First Sunday in Lent
The Temptation of Christ in the desert is a well-known lesson in the Christian faith. Although the story took place more than 2,000 years ago, all of us, and especially our youth, face Satan's temptations daily.
The Wesley House Community Center in Knoxville, Tenn., works with elementary school students daily in the inner city. On average, 89% of these students live in a single parent family, have two to three siblings in the household, and are living below the poverty level of the United States. These 1st through 5th grade students are tempted each and every day by Satan, as are others in our cities. The form these temptations take today may be shocking to many.
The temptations our inner-city children receive today is not to "cast yourself off a high place" or to "turn stones into bread." Today's urban youth face temptations that take the form of power and money. Our children are tempted to steal and sell drugs. Our children are being tempted to carry and use weapons against one another. Our children are being tempted to trade sex for money and "power." Yes, even our young elementary age children. A large number of these young children have no family support, no supervision and no role models to turn to for help and guidance.
In Matthew 4:1-11, Satan showed himself to Jesus in the wilderness. But the children that attend our ministry daily have a very limited knowledge, if any, of the Bible. They think of Satan only as a devil character in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. They never realize Satan's presence when they are tempted by their peers, their own siblings or sometimes by their own parent or guardian. So where do they turn for answers and guidance if their family and friends are part of the problem?
The Wesley House began an after-school tutoring and mentoring program 11 years ago. As a Methodist mission, we incorporate Christianity into our daily lessons. We have a devotion lesson each day and a prayer before meal or snack time. We have a weekly Bible study throughout the year and vacation Bible school during the summer months.
And just as Christ commanded to each of us, we give a lot of "TLC." A pat on the back, a hug, or an encouraging "Way to go!" or high-five carries a huge impact. We consult with their teachers and principals to assist in the academic areas that will benefit each individual student the most. And we talk about choices. We work to teach each child that they are a gift from God and they are special. We teach them that they can say no to bad things and still be accepted in a social circle. We work to teach them that they do not receive good things without putting forth effort.
Does it work? Each year, between 70-80% of our participants make the honor rolls in their schools. Not only their grades improve but their attitude and behavior as well. One principal commented that she can tell which children in her school attend the Wesley House simply by their behavior and attitude.
Yes, Satan continues to work every day throughout this world, but thanks to the United Methodist Women and the missions they support, we are there to help overcome those temptations and battles.
Richard Gibson is the executive director of United Methodist Women-supported Wesley House Community Center in Knoxville, Tenn.