One of the main places we volunteer during our afternoons is at the Youth Mission run by the Union Gospel Mission. This is basically a place where kids can come after school to hang out, play games, get their homework done, and have a hot meal. The kids range in age from 6 to 16, though most are in the 10-12 age range. They are almost all Hispanic or African American children. The youth mission is particularly interesting because it is located smack in the middle of the “bad side of town.” And yes, Yakima, Washington does have a bad side of town. In fact, there is an enormous amount of gang violence, and I have heard kids even as young as 8 and 9 talking about the different gangs, talking in code, and who is out to get who on any given week. To be quite honest, it’s horribly sad. But also to be honest, it’s such an amazing opportunity to love on these kids, show them they are valuable, and speak love and truth into their lives. Some of my most fulfilling moments of my time out here have been with the kids- perhaps most so when they are obstinate and ornery, unloving and difficult. It shows me all the more how desperately they need love, how much they need someone to come into their shoes and walk a mile with them.
My last day there was my favorite day of the whole fall. I spent the entire time teaching one boy to play Fur Elise on the piano, with BOTH hands. He is maybe 11 or 12 and has worked with some woman who used to volunteer at the mission, so he knows a few simple songs by rote. I didn’t really think he would be able to play with both hands, so I taught him the right hand, which he learned surprisingly quickly (no sheet music, just watching me and having me talk him through it). So we went for it. While all the other boys were outside playing football, he sat and played piano. Which is kind of a big deal, because he’s usually the ringleader of the guys playing sports. And let me tell you, I shed a little tear when he played through that song with both hands for the first time, slowly but surely. The look on his face when he finished and said, “I can play Beethoven!” was worth every ounce of energy spent with those kids all fall. It only takes touching one student’s life, even in the simplest ways- it makes it all worth it.
We had a send-off dinner with them on Friday, and I was sad to say goodbye. I have spent at least one, if not two, afternoons a week with these kids, coming to know and love them. And it pains me most that we had to do exactly what everyone else in their lives does- leave. But alas, we must trust that we have loved them well and that we leave them better than they were before. Oh how I will miss those darlings. A few pictures from my days at the Youth Mission: