Every Monday evening from 5:00-6:00 I have what is both the most discouraging and most powerful hour of my week.
Three years ago I started tutoring a 9 year old girl named Erica who moved here from Togo, west Africa with her twin brother Eric, and her older brother Sylvanus. Erica and Sylvanus have made the transition to a new city, a new culture, a 5th (yes, 5th!) language, and are catching up academically in a new school. Amazing. Courageous. Inspiring.
Eric is just as courageous, but he is now a 12-year old boy who has fallen through the cracks of the system…been passed along because that’s convenient…been teased by his peers when he’s trying to catch up by doing 3rd grade level work as a 6th grader.
So now I tutor Eric, sitting in an old inner city church that looks like it’s out of The Bells of St. Mary’s. We sit at a huge table with about 10 other loud, chaotic, disruptive kids who are supposed to be doing their homework, but would like nothing better than to foment a Middle School revolution with Eric as a compatriot.
Every week, for the first 15 minutes, the revolutionaries seem to be winning. Eric has no use for me. He grumbles. He makes excuses. He’s too cool. It’s too hard to work when others are playing. I wonder why I make the effort to fight the traffic and the snow and the dark to drive into this neighborhood for a kid who doesn’t care.
And then, every week, when I’m about to give up, in an instant, the tide of the battle turns and Eric gives in and starts reading to me or doing his times tables.
Now here’s the thing that floors me. None of the chaos around us stops. All the other kids are loud and distracting…arguing, throwing things, flirting…But once Eric is engaged, nothing (and I mean nothing) will deter him from his concentration.
Yesterday he chose an Amelia Bedelia book and as he’s reading and pencils are flying through the air around us and boys are fighting all around us I’m thinking “This 12-year-old kid is going to be bored with this book! He’s gonna give up any minute. I would!” But no. Not only does he keep reading for 40 minutes, he asks questions, and follows my directions to write a summary for his teacher.
At the end of our time, everyone has left to go downstairs to dinner. Eric and I are alone at the big table and it is finally quiet. I look deep into his beautiful African brown eyes and say, “Eric, you are amazing. You have the most remarkable ability to focus and remember what you’ve read. You have worked so hard. I am proud of you and you should be proud of yourself.”
His eyes don’t leave mine. He doesn’t look away.
Now Eric is a 12 year old boy remember, so I don’t expect to get much of a response, but he looks back at me with the unmistakable expression of a starving kid being given a morsel of hope.
And I think, “How can I not come back next week?”
When I get to my car the tears come as I think this is just one hour out of Eric’s whole week. One small statement of affirmation in a sea of taunting and apathy. It’s not enough. It’s not enough. He needs so much more.
And then I turn on the car and the words come over my cd player…
“Never. Under. Estimate my Jesus.
You’re telling me that there’s no hope.
I’m telling you you’re wrong.”
And I start praying for this little boy. “Abba Father, do what only You can do.” Multiply this one measly hour. Multiply these paltry words of affirmation in the life of this precious boy.
Where in your life are you feeling hopeless? What words do you think Jesus might speak to you?