My Day With A 9 Y/O Homeless Kid

A couple weeks ago, a woman, we’ll call her Ms. E, at church came up to me while we were cleaning up church and asked me what we were doing while we were here. I told her a bit of what we were doing.

She went on to tell me she has been spending some time with a 9 year old boy who was homeless, and was looking for good male role models for him and asked if I’d consider spending some time with him.  I told her that I wasn’t going to be here much longer, but that I’d pray about it.  Ms. E told me that this age range  is such a crucial time to spend with kids, because basically after 12 their trajectories are pretty much set.

I didn’t want to start something and not finish it, especially with a kid that might not have much consistency in his life anyway.  I thought I’d check with Ben Wichael one of the YWAM guys I met on this trip and see if he’d be interested in going with me a couple times together and then taking over.

Anyway, we put a date on the calendar to make it happen.  I picked up Wichael from the YWAM base, and cast some vision for our time.  I used to do martial arts as a kid and remembered talking to one of the instructors I’ve kept in touch with.  He shared with me how one of their goals in the 30 min class was to give every student appropriate touch, like a high five, along with a positive affirmation by name, 5 times during each class.

No wonder everyone like karate classes so much.  Who knew that they were being so intentional about that, I just thought they really liked me.

Anyway, I set that as a goal for us.  Fist bumps, high fives and encouragement.  And I thought outloud, “What was the one lesson I wanted to impart to this kid in our hang out time today?”  Wichael and I discussed it.

We arrived at the school with some help of Wichael’s gps on his phone, and pulled in the carpool lane.  We saw B.  (We’ll just call him B.)  I rolled down my window and one of the teachers asked gruffly, who are you here for?  B. I responded, and she turned around and shouted his name.  His eyes lit up in excitement, Uncle Ben!  Uncle…. his voice kind of trailed off, and he hoped in the car.  Wichael and I were amazed that complete strangers picked up a student from a school and no one batted an eyelash.  We also wondered what children’s services thought about kids who were homeless.

“How was school?”  We asked.  He responded saying that he had PE today and talked a bit about what they did.

Since I heard him say Ben’s name, I asked him if he remembered my name.  “Tim?”  He asked.

“Nope, Jim.”  I responded.

“Jim…” he said a few times emphasizing the J.

I sat with B. at church last week and Ms. E asked him to tell me what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He told me he wanted to be a NFL football player.  I asked him if he had a football and he said no.  I told him that we’d go get him one when we hung out but that he’d needed to remind me.

“B. I remember I told you to remind me about something when we hung out today, but I don’t remember what it was, do you remember?”

I could sense the excitement in his response.  “I remember! You told me we would go get a football today!”

“Oh yeah, that’s right, do you still want to go do that?”

“YES!”  He exclaimed.  “I thought maybe you’d forget, or that you wouldn’t want to do it anymore.”  He said his voice trailing off.

A time for a teachable lesson.  “Nope, do you know what good men do B.?”  “Good men keep their word do you know what that means?”

“It means that if you say you’re going to do something that you do it.”

“Right!, and thats what we want to be is good men, so I said I was going to do something and we’re going to go do it.”

“Okay.”  He said, I could still sense the smile in his voice.

I had a fleeting thought that it’d be cool to go over to the punchbowl cemetary, because it has an amazing view, but didn’t know exactly how to get there.  As we were trying to get back to a road I knew I took a turn, and lo and behold guess where we were?  The entrance to punchbowl.  We drove around and I showed B. and Wichael the views.

Still kind of lost we ended up going up Tantalus, neither B. nor Wichael had been up there either.  I thought that if you kept going up it looped around, Wichael was looking at his gps and kept telling me he didn’t think it was right.

“Ben, what do you think is another characteristic of a good man?”  I asked.  “A good man takes responsibility and doesn’t blame others.”  He said.  Great give me an example.  Ben went on to describe how if he threw a baseball and broke a window that he wouldn’t lie that he didn’t do it, but that he’d let the owner know what he did, and pay for the window.

I read an article this past week on how values need examples.  And I think that’s a really good point.

I gave an example of how I needed to admit I was wrong because I thought that Tantalus wrapped around, but it didn’t and how I needed to take responsibility for my mistake and apologize.  I asked B. if he understood and he didn’t respond.

I looked at Ben, and he turned to look at B.  “He’s out.”  He said.

We descended the winding roads of Tantalus to the sound of B. snoring.

Tears began to fill my eyes, I’m glad that he felt safe enough with us to take a nap.  I wondered what kind of sleeping conditions he had, and if it was hard to sleep being homeless.

We got to walmart about the time B. woke up.  We got to the sporting goods aisle and I told him he could pick any football he wanted.  I had to go to the bathroom and saw a large line, it was a line of people on the first of the month cashing their paychecks at walmart.  I came back and saw that B. had a football in his hand.  Which one did you pick out?  I asked him.  He showed me with a HUGE grin on his face, the green one.

The look of absolute delight on his face was well worth the $5 I was spending on the football, heck, I maybe would have maxed out my credit card buying the kid whatever he wanted if I knew he was going to be that happy over such a simple gift.

On the way out he asked me if he could take it out of the box, which I said he could and as soon as he was out the door it was out of the box, he threw the box in the trash.  “Do you want to go to a park and throw it around?”  I asked.  “Yes!”  He said, eyes still lit up in excitement.

We drove over to where we live, there’s a park that backs up to the condo we’re staying in.  On the way I asked him if he lived in a tent, he said tarps.  I asked him if it was hot, and he said sometimes.  I asked him what his mom did, and he told me that she cleaned 2 different hotels.  I asked her if he ever thanked her for working so hard, he said he didn’t, but agreed that he would.

I parked in the park and got out and we threw the ball around a bit.  It probably looked like that VW passat commercial where the dad is playing catch with his son.  Maybe not that bad, although Jess did tell me later “I saw you trying to run.”  I WAS running I told her.  She noted that I was holding my pants up, which is standard running stance for Jim Baker (right Aaron Reinard?)  I realized running around with B. that I really need to lose some weight before having kids because kids like to run around and right now, I surely don’t, although I never did, but I still need to loose some weight anyway.

I said hello to Jess through the back gate.  B. stood there in amazement.  “This is where you live??  Nah…” he said in disbelief.

While we were playing we saw another kid sitting on the curb drinking a soda.  His dad was sitting in the car looking at his phone.

“B. do you wanna ask him if he wants to play?”  And B. waved him over and the kid came running.  I was on B’s team and Wichael was on I’s team.  There was a homeless man sleeping in the park which B. pointed out, literally pointing and saying “homeless man.”  The homeless man groaned a few times saying “go away.”  But we kept playing since it was 3pm in a public park.

I had asked B on our way back from walmart if he could have anything for dinner what he’d have.  PIZZA!  He told me.  I asked him if he had a favorite pizza restaurant and he said dominos, and talked about their twisty bread.  So after throwing the football around we headed over to dominos and ordered some twisty bread and a medium pepperoni pizza.  He stared at the tv which was playing a western.  We ate and packed up the leftovers for him to take home.

I knew which park he lived in but I had never been there, and I didn’t exactly know where it was.  So I headed in that direction and B. helped us get there.  “Park over there by my grey car.”

“Oh your mom’s home?  Do you want us to get out and meet her?”  “Yes!”  I got out and he was grabbing his things.  “Thank you for the football and the pizza Uncle Jim.”  He said and smiled.

He ran up to his “house” and asked another auntie if his mom and dad were home.  At least that’s what I picked up since he wasn’t speaking English.

We walked up to some tarps hung over some pallets.  There were probably 5 or 6 of these makeshift homes there.  B’s step dad was passed out on a mattress, but his mother came out and greeted us, not making much eye contact, shaking our hands and saying thank you.

As we walked away I could hear his mom asking him what he had, and he said pizza.  I wonder if those few slices of pizza were going to feed the whole family tonight?

I got back to the car and was feeling pretty emotional.  It didn’t seem real that kids are living like that here in America.  I’ve seen that type of thing in third world countries, but not here.  Ben and I talked about it.  My guess is that probably 2/3 of the world lives like that.  Maybe that’s a bit high.  So it’s not the living conditions that are the worst part, I guess you can be a functional human with minimal shelter, its just certainly not the norm for me as an American whose house I grew up in sold for over $300k.  But it’s sad that his father figure is a drug addict who can’t get out of bed.  But I guess you could own a real nice house and still have a dad that was addicted.

I wonder if this family is here legally?  I’m sure setting up a semi permanent structure in the park isn’t legal, but homelessness is way out of control here in Hawaii.  But if B. was born here in the US that means he’s a US citizen right?

I’m not the government, so it’s the governments job to do what the government has to do, I’m not advocating open borders, but while these individuals, made in God’s image, are on my radar and are here, it’s my job is to care for them the best I can.

Caring doesn’t mean enabling either.

It made me wonder if B’s mom when she came here thought that they’d be living in a park under some tarps.  Is this the dream that she had of immigrating to America?  What was her life like back in Micronesia?  Is this better?  Is this future better for B?

Jared really messed me up in his interview on Doing Ministry Well, when he asked the question, What does the Kingdom of God look like for these people?  Does it mean they have to have jobs, and houses?  Is that what the kingdom is about?

How do we as a church reach out to this family?  We can do things for B, but we’ve got to help the whole family unit.  And if we help the whole family unit, then we probably have to help his whole tarp village.

But how do we help and not hurt?  How do we care and not enable?

I wish I had answers to these questions, but I can’t find answers to these questions from afar.  And unfortunately I probably am only going to be able to see B. one more time before I head back to TN…

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