“As I crossed the street one day I was greeted by a young woman I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. She was going through a rough patch, she was pregnant, had been left by her boyfriend, and was waiting to find out if she was HIV-positive,” Tyler said. “But she wanted to know how I was doing. Me. I’m upset if things don’t go well with my weekend plans. But who am I to complain, when this girl, who’s dealing with so much, reaches out to me in kindness?”
Tyler first worked with a homeless population while attending Whitworth University in Spokane. Working with EnCristo, he delivered sack lunches to people living in tenements. He was assigned to what was known among volunteers as the scariest of the converted hotels that they served. He went anyway, and discovered that there was nothing to be afraid of. He said, “These folks were so incredibly hungry for community.”
In 2001, having moved to Seattle several years earlier to marry his wife Nikki, Tyler began working at SYM, one of UPC’s urban ministry partners, housed right here in our own facilities. More than a decade later, he’s still learning from the kids he serves.
“I’m constantly amazed by how close these kids are to the kingdom,” Tyler said. “They’re not timid about asking tough questions.” At the end of their rope, they just want to know, “What’s going to happen next?” They ask the same questions that John the Baptist’s disciples asked of Jesus: “Are you it? Are you the one we’re waiting for, or should we keep looking?” (Luke 7:19).
“The questions they’re willing to ask are uncomfortable for us ‘mature’ Christians who would often avoid approaching the throne directly. It’s too visceral for us, but the kids are unapologetic,” Tyler said. “They’re honest, vulnerable, and accepting all at once. In this work, the Lord shows up to us, and through us.”
Often the way God shows himself is in the midst of painful situations. In the last year, the SYM team arranged a funeral for a beloved young man. They sat with young people as they recounted tragic stories, were hung-up on by their parents, or received horrible news. In addition, of course, to the everyday realities of being homeless. The issues they deal with are bigger than finding housing. Tyler explained, “Some kids we encounter don’t believe they even deserve a home. There’s a lot of healing to be done here.”
Alongside the pain there are moments of great joy. The SYM team was overjoyed to get a dozen of their most vulnerable and disadvantaged youth housed in a beautiful new building just blocks from UPC, complete with onsite mental health providers and caregivers. It was a massive achievement. They were also thrilled to witness the blossoming of so many of their struggling youth into thriving young adults. And the Lord was in those things, too.
I once heard Earl Palmer say, ‘You can spend your life grieving over the entire universe, but that’s not your job. You can’t even redeem yourself, let alone anyone else!’
Tyler and his colleagues have found it’s wise to make peace with grief and joy all bound up together. It doesn’t come naturally—in fact, they’ve found it’s extremely hard to do—yet they are confident the practice is vital. Holding the two side by side not only enables them to keep doing the work, but also makes them more useful to the Lord amidst their work.
“It’s a discipline in shifting gears—you have to let there be a chasm,” Tyler said. “I love my job, and so I allow myself to feel the full spectrum of emotions that come with it.” Jesus exemplified this life as a man who had more joy than anyone (Psalm 45) and was a man familiar with suffering as well (Isaiah 53). Tyler holds this view in mind as he responds to God’s call.
“I once heard Earl Palmer say, ‘You can spend your life grieving over the entire universe, but that’s not your job. You can’t even redeem yourself, let alone anyone else!’” Tyler said. “I go home at the end of the day—that’s an important step. Simple things—even seeing my boys in their pajamas—are fuel in my tank. I spend time with them and I’m recharged and ready for another day of work.”
So what does SYM hope for as they go into a new year of ministry? Simply put, more of the same. “We are, of course, looking forward to learning more about how to boldly and effectively love the youth we serve right where they are. And we’re definitely aiming to get a better understanding of how to continue delivering high-quality care in a tough economy. But beyond these two things, we’re hoping for more of the victory and heartbreak that indicates Jesus is working in our midst,” Tyler said.
“Here’s to a 2012 so exciting and frightening that the only way to face it fully is with the Lord’s strength! Please consider partnering with SYM in Their work to bring healing to forsaken young people. Pray hard for the youth. Throw some socks in your cart on your next Target trip. Remember their inherited suffering. We are truly grateful to be nestled in a church community as deep and supportive as UPC.”
Learn more about SYM and street-involved youth at the Breakfast at 9 event on March 31. Click here for more info.
Goals from Street Youth
2012 Goals From Street Youth
SYM staff recently asked the youth they work with, “What do you hope for in 2012?” Here are some of their responses.
By the end of 2012 I want to be taking college classes or have a real job. Hopefully by the end of 2012, I’ll have my prerequisites out of the way. And have chosen what I want to do for my career. I would also like to be closer to my blood family by spending time with them and going to family functions. In order to follow through with this goal, I will have to forget the past and forgive them.
I would also like to keep my housing and not end up homeless and not end up in jail. In 2011, I ended up homeless and was in and out of jail. In 2012 I don’t want to spend one day in jail.
In 2012 I would like my recovery to get stronger, to have my own apartment, and a really well-paying job. I used to have a well-paying job, and someday I would like to have a full-time career so I can pay off my debt. In 2012 I would also love to get back some support from friends and family.
Some hopes for 2012 are that I can keep my job past the New Year and get a car so my daughter and I can go on a vacation. Specifically, I would love to go on a road trip this summer to see my dad who I haven’t seen in seven years.
I used to dance and I would love to start again this year. Dancing made me feel alive and good about myself.
SYM staff asked their youth three questions as they looked ahead to 2012. Here are some of their responses:
1. What are some hopes you have for the next year?
I want to live in Italy for a number of years and then live in Israel for the rest of my life.
2. What is something had once that you’d love to have back?
A real house
Not being schizophrenic
3. What would be beyond your wildest dreams in 2012?
A stable job that I like
To perform on stage
With the lottery