God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Genesis 17:15-27 (NRSV)
“No way!” a youth says emphatically. “That’s not going to happen.”
We were just talking about forgiveness and how we can start over again with a clean slate. We are in a holding room at the Juvenile Detention Center with the guard sitting at the desk five feet away. He looks up when he hears the youth’s outburst.
We lower our voices. He continues, “You don’t even know all that I have done. You think God will have anything to do with me if he knows me. I’ve been there. My girl said she forgave me and then she tells everyone what I did and she still holds it over me when I see her.”
At this point, I know that I am not going to question why he is still going with the girl or what image of God he carries in his head. Since he is a Native, I go with a story.
“Abraham laughs in the face of God,” I begin. God tells him that he would give him a son when Abraham is 100 and Sarah is 90. He promises something impossible and unbelievable.”
“What happened?” the teen asks.
“They had a son, as unbelievable as it is,” I reply. “Most of the stories about God are about unbelievable promises that come true. And one of them is that when you are honest before him, he forgives you and turns you around giving you a new direction. Every time.”
“Let me think about this,” he says. “I would like that but I don’t think it is possible. I’m not sure I believe in God.”
“That’s okay. God is patient. When you pray, ask for forgiveness and tell me what happens,” I reply.
The guard tells us our hour is up and I leave.
This is not a complete story. But Abraham’s story is so basic to these youth. They come from an environment where promises are never kept, where they are never given a second chance. Come to think of it, this is a story for me too. Grace has always been unbelievable.
Kaze Gadway has worked with the emerging leaders of the Episcopal Church within the Native American community of Northern Arizona as a volunteer for eleven years. They are youth of promise from ages twelve to twenty-four. The Spirit Journey Youth is an outreach program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona with forty young people. She is on Facebook and blogs at infaith’s posterous