Getting a nonchalant shrug from a young person when you’re working with them on their development plan isn’t a great sign of internal motivation. Another teen’s attitude after receiving some tough feedback doesn't inspire much hope for progress and growth. Most of us would see this kind of behavior as a sign of entitlement or disrespect. But the more time I spend with our youth the more I see that’s not really the case - it’s actually a language that is often misunderstood.
This is the language that young people speak in places where it seems there’s no way out. Places like the East End, where the stress and trauma of poverty hurt so many of our students. Compounding this stress are the many responsibilities they take on far beyond their years. So many teens are taking care of their brothers and sisters, figuring out their next meal, and looking for scarce part-time work to support their families. Weighed down by these never-ending burdens, the language our young people end up speaking is one of exhaustion, frustration, and even hopelessness.
In 2 Samuel 9:1-13, we read of a similar place, called Lo Debar in Hebrew, best translated as “Nowhere”. We learn that the city was ignored, passed by, and filled with forgotten people like Mephibosheth, son of King David’s best friend Jonathan. Mephibosheth was crippled at a young age, dropped by a caretaker as they fled for safety. Through no fault of his own he was destined to live in Lo Debar as a poor crippled orphan the rest of his life. Forgotten and overlooked, with no chances to experience life to the full, I imagine that the young people in Lo Debar felt the same way our teens do today. As they try to communicate with managers who don’t know how to respond to the hardships and struggles that have shaped them, they will be considered hard to work with or too difficult to manage.
As Store Manager at CHAT’s Front Porch Café, it’s an honor to help provide our teens with a work environment and training opportunities that take their hardships into account. We get a chance to hear a young person’s current language, and then work with them to develop a new way of connecting. As they gain valuable work experience with the help of staff who are trained with trauma-informed approaches to help them overcome their challenges, they then have the chance to springboard into their next job and experience life to the full, rather than get stuck in a dead end.
During this Advent season, I’m reminded that David eventually rescued Mephibosheth from Lo Debar. David told him “Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness...I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (2 Samuel 9:7) God the Father kept that same promise by sending His Son Jesus to rescue all of us from similar places. Places where financial hardships, broken homes, bitterness, anger, and social injustices become personal “Lo Debars”. God invites us to come out of places of despair by giving us a seat eternally at the King’s table. Will you join us?
Front Porch Cafe Manager