Last summer I joined my family for our annual reunion for the sun and sand of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. One of our most enjoyable experiences was watching the hatching of almost a hundred small turtles and their one-hundred-yard trek to the breaking waves. It is a remarkable sight for anyone. At that time I also experienced a small tinge of remorse, for I knew that maybe one in a hundred would survive to adulthood. Unrealistically, I wished that – maybe just for those specific turtles – they would all beat the odds and thrive in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Here it is almost a year later. My wife Judy and I have been volunteering at a Christian Life Center in one of the poorest towns in America … a place that exists in the same county as some of the wealthiest people on planet Earth. The difference in lifestyle is beyond description. We spend about five hours on Tuesday afternoons working with some 85 young children ranging in age from six to twelve. The youngsters are broken into seven smaller groups. I spend most of my time tutoring children in basic mathematics and reading. Later I join one of the groups for personal interaction with the kids. For Judy, she teams up with another adult and they work with a group of some fifteen children. The program calls for a lesson from the Bible, time to just share how they are doing in and out of school, completing homework from school, a full group period involving teaching from the Bible and singing, and – to use up some of their inexhaustible energy – playing at a local park. The interactions range from polite conversations to disciplinary ultimatums. The children are starved for attention. Some come from an absolutely desolate family life, where the only real structure in their lives happens at this small Life Center. Others, incredibly poor, have been given love and hope from their parent(s). The environment in which the children live can be seen in their actions: some are as polite as can be; others are clearly “works in progress”.
On Judy’s first day working with the children she asked if there was anyone the little girl wanted to pray for. The answer was, “Pray for my uncle.” Judy said, “OK, let’s pray for your uncle. What is it that he needs prayer for?” The little girl matter-of-factly answered, “He was killed this morning.”
My very first question to a little girl – maybe seven years old – was, “What is it that you don’t like about your life?” Her answer was straightforward. “I don’t like the shooting.”
An anecdotal story given to Judy by a co-group leader is paraphrased as, “Last Friday my wife and two children came with me to the center. One of the little children kept referring to my wife as my girlfriend. I tried to explain that she was my wife and not a girlfriend. The young child could not grasp the concept that ours was a lifetime relationship between a father and mother – and that our children would not be seeing new adults coming and going from their home.”
One thing that is absolutely clear – you can see it in their eyes when an achievement is made. The other day a young second grader was at the computer and doing very well with a reading program. Since she was clearly “on top of her game” I challenged her to work at the third grade level. At first she was intimated at moving ahead, but accepted the challenge. After a few minutes, her level of success was evident in the smile beaming across her face. As for me at that exact moment in time, I was exactly in the one place on Earth that I wanted to be. For one who was born with at least a small silver spoon in my mouth, the experience was cathartic. Just as there will be failures, there will be many successes in the future.
Back to the turtles. Although the survival rate might still be 1 out of 100, volunteer groups have protected the turtle nests to a point that orders of magnitude more turtles are making the trek to the ocean. Those people have made a difference – one nest at a time.
Back to the children. Although we have volunteered in a Christian environment, Christian or not, there is always something out there larger than the individual. Saving kids from destruction might be that something – one child at a time.
So here’s my question: If we can save the turtle population, even at 1 in 100, can we save children? It will always be unknown how many out of every 100 hundred children can be saved, but our (yours and mine) involvement can change the “children saved” number to a higher value than it is today. And remember, there is a little boy or girl out there waiting to be rescued – by you.