetic young woman with a contagious personality and obvious leadership qualities. She displayed an unusual sensitivity to God, I recalled. Her faith came alive and flourished during those early years. But as she entered her later teens, the ghosts of her past and the pull of the street proved too strong for her young faith to withstand. She started hanging out with unsavory types whose attention and abuse somehow connected with the damaged self-esteem inflicted in her childhood years. She eventually stopped coming to group activities. She would reappear from time to time, showing signs of deep inner turmoil, but finally she disappeared and I lost track of her.
"I'm going to be ordained as an evangelist in two weeks!" she announced. I was dumbfounded. Brenda, one of the lost ones, a statistic claimed by the streets, was alive and well and going into the ministry! Her voice was deeper than I had remembered but her enthusiasm was as buoyant as it was in those days of promise more than two decades earlier. She recounted with emotion how her life had gone from bad to worse, but how God had never really let go of her, even when she ran far from His will. And how God began rebuilding her self-respect through a wonderful young man who affirmed her value and treated her with dignity - a man she eventually married. God had now called her into ministry, she said, a ministry to kids who are bruised and know rejection. " Would you come to hear me preach my first sermon?" Brenda asked me. You can imagine my excitement.
Brenda went on to say that though she and her husband had both been commissioned by their church to minister to youth, they felt drawn to young people from their immediate community who were not church oriented. She told me of the neglected children who lived in a nearby housing project who were subjected to abuse and mistreatment and how these children sought refuge and nurture in her home. She said that she had a special sensitivity in her heart for children like this since she could identify personally with their pain. Brenda's home became church and family and security for these kids.
"Where do you live?" I asked. "On Fairway Hill Drive near East Lake Meadows," she answered. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Brenda's home was right in the center of the rough East Lake neighborhood where FCS is refocusing its community development ministry. And even more astounding, God had strategically planted Brenda and Richard Sellers right beside the public housing property that will soon be transformed into a mixed-income community - the centerpiece of the vision for a new East Lake. They had been quietly ministering to hurting children in East Lake Meadows housing project with no clue of the larger vision that God was bringing to pass literally in their back yard. Nor could I have imagined that seeds planted more than twenty years ago would burst forth in full bloom in the exact spot where God had directed us to refocus our work.
I went over to Brenda and Richard's home last week. Their living and dining rooms had modest movable furnishings that could be pushed aside to accommodate bunches of kids. Richard is a hard working, industrious handyman - a great model for urban youth. Parked in the driveway was an old van they had purchased for transporting kids. They have developed a simple organizational structure and budget for their ministry but mostly they were operating out of their own pockets. Their program consisted of a basic Gospel message with loads of love and affirmation and understanding. They joyfully shared their groceries and extra clothes with kids and families in need. The power of their uncomplicated witness touched me deeply.
I drove away from Brenda's small home on Fairway Hill Drive rapt in wonder at the serendipitous playfulness of our Creator. "The wind blows wherever it pleases," I mused. While I plant in carefully arranged rows, the wind whips handfuls of good seed away. The fruit I diligently guard is often stolen by the birds. And yet new life continues to push up through hardened soil in places where only the wind and birds would happen to go. It's the magic of the Kingdom.
P.S. Brenda and Richard have a dream of converting their tumbled-down garage into a youth center for their ministry. If you would like to help them turn their dream into reality, let me know.