Michael looked up and asked, “Can we play outside?” It was a cold October morning, but John, his Kids Hope mentor, said, “Sure, in just a moment after we finish the story we are reading.” On the way to the school playground, they enjoyed a conversation about foods they liked. Michael likes donuts and Halloween candy, but his favorite food is chocolate cake. As they neared the playground, Michael ran ahead to the swing, climbed on, and yelled, “Push me.” As John pushed and the swing went higher and higher, Michael laughed and squealed without a care. For those few moments, he seemed like any second grader having fun. But there is more to his story.
Just weeks earlier due to some life choices his mother made, Michael and his two older siblings were uprooted from their home in another state and brought to Little Rock to live with their grandfather. He is at a new and unfamiliar school. He misses his mom. He has yet to make new friends and feels like the other kids are picking on him. In the midst of this trauma, he is struggling academically and falling further behind. His grandfather loves his three grandchildren deeply and is working hard to manage his job and the demands of caring for three school-age children, but he needs help.
Though I have changed names to protect the family’s privacy, their story is real. Sadly, there are hundreds of families in our community experiencing similar pain and brokenness. At the same time, there is growing evidence that healthy families are the greatest contributing factor to school academic achievement, economic well-being, and a host of other positive social outcomes.
The good news is Jesus Christ provides real hope for families!
Through a Vital Families in Schools Partnership, a church has become an extended family to provide support and encouragement for Michael’s family. After a few weeks of meeting together and after one of their mentoring times, Michael was reluctant to go back to his class. When John asked if he was sad because he had to leave, Michael nodded and John noticed a tear fall from his eye.
We are thankful for the growing Vital Families in Schools partnerships and the ways they are bringing hope to families like Michael’s. We are thankful to our financial partners who have made the efforts of CityChurch Network to unite churches possible. We are deeply thankful to God as he continues to unite churches in Central Arkansas through extraordinary prayer, trained leaders, and collective impact for the good of our cities. As we thank God for his provision this past year, we are looking forward with great anticipation to expanding these initiatives in 2022.
I’m not absolutely certain what Michael would say, but I can’t help imagine his greatest Christmas wish is to have his family back together. As churches unite and partner with schools to support families like Michael’s, the gospel is made more beautiful and believable to a world that desperately needs the hope of Christ this Christmas.