What Tough Love Truly Looks Like

Ronnie DavisNew Orleans, Uncategorized, Urban Ministry

Author: Adam serving on staff with Kaleo in New Orleans

This summer with Kaleo has been an awesome experience full of blessings and challenges. It has given me the opportunity to meet many cool people and to participate in God’s mission in ways I never have before. There are dozens and dozens of stories I could share from my time here in NOLA, but there is one in particular story that sticks out to me. The story of Sam from VBS.

Sam was a sweet, little, 6 year old boy that I met and worked with at VBS. It was Thursday. I had gotten to know him over the week and our time was coming to a close. He was generally a sweet, kind boy from what I had seen, but on Thursday he was acting different. It started right when Sam walked in. Sam was being more defiant and unpleasant right when he walked in. He wasn’t listening to us and was refusing to participate. Towards the end of the day, right before lunch, he lashed out and hit another girl in his group. As usual, we pulled Sam aside and explained to him in 6 year old language that we don’t hit and that he should apologize to the girl he hit. He complied. However, a few moments later, there he was chasing after that same little girl with malicious intent. He eventually caught up to her and started hitting her again. We quickly grabbed Sam and took him to another room in the church to have another chat.

This time, Sam didn’t listen at all. He threatened us, called us names, and folded his arms in disgust. We decided to take Sam to talk to the director of the VBS, Miss Vicky. Miss Vicky sat down with him and he began hitting her and kicking her. More name calling ensued. This young boy, only 6 years old, showed so much hostility and anger. After a while of speaking kindly to Sam and trying to get him to stop, Miss Vicky changed her tune. She pulled his chair right up to hers, and stared him face to face, beginning to speak more boldly and louder. She told him the story of the little boy she knew who was known to argue and hit. This little boy got into an argument with another boy. The rift between the two boys persisted on during the summer. One day, the other boy’s father got so angry, that he shot the other little boy in the back of the head. A little boy’s life taken away because of a silly argument. Miss Vicky continued on, explaining to Sam that if he didn’t shape up, that he could be next. Miss Vicky began to tear up, telling Sam that she didn’t want to read about him in the newspaper one morning winding up dead, as she has with other boys and girls all too many times. The room fell silent, the tension and severity could be felt by everyone in the room. Miss Vicky was bold, blunt, but not mean. It was necessary for her to say these things. This wasn’t an overreaction or hyperbole, this was reality for these kids.

Sam understood Miss Vicky and nodded his head. His big eyes began to tear up also, but he understood. He knew Miss Vicky was right. At 6 years old, the only way to get past the hate in this little boy’s heart was by explaining to him that if he didn’t change, the streets would swallow him up. Naturally, I reflected upon what 6 year olds in my suburb of Saint Louis deal with. I thought about how I would talk to a 6 year old from Wildwood, my hometown, when they were acting up. It would have looked vastly different. There would be no mention of guns or death. There would be mentions of toys and timeout. Neither conversation is right nor wrong, they are just reality, very different realities. It opened my eyes to see the actualities that many kids across the country and across the world deal with. The danger in which they live, the strife that exists in their homes, and the lies they are told growing up. Lies about what toughness is, what really matters, and what makes you a real man or a real woman.

I will never forget this story. Sam and Miss Vicky will forever be engrained in my brain going forward. A story of anger and defiance, but ultimately a story about love and redemption. Miss Vicky showed Sam, myself, and everyone else there what tough love truly looks like. Real love, in the midst of a tough situation. In the end, Sam and Miss Vicky hugged. Sam apologized for his actions and remained at VBS for the rest of the day, playing and laughing with all of the other kids.