I wasn’t originally planning to volunteer this summer with the CDF Freedom Schools® at Rainier Avenue Church. But God had so much in store at this ministry and He ended up leading me to the front door of Rainier Avenue Church.
To be honest I was not prepared for the level of excitement I found at Harambee, every morning’s initial gathering that is jam-packed with songs, cheers, read-aloud guests and reflection. Harambee is Kiswahili for “let’s pull together” and though I typically have a hard time participating in camp cheers, I couldn’t help but get into it when 60 children were asking if you’re hype at the top of their lungs. YEAH I’M HYPED! Blood whizzing to my head and my voice rapidly approaching its expiration date, the first day was off to a good start.
For many young scholars who participate in Freedom Schools, life is difficult. I frequently heard the words, “no one cares about me,” implying, “why would you?” As a volunteer from Bethany Presbyterian church, I had the privilege of being able to spend intentional time with these scholars and really get to know them. Every day was filled with countless God-orchestrated interactions, both large and small, that broke my heart but also brought me hope.
One particular scholar, Alex*, whom I had the privilege to work with during the second week “tapped me out” one day. “Tap-out” is a term I used with a few scholars who had difficulties maintaining their temper. We made a deal to “tap-out” or go take a break in the hallway outside of the classroom, if any scholar needed space. Alex was having a particularly rough day. I responded quickly. “Alex. That’s not who you are. You are someone who loves life, who cares about others and treats them with kindness.” Later that week a child psychologist told me children can recognize that no adult has the power to see into their soul, so telling them, “this is who you are” without anecdotal evidence is pretty empty. I know that I have no power to change anyone - it’s all God - and if anyone could do the whole see-into-your-soul thing, it would be God. And although I don’t think my words were divinely inspired, I do believe they were divinely interpreted. Something happened here. After my knee-jerk reaction, Alex just stood there, a little dazed. He knew I wasn’t mad, I think he was just a little surprised I cared so much. Over the next few weeks at Freedom Schools I saw Alex improve his reading and social skills. I told Alex I was proud of him and it blessed me to see his improvements. His ears perked up particularly when I told him I wanted to recognize him publicly . For the rest of the day, Alex kept coming over to me brimming with puppy-like joy to check in to see if I remembered that I was going to recognize him. “Yes, Alex. I haven’t forgotten.” At the next Harambee I shouted “I got a recognition y’all!” and announced my praise about Alex.
The Freedom Schools model has a history of rising above the forces of oppression in our country to bring equity, freedom and Harambee - the people of God coming together to see His Kingdom come. In the presence of such inspiring scholars, staff, families and supporters, words spoken almost two thousand year ago by our Lord Jesus feel seemingly present. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And as we say at Freedom Schools: Amen and Ashe.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Henrik Mansfield is a sophomore at Reed College. He has volunteered at Urban Impact fundraisers and has spent significant time with ECBF youth group. Before the Freedom Schools began this summer, he could be found volunteering with King County Youth Chaplaincy. To Henrik, community is “ a reflection of Communion with God and it is only through community that God’s Kingdom will be manifest on Earth as it is in Heaven.”