Monday, December 19, 2016
The Power of Friendship by Christen Morrow Ara
It was the first day of school. The cafeteria buzzed with the excitement, anticipation and pure awkwardness of freshman navigating the social arena. New clothes and backpacks and shiny shoes bragged of back to school shopping. After checking in at the office, I was headed to my spot with my people… the cafeteria lunch tables where students with disabilities waited to be served and fed by staff. After greeting several of our Capernaum friends, I spotted what I’d been praying about… the freshmen! There is always a sense of shock and lostness on their faces during those first several days, and I was determined to show up and meet kids on day one!
Quietly and inconspicuously tucked at the end of a table sat Abby. Her tiny walker was parked behind her as she waited for an aide to deliver her lunch tray. Her beautiful brown eyes captured me, and I asked if I could sit next to her. The conversation that followed was more of a monologue with a few one word answers to my questions. Though we would both agree that our friendship began that day, she would tell you that some strange white girl speaking Spanish just wouldn’t go away and had all kinds of tails of potential adventures of high school and Young Life.
A few weeks later I visited Abby’s home. It took some persistence as she was sure it just would not work for her to go to the football game with me and several of her classmates. I showed up a little early, knowing that because of her disability and because of the culture, I needed to meet her parents and earn their trust. Her home was ‘in the projects’ on the south side of town, in one of the four units with wheelchair access, right alongside 3 other Capernaum students. As I began to chat with mom, I realized that Spanish was her second language, Meztec was her first, and English was foreign. There were several other kids in the home and my ease with them began to calm the tension the whole family felt at the idea of sending Abby off in this giant white van with ‘Young Life Capernaum’ painted on the side. As the lift folded and the door to the van shut, I watched as the 6 family members stood on the sidewalk waving.
The game was a blast, we won, and she spoke a few words and even smiled. But there was more coming for her … club, scavenger hunts, Starbucks runs, girls nights out, and later on even prom, overnights and CAMP! In fact it was at camp where Abby was changed forever when she met Jesus. The next year, Abby flew to Colorado with our Capernaum friends and leaders for a discipleship week of camp.
As Abby grew in her desire to know Jesus, her dad picked up a Bible and began reading, her mom
Fast forward to today: It’s been 13 years of friendship. Abby, now Abigail, has graduated from a training program for receptionists and secretaries. She works, she has gained citizenship, and she has a deep confidence and wisdom. Our friendship has extended through family tragedies and life changes. They’ve welcomed my husband, daughter Abigail (who is named after Abby) and now soon our second child into their larger family. She and her siblings serve together in a local Spanish speaking congregation in lay ministry. Bartolo, Abby’s father, leads men’s Bible studies. Eva, Abby’s mother, shows up with food and counsel for women in crisis.
Recently, I asked Abby to join me at an interest meeting for beginning Young Life in a nearby community, and here is what she said, “Young Life changed my life and introduced me to Jesus, and it changed my family for generations. We now serve God together, we minister to families like ours who are down and out, don’t know Jesus, and don’t know where their next meal will come from. Beginning Young Life in a community like this will transform the community!”
This is the power of a friendship between a Young Life leader and her ‘club kid’ over the long haul. What a gift I was given in the school cafeteria that day… and what an impact this family is making through their lives of service!