What We Do and Why We Do It
[The following article is an edited version of Rev. Robinson-Donaldson’s testimony to the process of discipleship in caring for children in poverty.]
Rev. Bessie Robinson-Donaldson, Ministerial Advisor; Big Bethel AME Church; Atlanta, GA
Oftentimes we, as Christian, feel that in order to do ministry, it has to be an ordained charge. To the contrary, ministry is no more nor no less than service to others. Approximately 25 years ago, I was blessed with a position in the Juvenile Justice System of Fulton County as a Judicial Assistant where I was afforded opportunity to experience connecting with many children and families who were in many of life’s struggles….poverty stricken, abused, neglected and rejected by family and society, deprived of normal relationships, etc. It was not long after being hired as a Judge’s Assistant that I came to realize via my supervisor, who was the Chief Judge of the Court, that what I had been blessed with was not a job, but an assignment.Not long after beginning this most sensitive assignment, and after accepting the fact that it was indeed an assignment, but not just an assignment, but an assignment from God, I began to get a totally new perspective on the Mission that had been set before me. “So much pain; so much suffering; so much anger; so much discomfort; so many disconnects to life’s necessities, a decent roof over families’ heads, illiteracy, hunger, health issues, no hope for just a normal, comfortable life, and the list goes on”. And so I began to ask God for directions on how to approach and address these ills that were plaguing our communities and destroying our children – these ills that had be brought before me as I went about the work of the day.
Realizing the great need to get more involved in the lives of these hurting and struggling families and the limitations as an employee, and realizing that there was a greater need to affect the “whole” family, I was led to take an early retirement to pursue even more opportunities to get engaged in helping to make a positive difference in the lives of families, especially children. Many of these children were from surrounding communities near where I resided. So I exited the corporate world and began what I call, “true mission work”. Rather than working from the inside out, with so many limitations, I began working from the outside, in an attempt to 1) help heal some hurt from becoming a part of a cruel system, and 2) deter children from ever reaching that point. As a result, The Juvenile Justice Ark of Safety Community Outreach Ministry was birthed at Big Bethel AME Church.
I sat day after day on the front porch of my home and in other communities, especially in the summer time, and watched the young children and teens go about their regular daily activities back and forth in the streets, and as I watched the daily news on television and the tragedies on a daily basis, I realized that there appeared to be something missing in this picture, and soon realized that the missing element in all of this chaos was God inspired activities and interaction. So the next step was to exhibit a “welcoming” attitude to the next-door neighbor, a young man of a single parent home who was extended an invitation to a Wednesday night bible study. In the beginning there was reluctance, but eventually the invitation was accepted, which led this young man to share with others and the group increased weekly, to the Glory of God. I truly believe that God knew that the desire of the heart was to touch the lives of young people in a way that would give them hope of a better future, and as a result He began sending children, one-by-one to my porch as we sat an talked just about general things, school, the family, etc., when led to an open door of invitation to “come and hang out with me at bible study sometimes”, which was happily accepted. That one child went back and told someone else; and that someone else told someone else, and that someone else told someone else…because they were experiencing love-relationship with people who truly had concern for their happiness and well-being.
So, what can the faith community do to reach out to this targeted group of individuals who so desperately need us? Begin where you are. This may be in your community where you live? it may be where you work; it may be someone that God places in your path while shopping at a Mall or grocery store. It may be that person sitting beside you in church. The key is to seek God’s instruction and direction and watch for signs of God’s instructions. I believe, with God’s blessings and our obedience, we can truly make an impact in the lives of the children of the world.
In closing, I believe that in searching for ways to get involved in the lives of suffering children and families, we first must have a desire and a passion for the mission and the idea of change, even though we may not know how to begin, we must take that leap of faith and “expect” God to give us instructions as to how, when and where. We must seek ways and means, tools and skills that will gain the trust of those that we are trying to reach to support in building strong, mature, independent adults and productive citizens able to survive in the world’s job market. I also believe the old saying still stands, “It is easier to raise up a good child than it is to fix a broken adult”.