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A cry from the heart

A cry from the heart

A cry from the heart

25 July 2022

If there is someone in your life with a tough exterior but struggling underneath, today may be the time to reach out.

By Dean Simpson

Anton* was a tough nut. To be honest, I was quite scared of him. His outward appearance was threatening. He had an earring, a tattoo and was scruffy.

As a youth worker for the Salvos, one of my weekly roles was to teach Scripture, or Religious Education as it’s now called, at a local high school. The first two terms with my Year 9 boys had been a disaster as I struggled to connect with them.

Anton was the main problem. Being a class ringleader, he exuded a quiet confidence. He would often stare me down, refuse to cooperate and displayed a demeanour akin to a prisoner sentenced to life. Everything he did was drenched in suspicion. Yet, he continued to turn up to the Scripture lesson each week. I wondered why.

I had made some progress with the boys by splitting the 40-minute lesson in half – 20 minutes in class and 20 minutes on the nearby basketball court. But Anton remained the key to everything.

The turning point came near the end of Term 3. Until then, if Anton was restless and didn’t want to cooperate, none of the boys would. If Anton was quiet and listened to my attempts at presenting my lesson, then all the boys would.

One day, we were sitting in a circle in the classroom, discussing a certain topic, when I shared a story based on the Bible verse from 1 Samuel chapter 16 verse 7: “God does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

Hidden stress

Suddenly there was a sob. It was Anton.

He continued to break down and jaws dropped as I put my arm around him and took him aside. I sent the rest of the boys off to the basketball court. Anton then opened up to me with these words: “Mr Simpson, I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t. It’s too hard.”

Through tears, Anton started telling me about his life outside of school. It was heartbreaking. His parents, he said, were drug addicts and rarely at home. He was the eldest of four children, and each morning he awoke at six o’clock to start getting his younger brothers and sister ready for school, making their lunches, getting their uniforms ready and walking them to the nearby primary school. Every afternoon when the bell rang, he would rush out the gate to meet his siblings again, walk them home, get dinner for them, and help them with any homework before settling them for bed.

In essence, he was the parent. At 15. And coming to school was his ‘escape’.

The rest of Anton’s story came gushing out during the lunch break as the school counsellor joined us. Anton admitted that his outward appearance, rough demeanour and sullen attitude were all a front. He told us that he was really “a nice kid with a good heart” and just “wanted to be understood”.

“When you read out that Bible verse, Mr Simpson, I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. Do you really think God looks at my heart and can help me?”

I told him yes. I told him simply that God loved him and cared for him and his situation.

Acceptance

The counsellor and I were able to get Anton some help through Family and Community Services and various Salvo programs. Over the next couple of months, Anton seemed happier. He said the people helping his family were nice. And he said his parents were getting help too.

By the start of the following year, Anton and his family had moved away, and I lost contact with him. In fact, I never saw him again, and I’ve often wondered what happened to him and his family.

Yet, I’m reassured that God used me to play a role in his young life in a dysfunctional environment. And I hope that role was a turning point – the moment he heard that there was someone who looked past his outward appearance and into his heart.

God definitely did something in Anton’s heart that day in the classroom, something that I trust has stood him in good stead throughout his life.

Is there an Anton in your life? Someone with a tough exterior who is struggling underneath and desperately needs to hear that God loves them and knows their heart. Reach out today.

*Name changed

 

 

 

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