I wrote my Doris Betts Literary Award winning story Lucky some eighteen years ago. I had just stepped down then as coordinator of an inner city program in Charlotte, N.C. for Southeast Asian teenagers. How I had even found myself in that position resulted from “one-thing-led to-another” decisions that kept me at it for over six years. I was a writer after all, with a New York agent, but so far, she hadn’t found me a publisher and I was then mostly revising manuscripts.
My husband, a United Methodist pastor, decided in the late 1980’s to take a special appointment, which meant stepping away from the parish. During most of this tenure, we never settled in with a church, visiting various Charlotte congregations until the Sunday we attended a small church north of uptown Charlotte in what had formerly been a mill village. Which at the time was NOT a very desirable location. Yet what we found inside that church was a worship service unlike any we had experienced since we’d lived in New York City: interracial (white, black, Asian), young and old, and though not a large congregation, one that had reached out to those recently moving into its deteriorating neighborhood, particularly Cambodian refugees.
We had found our church.
As we settled in, I was asked to teach a children’s Sunday School Class. I had no interest in teaching ANY class at the time. Never have had. But I made the mistake of declining on the basis that teaching children wasn’t my thing. So of course soon afterwards, I was asked to teach a class of teenagers, kids who lived nearby and hung out at the church’s basketball goal and the wide field beside it, mostly 7thgraders with a few 6thand 8thgraders. And all boys.
That first year, my husband joined me in the class, where we immediately found the first challenge was to get their attention. Any attention! What made this nearly impossible was that they always came with their basketballs, which they would bounce under the classroom table. One memorable day they brought hazelnuts to the class, breaking them open by slamming them the table with the basketballs.
Somehow we made it through that first year, with most of the kids staying with us, mainly because we worked it out that after class, they were free to hang out at the basketball goal during the church service. And when my husband was sent to pastor a church south of Charlotte in Pineville (a long way from North Charlotte), I chose to spend my Sundays with these kids, a decision I have never regretted, although the challenges were far from over.