Two weekends ago I traveled to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for our annual C2K Ministries board of directors’ meeting. The actual meeting and state of the ministry are outstanding. What we say we do, we do well, and things we are dreaming about seem to be coming into focus and approaching reality.
While I was at Phil and Kym’s home, Phil hosted a pre-game gathering for most of the boys on the Little League team for which he volunteers as the coach. Picture this; eleven boys arrive in at Phil’s front door. They come alone, in pairs, or small groups. As each arrives they pile onto the couches and engage the Xbox or watch the action.
Phil, meanwhile, is busily hovering around the kitchen stove as the boys rapidly switch games – focus is difficult with so many hovering. Shortly, Phil asks me to get the condiments out of the fridge, and he tells the boys dinner (hot dogs) is ready. Politely they line up and grab two buns each, opening them and placing them on the provided paper plates. Phil attends the boiling pot and uses tongs to put a dog on each bun. The boys stop at the kitchen table applying condiments and each grabs a bottle of water. Hungrily, they devour the dogs and promptly line up again for seconds. One of the boys spreads the condiments on a single hot dog and then uses the “loaded” dog to rub onto the second. It seems he is used to stretching his food, even available condiments. Those eleven boys consumed 48 hot dogs and buns in under twenty minutes.
One of the boys once finished eating, approaches Phil saying, “Coach, my uniform pants are broken, the button’s gone.” Sure enough, he shows the pants he’s wearing and the top button is torn off. Phil heads to a closet asking the boy what size he wears and produces a new, plastic-wrapped pair. Later I asked Phil where the uniforms came from, knowing that our C2K budget doesn’t cover Little League uniforms. It didn’t surprise me that Phil and Kym buy the uniforms and the food.
After dinner, its time to head to the field for pre-game practice. The boys pile into the van and we drive the several blocks to the stadium. Mound Bayou is a small, quiet community but no one would mistake it for a wealthy community. During the short drive residents frequently hail Phil with waves and smiles. Following the van with my car, I get the same friendly treatment. Clearly, Phil and Kym are appreciated in this community!
When we arrive at the ballpark, several additional boys meet us and they head for the home “dugout.” There is a wood bench with a tin roof separated from the field and the bleachers by a recycled chain-link fence. Almost as soon as the boys sit on the bench, they suddenly vacate the dugout shouting about wasps. There is a wasps’ nest under the wood bench, which one brave player dispatches with the handle of his bat. Phil calls the boys to the field and before warming up they gather on the infield in a huddle as Phil leads them in prayer.
Warming up, after some stretching, the boys pair up playing catch. Throws are crisp, catches are clean with sharp smacking sounds from well-thrown balls. Later, Phil hits balls for fielding practice and the boys catch and quickly toss the balls to first base as they hone their skills. This is a well-coached team!
Soon, as game-time approaches, people begin to gather in the stands. Anticipation and excitement in the community are high. Unfortunately, as game-time arrives and then passes and then becomes embarrassingly late, it becomes clear the opposing team will not be showing up tonight. Phil sighs and fields his team. They toss out the first pitch and declare a forfeit.
Before they depart, once again Phil gathers the boys by the van and builds their pride helping them to remember the first game with the no-show team resulted in a 35-2 victory and probably contributed to tonight’s forfeit. He reminds them the next game is the next night at the same time and tells them to arrive an hour early for pre-game practice. He hands out a granola bar to each and then they bow in prayer once again before splitting up for the night.
That night Phil and I went to dinner with several board members and employees of C2K’s Re>Direct program. Reminding myself that in his role as coach, Phil is acting, not as the Executive Director of C2K Ministries, but as a Mound Bayou community member who is working with boys, none of which are even part of the RE>Direct ministry. I asked Phil about the boys.
As I pressed him, he told me about a conversation he had with three of the boys about a month ago. As they were sitting in his living room playing video games, Phil asked, “Hey! What are you’all getting me for Father’s Day?” The oldest boy, the one who has been around Phil the longest started to say, “Wait, you’re not my . . . well, I guess you’re the closest thing I have to a father.” Another boy said, “Me too!” The third said, “Yup, me too.” Phil followed up with, “Again, what are you getting me for Father’s Day.” He didn’t really expect a gift, but from my line of sight, his relationships with these boys by itself would make his sojourn in Mound Bayou worth the investment!
Recently, Phil was writing about his relationship with the boys in his community. This excerpt of that writing will further highlight the impact he is having on these young men.
When Kym and I moved to our town, we were the “new kids on the block.” We were kinda like the new shiny toy that was just opened on Christmas, not to mention, we were the only white couple in town. Because we had relationships already in place with kids in the community, often they would swing by. Those encounters would normally go like this,
“knock, knock, knock.”
I would open the door to see three boys standing there.
“Hey guys, how are you doing?”, I would ask
“Good” was often the one-word reply. I fully knew that for some, “good” did not mean what I believed it to mean but either way.
“Phil, gimme two bucks” was often a common phrase. In the first month, I did exactly what they asked for. My compassionate heart broke knowing the situation that some of them were in. If this is my small part to play, then Kym and I are going to play it well.
I had read several books about charity. I read anything from “When Helping Hurts”, to “Toxic Charity”, to “Charity Detox” and more. I knew that I was breaking the rules, but for a period I did it anyway. It was not until a knock at the door a few weeks later.
Same kids are at the door asking for the same thing. If I am them, I would have done the same thing. After all, they just had to ask, and they received. What a great concept. This time, they decided to up the amount and ask for more.
This is where it all changed.
The boys came into the house, and I asked one of them to do something for me. I remember it like it was yesterday.
“Do me a favor, open the front door and tell me what the sign says in my yard,” I said.
“Phil, there isn’t a sign in your yard,” he replied
I repeated my request, “open the door and tell me what the sign says.”
“Phil, there ain’t no sign,” was the response again.
I asked for a third time that he open the door and look for me which he did.
“I told you. There ain’t no sign out here”, he replied
This is where it got fun, and this is where it all changed.
I simply said, “so you are telling me that there is no sign that says Schank Bank or ATM outside?”
There was a moment of pause and a quick response, “Phil, we just want to go to the pool.”
“I get what you want to do but we are going to change the question. From now on, ask us if we have any work,” I replied.
I no longer have kids that know me asking me for two bucks. They ask if I have any work. It is actually funny because when I am with a group of kids, inevitably one that does not know me will ask me for a dollar. The kids that do know me will give a quick laugh and say, “ask him if he has any work.”
It is not uncommon to have a group of kids at our house on a Saturday morning when our doors open at ten in the morning. They are all there looking for some work. We do our best to manufacture anything that we can to teach these kids what it feels like to earn it.
I saw this in action several times over the weekend. These boys, all of his team and clearly about a dozen older boys who have been on his previous teams but are now too old to play, alumni so to speak, literally admire and respect Phil and Kym so much that their behavior and lives are changing for the better. During the hot dog dinner at his home, without thinking too much about it, as Phil walked by one of the youngest boys sitting at his table, eagerly devouring his meal, Phil patted the boy on his head. I wish everyone could have seen the gleam in that little boy’s eyes. I got the impression that no one in this boy’s life, certainly not a man, had ever patted him on the head before. Watching it, I discovered tears in my eyes.
I could not be more proud of the impact C2K Ministries is having in Mound Bayou!
The Re>Direct program is making school fun for 20 students every year. Most students have all A’s and B’s and many have made great strides in their academics. Add to that the impact Phil and Kym have in the community through living and coaching and . . .well . . . loving the people around them. Pray for this ministry, consider supporting it financially, schedule a visit and come ready to serve. You will not regret it!