By Ta-ning Connai
Summer is almost here, which means the movie Equalizer II is in our near future! This is where we get to see Denzel Washington play a good guy who does bad things to bad people for good reasons. Oooh now that’s gonna be good!
Greatness seems to come easy for this 63-year-old actor; everything he touches turns into award-worthy gold. However, he’s quick to credit his childhood mentors and the Boys & Girls Club of Mount Vernon. He says the program provided him an alternative to the prison life that snatched up quite a few of his friends, and he’s been an avid spokesperson for the club. Imagine if that program hadn’t existed, the world would be void of the many brilliant performances that reached deep into our souls.
There may not be the next Denzel in your midst, but perhaps a prolific writer, math wiz, or a savvy entrepreneur, at a crossroad, unclear about which way to turn, and that’s where you and I come in. We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can certainly make a world of change just one young person at a time.
Why I would volunteer to be a camp counselor for three summers in a row is beyond my own understanding. Bonfires, dirt roads and creepy noises are a MAJOR departure from the city life I love. Yet there I was, subjecting myself to the uncertainties of the jungle, sleeping in a shabby old cabin with a rickety screen door. But I always wanted to help troubled teens, so I figured, what the heck.
The first two years, the summers were pretty uneventful. Besides the mosquito bites and desperately trying to keep my clothes clean, I guess it wasn’t that bad. But the third year, Oh Lord! Some of these girls had serious issues back home and we were warned that they just might test us. So I was like, “Test us??? Is that code for they might hit us?!!!” Omg! So now I’m imagining myself rolling in mud with a teenager’s braids wrapped around my hand, as her legs have my neck in a choke hold. Great, just great. I kept thinking, “Why Jesus Why?” all the while having no idea that I would find out real soon.
The Head Coordinator assigned each counselor to speak on a specific subject in front of the whole camp. This was new, but ok, cool. Suddenly, I hear my name mixed in with the term self-esteem. Wait, is she serious? Clearly this was a big mistake and I had all my excuses ready, “I can’t speak in front of crowds…these kids won’t listen to me…I have nothing to say…nobody’s gonna care…they’re gonna laugh…I’m scared…I’m not gonna do it…” “Yes you can and yes you are. God said you are qualified,” and those were her parting words.
Twas the night before my presentation and all the time I could’ve used to prepare was long gone. All I could do was pray for divine public speaking intervention, “God please make everybody be quiet and give me the words to say. Amen.”
When I walked into the cafeteria, I could hardly hear my teeth chatter for the noise of the rambunctious crowd. I wanted to run far, far away, but the forest full of crocodiles didn’t seem like the better option. So, I just walked over to the mic, took a deep breath and waited for Jesus to take the wheel.
I began to tell them things they didn’t know; that I had a hard time as a teenager because of the way I looked; that jealousy was cruel to me and that it was hard for me to keep friends; that I got so depressed, I once developed a phobia of going outside. And then I told them that one day God freed me from the cares of public opinion and gave me the strength and self-acceptance that could only come from Him alone. I was shocked to hear the things I said, although they were coming out of my mouth. The fear was gone and I knew right away that God was in control.
You could hear a pin drop, nothing but pure silence. My divine public speaking intervention prayer worked! As I walked away, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned to see a young girl with eyes full of surprise. She said, “I would’ve never guessed that you’d gone through something like that. That happened to me too.” The coordinator rushes over to me and says, “You have no idea, but you just saved a life.” I was confused and she could tell. She went on, “That girl, she tried to kill herself several times. We convinced her mother to let her come here, not sure if we could even help her. She hasn’t spoken since she’s been here, and we were worried about it. So, we prayed for a miracle, that someone would reach her, and you’re the one that did.”
|Ta-ning and the girls at camp|
I still shudder at the thought of what harm my refusal to speak could have caused. I realized that day that our obedience will sometimes be attached to something more serious than we know. One day, God will show us all the souls we blessed by saying yes to His call to mentor. But until then, we have to trust that He knows the backstory for all of us, and He’ll never allow our inadequacies to deem us unqualified to do His great works. 2nd Corinthians 3:5 tells us that, “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” Well, in that case, get ready, ‘cause someone’s waiting for your help!