To the Ends of the Earth To the Ends of the Earth
I first met Garret when I was a teaching aide at
I first met Garret when I was a teaching aide at Washington Elementary School inWashington Elementary School in Syracuse. Garret walked into the school with
Syracuse. Garret walked into the school with his younger sister Jessica, and Ihis younger sister Jessica, and I immediately nicknamed them Hansel and Gretel. They were fair-haired and immediately nicknamed them Hansel and Gretel. They were fair-haired and blue-eyed in the midst
eyed in the midst of brown eyes and brown skin.of brown eyes and brown skin.
Washington Elementary was in a
Washington Elementary was in a predominantly African-American neighborhpredominantly African-American neighborhood. Toood. To get to it, I drove under the overpass, the new urban equivalent of the wrong side of get to it, I drove under the overpass, the new urban equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. The range of income and social status of the black children in the school the tracks. The range of income and social status of the black children in the school varied from poor to middle-class, but all of the white minority were poor.
varied from poor to middle-class, but all of the white minority were poor.
Whenever I saw Garret, he was
Whenever I saw Garret, he was always with Jessica, holding her hand, being always with Jessica, holding her hand, being thethe brave, protective big brother. According to the teachers, he had a lot to protect her brave, protective big brother. According to the teachers, he had a lot to protect her from, although there wasn’t much he could
from, although there wasn’t much he could do. Both of them often had do. Both of them often had bruises onbruises on their arms, and the story was that they were physically abused at home.
their arms, and the story was that they were physically abused at home.
I only worked at the school one year, then quit because I was pregnant. I was I only worked at the school one year, then quit because I was pregnant. I was planning to stay home with the baby, and looking forward to being a mother. But I planning to stay home with the baby, and looking forward to being a mother. But I miscarried. We kept trying, but I didn’t get pregnant again. I lost my taste for miscarried. We kept trying, but I didn’t get pregnant again. I lost my taste for working in the nursery, and instead I
working in the nursery, and instead I joined my husband Todd, who helped the youthjoined my husband Todd, who helped the youth pastor with the teenagers.
pastor with the teenagers.
At a party for the new seventh graders, a boy came up to me, grinning as if he knew At a party for the new seventh graders, a boy came up to me, grinning as if he knew me. As I handed him a cup of punch, he said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I me. As I handed him a cup of punch, he said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I looked into the pale blue eyes, and almost called him Hansel.
looked into the pale blue eyes, and almost called him Hansel.
“You’re Garret. You were a student at
“You’re Garret. You were a student at Washington. Did you come with Leonard?” Washington. Did you come with Leonard?”
Leonard, who lived on the
Leonard, who lived on the fringes of Garret’s neighborhood, had started a ministryfringes of Garret’s neighborhood, had started a ministry with the inner city youth. He and some other friends brought so many of the kids to with the inner city youth. He and some other friends brought so many of the kids to church that they finally had
church that they finally had gotten permission to use the church bus. The kids gotten permission to use the church bus. The kids oftenoften presented discipline problems, and some church members wished they wouldn’t presented discipline problems, and some church members wished they wouldn’t come. I didn’t expect to have any problem with Garret, though.
“Is your sister with you? I guess not; she’s too young for junior high.”
He stopped grinning. “My sister died. She was hit by a truck a year ago.”
I felt awful for asking him. I felt worse about the first thought that came into my mind. At least she was out of the misery of her horrible home life. She wouldn’t be raped and become an unwed mother and who knows what else.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I was sorry for what I thought, and sorry for what I should have been sorry for, that Garret had lost his sister and best friend. “Are you still living with your grandmother?”
“No, I live with the Stewarts.”
“Yes. My grandmother had a stroke and moved in with my aunt, and I had to go to foster care, so the Stewarts became my foster parents. They may adopt me.”
It was all too much for me to believe, so much tragedy followed by that much good fortune. Leonard and his wife were not wealthy, and they had three children of their own. How could they afford another child?
But I found out from Leonard that it was true. Garret was their foster child, and they were attempting to adopt him. His mother was in rehab for drug addiction and his father was in prison. The state agreed to the adoption; his mother signed the papers. The biggest roadblock came from Garret’s father, who, for some reason no one could understand, refused to sign the papers, even though he had never taken
responsibility for Garret and hadn’t even seen him regularly. He finally gave in, and by the time Garret was 15, he was legally Leonard’s son.
give up. We looked into adoption, but when we were told there was a two-year waiting list, I decided I didn’t want to go through more waiting and possibly more heartbreak. I threw myself into the lives of other people’s children—except that I stayed away from the church nursery—and I told myself that I was happy.
“Why don’t you join a support group?” my sister suggested.
“We’ve looked into all the options,” I said. “I don’t want to listen to any more people telling me what to do. I don’t want to try any more.”
“I don’t mean a group to help you figure out how to have a baby. I mean a group of people who understand what you’re going through, somebody you can share your struggles with.”
Todd finally pressured me into it. We met some nice couples at the support group, but I told him after a few meetings that it was dragging me down spiritually.
“I don’t know why you say that. Mike and Gerry are Christians, and they talk about how God helps them through their pain.”
“Mike and Gerry always say the right thing.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Because I don’t feel encouraged all the time. I can’t always say or even think the right things all the time, and they make me feel like a lousy Christian. You know who really makes me feel better? Karen. She’s the girl who comes by herself. She cries, and asks why this is happening to her.”
Todd shook his head. “I don’t know why she helps you. She says she doesn’t believe in God.”
so that no one can really see how they feel. If that’s Christianity, then I’m a lousy Christian.”
Todd didn’t answer me. I wished he had gotten angry, or argued with me. But he didn’t. He just let me quit the support group, and we went on with our life as it was.
The teens were a bright spot in my life. Some of them would lie to the leaders, but none of them wore those pious masks like the adults. When they got into trouble, they broke my heart. Then, every so often, they did something wonderful, and lifted me up above myself.
I loved watching kids like Garret. They didn’t come into the youth group with an impressive knowledge of the Bible and three or four dozen verses already
memorized, so their accomplishments seemed all the more wonderful. This bothered some of the other kids, who complained that they couldn’t compete with the night-to-day transformations. Nick Donahue, our youth pastor, would ask a complainer if he or she would like to go back and start from where these kids came from. The teen would consider for a moment, and then usually say, “N-n-o-o-o….”, and Nick would say, “Then quit complaining about your blessings.”
I’m not saying Garret never complained himself. He was always getting shut out of the most fun activities, because of infractions. He sometimes skipped Sunday school, and one time he had been caught smoking cigarettes by a teacher who went to our church. But finally he was chosen for a summer missions trip to New York City, in a shelter for the homeless. Todd and I were one of several couples who gave him financial support for the trip.
Two weeks before the trip, Garret came to me. “They’re not going to let me go,” he said. “And they promised me I could go.”
“Why? Who isn’t going to let you go?”
see eye to eye on things. He put up with Todd and me because we could always be depended on to chaperone lock-ins at the last minute and teach Sunday school all summer without a break. So I went and asked Nick.
Nick’s answer was rather lame, even for Nick. “Frankly, Anna, I felt pressured by people into accepting him, simply because he’s never gone before. I don’t think he’s ready.”
“What has he failed to do? I know there is some memorization work, and a research report on urban missions—”
“Oh, he’s done the work all right, but I hear he’s still getting into some trouble at school. We have to be careful about what kind of witness we present when we go out.”
“What does Leonard say?”
“He supports him, of course.”
“Then why not let him go?”
“We’ll see how things go this week.”
“But isn’t all the money to be sent in tomorrow? And it’s not refundable?”
Nick looked uncomfortable. “We can’t get the money back. I made that clear to all the parents when they signed up.”
“I can understand that, if the parents are the ones who back out. But in this case, you are backing out on Nick. And me. And the others who gave him money for the trip. I don’t think that’s fair. I completely agree that it’s your decision who goes on the trip. But you should decide now, and give us all our money back, if you’re not going to let him go.”
Garret went on the trip. He didn’t cause any trouble; in fact, he was very well
accepted by the people in the shelter. And it seemed to be a turning point in Garret’s life.
At a special Thanksgiving service that fall, Garret was one of the teens chosen to speak to the church on what he was thankful for.
Garret looked terribly nervous. For a moment, he was once again the frightened 10-year-old I had known at the elementary school. Then he began to speak, and with each word his voice got stronger.
“I prayed to receive Christ about a year after I started coming to Trinity,” he said. “I got baptized a few months after that. Then I started doing a lot of stupid stuff. I got a new mom and dad”—here he stopped and grinned at Leonard and Peggy—“and they helped me straighten out my life. I rededicated my life to Christ. To be honest, I don’t know which of those times was when I really got saved. But I know that I
belong to Christ now, and that’s all that matters. That’s what I’m really thankful for.”
Tears came into my eyes. Todd put his arm around me, showing an uncharacteristic public display of physical affection to me.
As we walked out of the church, he said tenderly, “That kid really got to you, didn’t he? He got to me, too.”
I lost it. I shook off Todd’s arm and ran out of the church, so that no one could see me bawling. Out of the parking lot, away from earshot of anyone, I started to yell at God.
“He’s Your miracle kid, huh, God? Well, where’s my miracle? Where’s my miracle kid? Where’s the answer to all my prayers? And how come he’s so sure that he belongs to You? I’m not even sure of that anymore!”
I walked home. Our apartment is about a mile from the church, if you take the back-road shortcut. It wouldn’t have been a bad walk, except that it started to snow. I got off the road, because with snow covering up the pavement, drivers didn’t need to add a pedestrian to their driving concerns. I trudged painstakingly through the grass next to the road’s shoulder. It wasn’t terribly cold, and it was so still, except for the occasional car.
I kept talking to God, and for the first time in years, it seemed to me that He was listening. I was still so angry; I never talked to God that way before, and I haven’t since then.
“I know You can hear me,” I muttered. “Why can’t You answer me? I’ve tried to do everything You wanted me to. Why can’t You do this one thing for me? Why can’t You give me a baby?”
He answered me. I can’t tell you what He said, because it wasn’t in words. He just became more real to me that night than He ever had been before. He didn’t promise me a baby. He gave me Himself, and that was more than e nough.
From that point on, I could say what Garret had said. It didn’t matter what had happened before; I belonged to God now.
By the time I got home, I was wet from the snow, and shivering. Todd opened the door of our apartment and ran to meet me on the sidewalk. I knew he was going to be furious.
“Where have you been? What got into you? Anna, you’re freezing.” He rubbed my hands between his own. He put his arms around me and pulled me close to himself. We stood there like that until we were covered with snow. Then we went inside, and he didn’t ask me any more questions about what happened, not that night, or any other time.
and got a degree in engineering. It was no great surprise to me when he was
brought up before the congregation during an evening service to be commissioned as a missionary in Africa.
Not everybody in our church has the same heart for foreign missions, however. They mean well, but they just can’t see the bigger picture. The man sitting across from me said that it was all well and good to go to Africa, but people in America needed to hear the gospel. And I agreed with him; yes, he was right. But he wanted to press his point a little harder.
“You can’t tell me that young man—him, I mean—couldn’t be used right here to lead people to Christ!”