Several years ago I was driving through Chicago. In one moment I am in awe at all the buildings and the melting pot of people moving so fast. In the next moment I am looking at all the sad faces and graffiti painted buildings. I prayed and asked God what I can do to bring hope here. Immediately I saw a picture of me handing out basketballs to young kids. God started stirring in my heart to bring His hope to the hearts of young people surrounded by drugs and gun violence in the form of a basketball. A basketball can save a life. It can give a kid an opportunity to get out of an abusive home for a couple hours. It can give a teenager an excuse not to go with a gang. It can also open a heart that may have never heard that their lives matter and Jesus loves them. Kids don’t have a choice where they live. They can’t pick up and move in a moment. They need hope. They need Jesus. We need to go to them.
Last year God gave me a goal of bringing 200 basketballs to children living in poverty in Chicago. I was certainly short on faith when He gave me that number, but He is never short on resources. By the time I was ready to load the van and head out we had over 450 basketballs. In my mind I believed that it would make a difference in the hearts of kids. My heart wasn’t ready for the explosion of joy that I saw and felt over and over from them. Most of the adults had the identical reaction and expression. They would wipe their face and ask over and over “Why else are you here?” How far away do you live again? People say darkness is contagious. Well so is Light.
One man named Donald stood and watched us. He would ask a question and then watch. He would ask a couple more and then just stand there and watch. He told us to wait a minute while he ran into his apartment. He came back in tears with two dollars in his hand. He said, “I grew up in church. But This!” He reached out and handed the two dollars to us and said, “I have to help.”
One former drug dealer and gang member named James “just happened” to walk by us in an unfamiliar neighborhood to him. He quit the gang weeks earlier and was trying to straighten his life out and get a real job. Money ran out and no one would hire him. His girlfriend who also was the mother of his child was at her breaking point. She was ready to leave him. So he decided to take a bus to an unfamiliar neighborhood and sign up for college. When the woman at the admissions told him that he missed the sign up date and would have to wait another three months before he could register for classes he reached his breaking point. He stormed out of the college and started walking. As he was walking he saw some guys with a bag of basketballs. He said he normally wouldn’t have come over to talk to us when we waved him over but something on the inside made him. He cried as he watched us give basketballs, food and bibles away in Jesus name. He couldn’t believe why we would do this. He would ask a question or two and then just stand there and watch us talk to more people. We asked him if we could give him a basketball and a bible. He started weeping. We were able to give him a bible that he could understand and we prayed for him. Throughout the rest of the afternoon he rode with us in tears as we gave away basketballs and bibles to kids. James couldn’t believe God brought him there at the end his rope to meet us.
This year God gave me the number of 1,000 basketballs. We are also fortunate to have a major sporting good manufacturer agree to sell us basketballs for their cost. So we are able to make the most out of every dollar raised.
I plan to take over half of the basketballs to Chicago. The other half will be given out in high need areas in and around Waterloo and Cedar Falls as well as other areas in Iowa. And yes all of these people who have been shooting, stabbing, and intimidating people on the streets of Waterloo will have an encounter with a loving father soon. You can count on that.
As for our Chicago trip we will spend two days in South Chicago and two days in North Chicago/Waukegan areas. The majority of the basketballs will be given out one heart at a time. We will also come alongside ministries that God has already activated in these areas. Last year we were able to support three ministries who are already doing a wonderful job loving kids in Jesus name.