Heart Matters: What Really Counts

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It felt like an inquisition. She was attempting to create a
report to bring back to a church that had given money to our inner
city after-school program. Though well-meaning, her questions were
ones I’d heard far too many times. How many kids have committed
their lives to Christ? What kind of success stories can you tell
me?

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I felt a little embarrassed that I couldn’t conjure up any memory
of a child that would meet her requirements of “successful.” This
year I’ve had two 14- year-old girls get pregnant. Actually nearly
every girl I began working with seven years ago is now a teenage
mom. Some of my boys invest their anger in violence. I have
fifth-graders who can’t read.

But is this what matters? Is the gospel a generator of statistics?
Do we have the courage to believe that it’s something more?

I believe the essence of the gospel is knowing and being known by
God. And in a troubled community, the knowing happens regardless of
what surrounds us and what we accomplish. What I want to
communicate to the children who sit on our church floor is that the
promises of God lie before them whether they can read at a
third-grade level or not. Grace abounds whether your dad works as
an executive or stands in line every day to wait for the labor
truck. And for that matter, grace is there if you don’t have a
father around to do either.

It’s this assurance of Christ’s goodness that has carried me for
more years than I can even recall. That same assurance brings peace
to the children who arrive in our parking lot yelling, “We’re here!
We’re here! We’re at church!” This redemptive story holds out a
compassion that empowers and a hope that motivates. The gospel
leaves less and less room for the despair that seeks to disable
each of us…wherever we are.

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This is what matters, not success stories.

Consider Sarah, a third-grader. She’s right in the middle of nine
children, half of whom live with mom, while the other four have
been farmed out to relatives. Sarah is one of our kids who truly
live in poverty. Many of our families struggle to put food on the
table but still have big screen televisions, pagers, $80 shoes, and
gold jewelry. Not Sarah. She wears sandals that are at least three
sizes too big, and her mom asked me last week if I could get Sarah
some underwear. The crumbling plaster walls in her home are held
together with duct tape, and her front window is a piece of
cardboard.

And I’ll tell you one thing about Sarah…she’s a diamond. Whether
she one day has eight kids of her own, lives in poverty, or is the
first in her family to graduate, she will always be beautiful.
Because being a diamond is simply something she is; it’s something
God created her to be.

Sarah is resilient, smart, caring… and though it defies our
calculated reason, Sarah is full of an indescribable joy. It might
take a steak dinner to put a smile on my face, but Sarah will dance
around the room for a package of ramen noodles. Why? Because Jesus
spreads his hope anywhere.

Often we think of the gospel as a bridge, as a way out. But
sometimes it’s simply a way in. A door for us to walk through into
the lives of those who might need a friend or a fresh gallon of
milk. The gospel is an entrance into hearts that survive on prayers
alone. God is here, not to take his children out, but to bring his
Spirit in. That’s how Sarah became a diamond.

Perhaps that’s not success, but it is hope and it is healing. I’m
certain in the end, it’s what will really count. 

Amy Beth Larson is a missionary to children with The Third
Story in inner city Denver.

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