She rolled through the bumpy dirt roads, over pieces of trash and around people who looked at her with scrutinizing eyes. They saw her as cursed, as one who didn’t belong, as one who wasn’t welcome. But her smile spoke differently.
She churned the hand cranks on her donated wheelchair with a level of confidence that matched the width of her smile and showed each person that she passed that dirt roads, enormous potholes and help from no one wasn’t going to stop her. She had dignity, courage and a place to get to where she knew she belonged.
Her Young Life leaders greeted her with matching grins, hugs and extra boosts to get her wheelchair into the room with only two light bulbs where Young Life club would take place. They pushed her to the front of the room since the back corner, hidden from the rest of the kids, wasn’t an acceptable answer for any of those leaders. As kids piled in and songs were sung, leaders intentionally sought her out. They grabbed her hands and helped her dance. They spun her wheelchair and included her in the evening. And not once, did I see the radiant smile leave her face.
Ruth’s forty-minute journey to get to Young Life club was worth every bit of it for the ninety minutes that she spent safe, valued, encouraged and a part of the group.
Early the next morning, we walked those same roads, past the room where club was, all the way to Ruth’s house. We walked over the bumps and around the potholes and every person that we passed, looked intently at us. The difference was that they didn’t look at us with disgust but with honor, we were two white people, walking with one of their own. Little voices called out “Hellloooo, how are youuuu?” as we passed and when we answered, a mountain of giggles followed. The same roads, the same people, the same beginning and end, but an entirely different journey.
When we got to Ruth’s house in the slums, I asked her what she loved about Young Life. After making fun of my English, she said that Young Life has given her courage, friends and a place to belong. She said that her favorite part of club and camp is the club talks, where she gets to learn about Jesus. And she shared with me about her desire to be a Young Life leader. Her heart for Jesus and her desire to get other kids with disabilities that she knows involved in Young Life are equally enormous. She has vision, determination, courage and people cheering her on. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be one of the best volunteers in the mission of Young Life.
We prayed together before we began the journey back and I couldn’t help but think as we walked home about Young Life everywhere. Leaders offer kids who have been looked down upon a place of belonging in Christ, a host of friendships, courage to do the unknown and the chance to be a leader.
It’s Young Life, working everywhere around the world for every kid.