I SPENT MY BIRTHDAY morning this past Saturday digging in the dirt at a local school where over 80 percent of the students qualify for free meals. That’s a measure of poverty in our community that no other school can match.
Our church has adopted the school, helping out in a variety of ways throughout the year: a meal one evening a week, for example, inside the air-conditioned/heated school. That’s a double luxury for some families that have trouble affording food and AC/heating.
Saturday was a unique day. We tagged the school for one of our quarterly Mega Mission projects. What I saw that day caught me off guard.
The Mega Mission team was supposed to go to the church first, for instructions and project assignments, and then to caravan to the school. But I live just a few miles from the school, so I went directly there.
The principal, Kim, was pulling weeds from one of the flower beds along the sidewalk leading into the main entrance of the school. We recognized each other because I recently gave her some of my books for the school.
I told Kim, “I don’t know what they’ve assigned me to do, so why don’t I help you until the group gets here.”
Kim said that would be great. She pointed me toward the gardening tools she had, and reminded me to dig the weeds up by the roots.
Teacher types are always teaching. We need that.
A few minutes later the cars, vans, and pickup trucks started rolling in. Filling the parking lot. Side street, too.
Around 175 souls descended upon the school.
We wore luminous yellow shirts which I normally hate because they make me feel radioactive. And they stand out like a rubber duck in an art museum.
But today, those tacky colors inspired me. I watched as the souls poured into the school while others completely surrounded it.
It kind of took my breath away.
As I stood there beside the principal, watching the colorful souls pour out of the caravan, Kim said, “It’s looks like an invasion of grasshoppers.”
“You mean locusts,” I said.
In my group, outside, we pulled weeds in the bushes that framed the school, and then spread tons of mulch, which we provided.
Inside, another team assembled kits of picnic tables and benches that we bought, and then primed them.
Another team sorted through hundreds of bags of school supplies that our church provided—one bag for each student. About $75 worth of supplies in each bag. Supplies such as crayons, markers, pencils, pencil boxes, erasers, glue sticks, socks, sanitary wipes, composition books, loose leaf paper, $10 gift card. That sort of thing.
Another team worked on crafts to welcome teachers back to another school year of long hours and hard work.
Yet another team worked on the barbecue meal we provided for families in the community along with volunteers. We ate together. I sat down and chatted with Carlos, a 17-year-old boy, and with his mom Maria, the mother of five.
I went home fairly filthy—partly because of that dude with the big shovel who overshot the wheelbarrow he was filling for me. I think he might have done it on purpose. Or maybe he thought he was filling the pouch of a kangaroo. Or maybe he had a nervous twitch at a moment inopportune for me.
Still, the work we did that morning was a great way to start my birthday.
I looked up “dirt” in the Bible.
There’s a painfully relevant passage, given the suffering that parents in this community are experiencing:
Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?… Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression? We collapse in the dust, lying face down in the dirt. Rise up! Help us!
Last Saturday, I think God did just that.
It’s a beginning.