Many years had come and gone. The preacher was not young anymore. He was back in the city. The days in the small town on the ranch all had become memories tucked away for another time.
He was sitting at his desk when the phone rang. The person on the other end of the line was a community coordinator from a nearby town. She asked, “Could you come and talk to us? We have heard of your work with runaways and kids ending up on the street. We need you to come and give us some words that will help us make sense out of some of the things that are happening.” He said he would come.
The drive was not long, only about 100 miles. On the way there he wondered if he would be able to relate. A lot had happened since he was last in the rural areas. What could he say that would help? How could he dull the edges to what people were experiencing. Did he have a word of hope? Their town was dying. Houses were dropping in value. The children were growing older wondering if they could make a living. These children saw how the years had taken a toll on their parents. They were angered by the amount of energy needed to get so little in return. Maybe the city could offer more.
At the community center he stood in front of a number of people. It seemed as if the whole town had shown up. Questions were hurled in his direction. He asked if he could take a few minutes to talk about the work he was doing. He felt that a frame of reference for their questions would be helpful. He began to talk about the work he was doing. He talked about kids living on the street. He talked about the dynamics of surviving on prostitution, drugs and stealing. He talked about how so many were using the system to survive, especially during the cold and harsh weather. He talked about the revolving door syndrome of going from agency to agency, from church to church. As he talked people began to ask more questions. How do we protect our children from this? When our kids leave here, they have no-where to go. One man said my daughter could end up on the street. Who are those kids on the street? How did they get there? Are they going to hurt my kid?
He said young people on the street come from a lot different directions. Sometimes they are just abandoned. At that point he was interrupted. “Why not just send those kids home?” Others began to voice the same words. “Just send them all home” seemed to be the growing response. One mother said, “I refuse to believe that a mother would abandon her child.” Others nodded in agreement.
At that moment as he was listening to the crowd of people he remembered something that had happened many years ago. He said, “Hold on for a minute. I want to tell you a story.” Many years ago a young preacher had gotten a call to pastor in a small ranching community. He was from the inner city and had a lot to learn about rural ways. One Sunday he was invited for dinner at one of the ranch homes after church. While there, the owner of the ranch had to leave the meal because a heifer was beginning to give birth. The calf was coming breach. The rancher, and ultimately the preacher, participated in the birthing process. Then something strange happened. Just as he was to finish the story a lady in the group said, “The mother abandoned the calf didn’t she?” “Yes,” he said. “But how did you know?” The lady said, “It just happens.” Sadly she said, “Sometimes it just happens and you are left with a vagabond calf. Sometimes another mother can be found, but sometimes the calf just dies.” Then he said, “That calf was fortunate because others stepped in when the mother wasn’t there. “
The fear expressed by the people in this smaller community is complex. The fear and concern help us to understand that unless we hear a collective call for our children they may be no different than the abandoned calf. Whether in the city or in rural community the answer will be found as we work together. It is not us against them. It is us for your child—for all of our children—to help create the necessary supportive nurturing environment.