By Sarah Hughes
from inner city teens
I had graduated from high school only a year before and was living in Detroit for the summer to do mission work with Youthworks-Detroit, an outreach of the Word of Life Community. In moving to the inner city, I had felt painfully young and unqualified for urban outreach, although excited to be doing what I could for the people of Detroit, as they struggled with very real issues of poverty, violence, and racial tension. Through a program called Street Team, we had hired a group of inner city high school kids to provide them with needed job experience. The program also aimed at sharing the gospel with them, something the teens needed much more desperately than the scant hourly wage they made working for us around the city. I had been given the awesome opportunity to be a witness to these teens as I worked side by side with them every day that summer. But when Henry’s question came, I floundered.
That summer afternoon in Detroit stands clear and sharp in my memory. It was just another normal day of work, washing windows in a school, until the weight of the question dropped through our idle chatter. Henry was probably the shortest kid on our crew. Fourteen years old, impish and cheeky, he was always goofing off or wandering away absently when he was supposed to be working. It was hard to ever take him seriously, much less get him to listen. Always an entertainer, he would make up stories about his past for us, pretending he came from somewhere other than Detroit. The question was all the more surprising because it came from Henry. Did this goof-off kid really care? But why would he have asked if there wasn’t something in him that was interested?
answer the world desperately needs to hear?
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Once upon a time, I memorized that verse from 1 Peter 3, but the message didn’t quite hit home. I thought I knew why I was a Christian, but was I really ready, ever prepared and on my guard, to tell anyone who asked me? Apparently not, and as a Christian, that’s unacceptable—the world around us desperately needs to hear our answers.
If Christ has truly impacted my life as I claim he has, I should have had a great answer for Henry’s question, but in the moment no words had come. The question has haunted me ever since, an amazing opportunity that I let slip through my fingers because I wasn’t ready. Henry didn’t need superficial, circumstantial answers about Christianity. What did it matter to him that I was raised in a Christian family? That meant nothing in his situation. Instead, Henry needed to be pointed to the living God, available to all regardless of their circumstances and upbringings. Surrounded by violence and pain and poverty in Detroit, he needed to hear the truth of the overflowing hope and life Jesus brings. He needed to be shown Christ who is the reason why.
life-giving message of hope
Looking back at that summer, I wish I could re-live the moment when
Henry asked the question, so that I could tell him the real reason why
instead of giving a half-baked superficial explanation. While I can’t change
the past, by the grace of God I can pray for Henry and live each new day
seeing it as an opportunity to show my hope to those around me and to be
ready to tell them the reason why. In Jesus, my failure is wiped out, and
I am given grace to stand and try again. I pray that I live every moment
in a way that shouts to the world the why of my life. And when the question
is asked of me again, I hope to be ready to give my answer.
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom