Thirty years ago, I met a woman named Raine Mullen who changed the trajectory of my life. I was working in East Baltimore at a Christian Community Center and learning about a culture vastly different from the white suburban culture that I understood. From her, I learned how to teach reading to children and adults who had never been taught in a way that made the joy and information found in books available to them. We became lifelong friends, first working together and then encouraging each other through similar family and health struggles. Decades later, when she told me about her experiences working with detained youth through unCUFFED, I was interested but very busy with a full life of family, friends and church activities.
Last fall, though, when she became sick again and eventually died, I realized that I not only wanted to, but was being called to, once again learn from her and join the team of unCUFFED volunteers at the Hickey School. I have had my own set of amazing experiences while working with young men with a great deal of potential but who have very experienced disturbing childhoods.
I met one young man named Reed* on my very first day at Hickey. He immediately opened up to me about his dysfunctional family and the abuse he had suffered from ages eight to twelve. These traumas affected his decision making and contributed to leading him down a path culminating in his incarceration at age seventeen. He is currently awaiting the court’s decision about where he will spend the remaining years of his youth, but Reed knows that he never wants to return to his previous home life. Throughout all of this, he has been honestly questioning God but desperately wanting to understand who He is and where He is amid his current struggles. I work with Reed preparing him for his GED Test, and during our sessions we have had several meaningful conversations about the Bible and God. We have been reading the book of Habakkuk, who himself was asking so many of the same questions as Reed, like: where is God amid troubles and trials? Reading the book of Genesis, Reed also identified with fellow teen Joseph, who suffered similar trials at the hands of his own family members yet never stopped looking to and trusting God. Our test prep sessions have turned into an opportunity for impactful ministry and spiritual mentoring.
I will be forever grateful that I was able to live life with Raine and that because of knowing her I now have the privilege of sharing my life and God’s Word with some amazing young men like Reed.
*Name has been changed to preserve privacy.