And it’s not what you think.
6 Garden City teenagers with longboards were hanging out in our church lobby yesterday, which was a Saturday. There were 3 boys and 3 girls. They don’t go to a church. Last week one of our staff spotted the same kids in the sanctuary, in the dark, walking around on the stage, and my friend kindly told them it wasn’t time to be in there right now. The kids were polite and complied.
Yesterday when I saw them hanging out in the lobby, it was because of a crumpled up piano cover. One of the kids had played our grand piano and left the cover dumped on the floor. I was directing a large mural project at church at the time, so I put the piano cover back on and asked the teens to put the cover back on next time. They said sure. Just then I saw a friend of mine heading over to Open Studio, which was going on across the street, so I called to my friend to have fun in the art studio. “Art studio?” I heard a teenager say. “There’s an art studio?”
I walked over to them and told them about our studio hours. “Does it cost money?” “Nope, everything’s free. Want me to show you?” They jumped to their feet and I took them across the street.
I gave them a tour and lots of free coffee, and showed them a quick virtual watercolor demo and especially how to put stuff away and clean up. I told them I want them to feel at home here and to know they’re part of this community.
All six of them drew and painted. One of the guys asked for help finding a photo reference. (You gotta know, I was praying in my head this whole time for God to meet them and speak to each of them.) I randomly handed the kid a book of horses, which delighted him. He told me about a horse he used to have when he was a kid. One girl was so happy she was literally shaking. She told me, “I love this art studio– it feels so welcoming and caring!” Her exact words.
The kids made art for a long time, and I went back across the street to keep directing the new mural installation in the children’s ministry. After an hour and a half, by chance, I happened to be looking out the nursery window when all six teens came out of the studio holding the works of art they’d made. It occurred to me– they were heading back to the church lobby to fetch their longboards. So I walked over to meet them, and they immediately showed me what they created and told me who they’d made them for.
They asked me what else there was to do, so I suggested the piano. The girl who sat down looked pleased when I recognized Für Elise. “What else can we do here?” they wanted to know. Wow! So I invited them to check out our paint-by-number mural project of some wilderness scenes. “Paint by number! Can we help?” Of course! So I showed them how and gave them jobs according to the abilities and interests I sensed they had, and they joined our 15 church volunteers who were already painting. I watched the kids get into their creative zones, very focused, and I saw a lot of smiles. One of the younger girls told me 6 or 7 times that she wants to be an artist someday. The kids painted with us until the very end, and even stayed to clean up. The boy who’d wanted to draw horses seemed particularly peaceful and deep in thought. He told me when he was leaving, “Thank you. Today was really wonderful.”
I cried all the way home.
That happened yesterday (Saturday). Today at church three of them came back and found me in the church lobby, after services were over. They sat with me at a bistro table and we talked a while. When I asked what brings them here, they told me they hang out for the wifi because they don’t have internet at home. One of the boys showed me photos of his family on his phone, out of the blue.
What an honor–to speak encouragement into their creativity, to see glimpses into their hearts, and to know their names. I pray they will know they’re loved, welcome, and cared for. Just like the girl said.