“Jerome says, ‘Hi’”… This is what Tina added as I ushered her into the STARS closet to get a Zion sweatshirt. She had not gotten one at Christmas, she said, and her mom wanted one, too. Her mom was short and kind of small so maybe a medium would do. Being Sudanese, that seemed very strange and stranger still since Jerome was over 6 ft. They are all over 6 ft, these lost sons of the lost boys. Lost to the world they now inhabit with no sense of what has gone before them and no sense that there was anything in front of them. “Jerome says, ‘Hi’.” I want to cry right then and there. Hi from jail that is. How long will he be there? “I think three years”, Tina says. Three years and what will he be then?
Sitting in the service later trying my best to listen as Tawe and Annie climb all over the pews. Woaga is actually listening, to my surprise. Mary is quiet, first time in about 3 years that she was not spouting invective responses to anything we say. The preacher is talking about our deaths and death to self, the death inherent in Lent and the ashes of the cross our forehead. I remember when once we did this with all of them. When they were young and when all was possible, before Taxi stole the cars and Prey Reh had an AK47, before girls were pregnant and when JK just wanted to be hugged. They still remember the cross of ash. The cross that claimed them as hallowed ground set apart for Christ. The cross that dragged across the stage and they lay like Jesus with nails going into each hand, as we re-enacted the crucifixion for them. They remembered it and asked what it meant. Annie is whining about going to the bathroom. Tawe is asking when it will end. Woaga leans forward and asks are the ashes real? I had no idea what she was asking so I just said, “Yes, they are”. If they are real will she believe? If they are real will it claim her? Maybe this one will not be lost. The lost sons and daughters, maybe the cross with bind them as a “do not enter by this way” signpost, to all that darkness and its minions will demand. Maybe they are not lost but just sleeping.
Back in the clothes closet Tina asks if we are going to camp this year. I say yes and we have a fundraiser this Friday to send you. She is glad! She proudly says she has gone to camp for 4 years now. I think, “Could she be that old?” I remember Kaat buying you your little African baby doll for Christmas when you were, what?, only 5 or so. Just a baby really, but aren’t they all really.
Tonight has been a most terrible night. It started poorly last week and only seemed to get worse and worse ending with the second fight of the evening. Tina’s friends are all excited to tell the news of the fight to their friends who missed it. Lost boys and lost girls… My daughters sit alone at dinner. Would I have made it here even? Could I have sat near to the girl fight and not wanted to simply run away, run far away? Im not sure. What does that mean? Are they stronger then I?
“Jerome says, ‘Hi’.” Tell him we love him I said. What I thought was, we are sorry we could not save him… sorry that we could not bridge the divide between the cross and the vast empty space that is the world and all its darkness. Sorry we were not strong enough or peopled enough to say what needed to be said when he came back. We are sorry.
Junior tried to beat up JK tonight. I was surprised by JK’s self control. Ta Meh said we have to go outside for JK to cool off. I let them. In that moment, these brothers that only an hour ago were running through the snow throwing snowballs as each other, and hiding from me when they knew that they were not supposed to be outside in the dark during dinner. They seem to go from tiny boys to young men. At one moment longing to be children yet at another moment knowing that they must be adults since the adults in their lives cannot navigate the dangers of this world and this world is ever so dangerous. Where is it safe to be a child for them? Maybe this is what I am mourning.. Tina’s baby doll and Jerome is in jail and crosses ever before us all.
I am thinking about all the fun those other children have. The large youth groups without race wars exploding in the midst of announcements, but car washes, lock ins and youth trips to conferences. The safety of the familiar and the clarity of parents that know how to parent and can be relied upon to be the adults in the families. Im thinking about my girls sitting alone at dinner. Do they deserve better? Shouldn’t they have the American dream of a childhood that thinks only of who likes whom and what Converse shoes they want to get? Should they see all of this? All of their friends have long gone from this youth group. So what remains from the ashes? “Jerome says, ‘Hi’.” “Tell Jerome, ‘Hi,’ and that we love him”. Is there a redemption in simply showing up? Is there a restoration that occurs by the act of Being in this same place each week. When he gets out, will he come back for help? When he gets out will we be there? “Jerome says, ‘Hi’.” In the midst of all that is dark, I want to sit down and cry. Redemption is mine, sayeth the Lord. Redemption is Mine.
After weeks like that I want to pack it in.. to go and find some white suburban church to drown my sorrows in and forget about Jerome and every other lost son and daughter. But if we did who would be there when Jerome gets out? Who would stop the crushing pull of all that is dark? Who would… “Jerome says, ‘Hi’.”.. who would say Hi back? Out of the darkness a small cry is heard.. out of Zion, from whence cometh my Hope.