I was reading through some old documents on my computer the other day and ran across this excerpt of a letter I sent to the Missions Committee at my home church after I spent the summer in Camden before my junior year of college:


Most of their stories are horrific, devastating, and difficult to accept.  Because of my one-on-one time with kids during Bible Buddies (small group discipleship Bible study in the afternoons), I developed several relationships with children whose lives are broken in every sense of the word.  On Monday afternoons, I hung out with two boys named K. and T.  Due to family-related issues, T. often did not make it to Bible Buddies, so K. and I hung out alone many times.  They were some of the most precious of all the moments that I had this summer, second only to my time alone with my Lord. 


K.’s story is a difficult one, but it has become inescapably intertwined with my own story of my time in Camden.  His story is one of a mother on crack and in jail since he was five months old.  She has left the ever-present scars of stunted growth and other health problems on her four children.  K.’s sister, a precious thirteen year old who also attended our camp, told me that she was a mere seventeen pounds at the age of three.  It was then that she and her brothers were taken to live with their great-grandmother in East Camden.  She had cataract surgery in third grade and openly admits that her behavior has been affected by having a mother who always goes back on her promises.  K. is only ten years old, but he has already had psychological testing at a major hospital in the area and takes multiple medicines.  When I met K. on our first day of camp, I had to put my ear just a few inches from his mouth to hear his voice.  He barely moved his lips and his face was stoic.  He had difficulty with some of the dance steps we were learning that day, and his almost silent nature did not lend itself to choir or drama either.  I cannot express to you the pain I witnessed when I would watch this young boy cry.  He would immediately withdraw and become immovable as tears rolled down his face and his voice would become even more faint.  However, something changed as I began to teach praise dance. 


Maybe it was because he could grasp the steps easier than hip-hop, but he began participating more.  I remember turning around one day during class and seeing him smile for the first time.  During Bible Buddies, I slowly watched him open up and begin to talk, laugh, and smile.  He has a hunger for the Word that I have never witnessed in a child.  Whenever we would read from the Bible, he was always anxious to hear the story and wanted to continue following the lines with his finger after we had finished.  When I took him and T. to Cooper River Park one afternoon, we sat down for Bible time after skipping rocks.  I had them close their eyes as I read them the story of Peter walking on water.  When I finished, K. said, “I just love Jesus.”  And T. shook his head in agreement.  Neither one of these young boys has a reason to trust anyone, and yet God is revealing Himself to them in the midst of the despair of their lives by the power of His Word and His love.  On Monday afternoon of our last week of camp, K. and I were baking a cake, and we went out on the back steps of the house to read the story of Elisha and the widow with the jars of oil.  As we talked about expecting God to do big things and trusting that He will provide, somehow we began to speak about Jesus’ return and how He will defeat Satan.  K. had such joy on his face when he said that we would all meet Jesus in the sky and said that there will be no more sadness.  What a profound experience to sit and read Revelation 21 with a child, who lives in a city that is far different from the Heavenly Jerusalem, yet to see His face when he heard that there will be no more tears or pain.  He knows Christ as his Savior, and, even as a young child, he anxiously awaits the day when he will see him face to face. 


That week I watched a joy and confidence in K. that could not be contained and could only be explained as the working of the Holy Spirit.  He danced with such freedom before God and sang the words louder than all the other children in my class.  He even sang during choir.  On Friday night, our kids had their final performance for all of their parents, friends, and the Urban Promise staff.  Several staff members, who have worked with K. in the after-school program and know his story including Urban Promise’s director, said that the most profound moment of the evening was watching K. truly jump and dance to the song “My Redeemer Lives.”  They had never seen him with such joy and confidence. 


K.’s Redeemer does live, and my deep prayer is that K. will trust Him wholeheartedly to heal the wounds and scars that have held him captive for so long.  K. knows his Redeemer, and he knows that He conquered death to bring K. complete victory.  He has reason to dance before the Lord with all his heart, just like King David.  K.’s Redeemer is the hope of Camden and every man, woman, and child who lives there.  The lives of these children continue to break my heart.  They live in poverty.  They get excited about the breakfast and lunch from the federal government they eat at the beginning and end of camp each day.  They play on streets where needles lay in the gutters and the smell of raw sewage fills the air.  And yet, they are the future of Camden.  They are not Camden’s hope.  Jesus Christ alone can fill that role.  The more I prayed for discernment there, the more I knew without a doubt that we, as mere humans, cannot save that city.  I am not Camden’s Savior.  He came 2,000 years ago, and the ransom He paid brought our salvation and His justice.  He is what they need more than anything or anyone else.  I long for the day when His justice will reign on this earth.  Until then, we have been called there to be faithful to our God and to beg Him to take up residence in that place and begin His work of redemption in the physical and spiritual realm.


In my mind I can still see K.’s face and his tears on that first day of camp.  He no longer lives in Camden.  I learned a few years ago from T. that he moved away and now lives with his mother in Philadelphia.  I have no idea what the past six years of his life have included, nor what the years ahead of him hold.  But my deep comfort is that our Great Shepherd never loses one of those that are His.  I look forward to the day when I will see him once again, dancing with joy on the streets of a new city. 


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21: 1, 3-4)