… And then I heard the lifeguard’s whistle blow. The harsh words were intended for one of the young men we had just finished playing with. I call him a young man because, though he was not quite a teenager, his life experiences far exceeded my own at that age. I don’t know why he was being called accountable by the lifeguard, but I don’t doubt that the lifeguard was in the right. John was one of the children at the home where my mission team had been assigned to work as a part of the Philadelphia Project.
We had worked hard all week on his home, but the only real thing we accomplished was to move forward the work that would eventually restore a bathroom on the third floor to functionality. It was dirty work, tearing down plaster and lathe. We put up some sheetrock and re-insulated the ceiling. It was no more functional when we left than the day we arrived, but our hope would be left for the teams in future weeks to finish the work we had contributed to that week. The lifeguard’s whistle reminded us that our work wasn’t done.
John (or John-John, as he was called at home) is a good kid. He would talk to us over lunch and occupy himself in activities that the typical tween would engage in on a hot summer day. The week before, he had helped a team all week with painting around the house. I liked John-John. We would spar over the Eagles and Vikings, reminding him that he should at least give Minnesota a little respect as the home of the Eagles Super Bowl championship. Easy for me to say as I say good-bye and get back on the plane to go — 1,168 miles away from his reality — after just one week. The lifeguard’s whistle reminded me that I was leaving and John-John was staying.
It was our intern, Matt (or Ziggy, short for Zigler), who said to me, “Yeah, he has a tough time every week when the teams leave.” The lifeguard’s whistle reminded me that we had not only been welcomed into a home to do work, but into a young boy’s heart.
Our work is not done.
It’s easy for us to go home.
Be careful with the hearts you have been entrusted.
Dear Lord, thank you for the opportunity to be in ministry in Philadelphia with the youth of River Hills and the amazing adult leaders who entrusted us with their time that week. Thank you for Emma Marais and the blessing of her leadership with youth at River Hills. Help us to continue to do your good work. Help us to hold close those you have entrusted us to work with. Keep John-John safe and may you be the Lifeguard who blows the whistle that will catch our attention to the important things in life. Amen.