So much of our culture these days seems to individual and fragmented in ways that are so pervasive and the norm that it's often hard to imagine there could be another way. For me this is heightened in an odd way at the end of high school football season. We sure do put a lot of time, attention, energy, and funding behind our football in Georgia! If you have a winning season, and make it to the final championship game at the GA Dome (being played today and tomorrow by the way) you can have an entire city/county/region rooting for you with great community pride. Am I wrong thinking that in the past we often had this sort of community pride, involvement, and support as more of a daily and weekly lifestyle? Maybe this is just the nostalgia of someone half a century old.
How do you get beyond yourself and inspire others to rally and sacrifice for the cause? How do you move beyond your own plans and become part of a larger team? And the tougher question is how do you turn around a struggling or failing program and set yourself on a championship course? These are good football questions, and even better community question.
Wednesday afternoon our church team was back at Olmstead Homes. That link says, "Olmsted Homes was the first public housing development constructed in Georgia under the Housing Act of 1937. Today, the Augusta Housing Authority is the second largest Public Housing Authority in the State of Georgia and helps to provide housing for about 15,309 individuals."
Our tutoring crew enjoys the time with the children from Garrett Elementary School that live at Olmstead Homes. Typically the kids arrive on the bus close to 4:15PM. Later in the afternoon we also have a few middle school kids arrive. Our main cluster of kids are kindergarten and 1st grade and then a cluster of 3rd graders. So, the time is spent reviewing homework which is usually reading and writing for the young crowd, and vocabulary and math for the older group. Imagine 25-30 students and tutors in a large community center room, of all ages, many who have been in school all day, and you get the idea.
But special things are happening week by week as a bunch of middle class and affluent white Methodists are venturing into the center of the block of Olmstead Homes to serve children in the projects. The children are beginning to know us and we are beginning to know them. We are not only learning their names and personalities, but their strengths and weaknesses, as well as some aspects of the world and culture they know as "home."
Last Wednesday I was talking with Kelvin after he finished his homework. At this point, he and the group of boys at his table, were working on a Christmas coloring sheet with tree, ornaments, and presents or the view of a nativity scene with Jesus and the cast of characters. The youngest of the crowd of 4 at the table was a kindergartner and the oldest in 3rd grade. As we talked I learned Kelvin's birthday was Tuesday and he'd gotten a balloon and some cookies to celebrate at home. We continued chatting and I learned he likes to sing, mostly making up his own songs, but when I asked if he went to church and was part of a choir, he explained that his family doesn't go except they "did go to a church at Halloween and enjoyed the candy."
As Kelvin colored he started singing "hallelujah" over and over again when we weren't talking. He was in a chatty mood though as coloring the brightly colored page seemed to intensify the focus on Christmas. "What will Christmas would be like at your home? I asked, and he named all the great presents he was hoping to get. I was thinking if he only got cookies for birthday he might not get the bike and all the electronics and things he mentioned. I was caught in the moment of coloring and singing, with all the background noise and excitement, wondering about these things and what his home life must be like.
At this point a Christmas song came to him and Kelvin start singing. He knew the chorus and kept singing it over and over. With a childlike joy, in the community center of Olmstead Homes, Kelvin continued to color his Christmas sheet singing the chorus of "Go Tell It On the Mountain."
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.