Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On the loss of hope in young people

A year ago we met an inspirational couple.   Ashish and Namita Shourie are helping run a school in a town in Madhya Pradesh which Ashish's parents founded a good three decades ago - and where his amazing parents continue to serve.

Listening to Ashish and Namita tell about what they are doing there was a thrill - and a challenge. How wonderful to see their dedication to what their parents have poured themselves into.  We know that as they impact the lives of the young people who attend their school, they are shaping destinies of families and whole communities.

But then, somewhere along in our conversation, a shadow crept in.

Ashish told us that over and over again, he has seen some young people losing hope.

When they are kids, they are full of beans.  The world is their oyster.  You tell them that they can be a doctor or a prime minister or an astronaut... and they believe you.

But when they arrive at the early part of their adolescence, many dreams die.

Ashish told me that it hurts to see some of those who used to be so alive withdraw into a shell.

"They look around them and see what their family situation really is like" is what I remember Ashish saying.  "We try to reach out to them, but they become listless and withdrawn.  They have seen reality, and are accepting what they feel is their fate, their lot in life."

Some of them have homes where when they realise the harshness of the business of getting by in life, they stop hoping and dreaming.   Others face inner demons of abuse and neglect.  For girls, the 'reality' that they are about to be married off hits hard - with many parents unwilling to 'invest' more, knowing that they will be leaving the home.

"We try to engage them again" is what I recall Ashish telling me "but, some of them retreat into another place."

As a family we love reading together.  One of the most entertaining reads of this past year has been "The Thief Lord" by the German author Cornelia Funke (we read it in English).   Currently we are reading Dickens' "Great Expectations."

"The Thief Lord" is well worth the read - for young and old - and strikes a number of deep chords, especially on the questions of friendship and being grown up.  Besides being steeped in the wonder of Venice and having more twists and turns than the road up to Mussoorie - the book reaches out to you because its characters discover what friendship, and the loss of friendship mean.  It feeds into our own dreams of belonging - and being part of each other.

What does loyalty mean?  How do we grow together and cherish each other?  The children in the book travel through fantastic adventures at break-neck speed (as well as with a great deal of quirkiness) through the fabled city of Venice.  They are on the cusp of adulthood - and the questions are real.

How do any of us transition from the joy of childhood into the mixed terrain of adolescence and what we call being an 'adult?'

At 44 I am amazed to be in a home with a 13 year old lassie and an almost 11 year old lad.   Enoch just finished reading 'Oh Jerusalem' got his first picture of the brutal struggle between the Jews and Arabs.  Asha is working through being one of the only girls in her class who does not 'hang out' extensively on Facebook.  Asha's closest friend - who is her age - recently decided that she wanted to be baptised.  We have just sent out feelers about whether Asha and her friend could volunteer later this summer with two pediatricians ... in Orissa!   Amazingly our little ones are taking big steps forward.

One of the advantages of books is that we can see the stories of others and live out our own through those of the characters.  I wonder how many of the children that Ashish and Namita are working with have the blessings of parents who read with them.  In our experience here in Thane, we see family after broken family where the father lives his dead-beat life out and the mother more often than not tries somehow to get the kids moving forward, but often just gives up because of the challenges of getting through each day.  How slim hope is for so many.

The challenge is to birth hope.  Which is what Ashish and Namita are so fearlessly doing.  That the tendrils of sadness creep in is due to the vast sea of sorrow that swirls invisibly around us.  Most of us erect the comfort zone of ignoring the needy and so move through life blithely unaffected - it's our main coping mechanism: ignore-ance.  Ignoring the needs of others.

Working to bring hope to young lives means getting messy inside.  Means being vulnerable. Means allowing our hearts to be broken too - especially when youngsters make the same poor choices their parents made a generation ago.  But the choice ends up between doing something - and seeing some fall through the cracks - or doing nothing - and papering over our consciences - no make that walling-in our consciences while this generation falls away.

The strength to carry on cannot come from ourselves.  We are too weak, too porous, too quick to get angry and throw in the towel.  It has to come from the Lord.   Who gives strength to the weary, who makes us rise on wings as eagles...

Lord bless Ashish and Namita.  Let them see many of their young people regain hope again.  Build up new webs of relationships that will see this and coming generations break out of the crippling mistakes that their parents have already made.  Lord send others to do the same work that Ashish and Namita are doing.  Bring about a new generation of people who really love others and are willing to invest themselves and walk with young people.  Lord start answering this prayer in me...

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