Three year old Harley sat in his little red car with the yellow roof, pushing himself around the yard. Mom and Dad were arguing. Then dad started hitting. “The next thing I remember is driving with Mom from Florida to live with Abuela and Grandpa.” This was Harley’s earliest memory. Some stories are best told in great detail, but this is not one of those stories. My purpose here is not to shock, but to communicate God’s heart for the fatherless and the orphan.
God clearly states in His word that He is the Father of the fatherless. (Psalm 68:5) I know how I felt when one of my children was hurting. I do not believe Abba God feels less. He commands us to care for the fatherless forty times in scripture.
Following is a listing of major moves in Harley’s young life that was taken from a two hour interview. Think about how his childhood differs from yours.
When He was: 3 – He was living in Florida until his father went to jail.
When He was: 3 – He moved to Long Island to live with his grandparents and mom.
When He was: 5 – His grandfather and mom die.
When He was:6 – The house his grandma was renting burns to the ground. Harley, his grandma and their dog Hercules move in with his aunt and older cousin. He sleeps on the couch in the living room.
When He was: 8 – Grandma buys him a bed that is set up in the living room.
When He was: 9 – His cousin moves out so he gets his own room.
When He was: 11 – He broke into his neighbor’s house and stole their game console and games. He is caught and brought to the police station. He gets sent to Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center where he is put on heavy medication. He is there for 11 months and is often beaten up by other kids until he decides to fight back. Then the staff has trouble controlling him and he receives more medication. He gains lots of weight. He describes these months as the worst days of his life.
When He is: 12 – He is sent to a group home in Merrick.
When He is: 14 – He is sent to another home that is for seriously emotionally disturbed youth. This is where his life changes radically.
A social worker at the group home informed the boys that they can each have their own mentor if they would like one. Harley jumped up insisting that he wanted a mentor. Then he paused and asked; “What’s a mentor?” As the first three men walked in, Harley watched as they sat down. Then he walked over to Peter, sat down right next to him and whispered, “You’re the one!” Peter asked what he meant. “You are my mentor! I want you.” The social worker introduced George Bundt to the boys. “Mr. George is from Long Island Youth Mentoring. He will work with you to determine who you get for your mentor.” Harley wasted no time in letting George know that they did not have to do anything to determine who his mentor would be. He had already found his mentor; and so it was. They talked a few minutes about what they both liked to do. Basketball was the common denominator. The first time out this 14 year old, 240 pound boy played two hours of basketball with Peter and then they went out for pizza. All during basketball Harley was happy and joking, throwing the basketball like a center fielder trying to throw out a base runner at home. But when they sat down for pizza, he was very quiet and thoughtful. Finally Harley broke the unusual silence. “So, are you going to be….kind’a….like my dad?”
Peter’s mind raced. He mentally reviewed what Long Island Youth Mentoring had stressed in the orientation. “You are not a parent substitute, you are a friend.”
‘Yes Harley. I am going to be kind of like a second dad. I hope to never let you down. However, I am only a man so I know I will let you down from time to time, but I will introduce you to your Heavenly Father and He will never let you down.”
Harley smiled and did not comment. Then he made it clear he really did not want to go back to the group home. (End of first weekly visit.)
Peter drove home that afternoon with his mind racing and his heart full. He could not believe how this young man had been so open with him. The connection was amazing. He was certainly matched with the right boy. He prayed that Harley would be able to trust him. He feared letting him down. He was so happy to be used of God, yet at the same time, he was feeling the weight of the pain of a boy in a group home who now had a name; Harley. He walked into his house and up the stairs to find that his young son was sick. His wife was lying next to their son stroking his head. It was a normal sight when sickness happened in his home, but this time it was strangely foreign. His norm was suddenly so beautiful in contrast to the norm of a boy named Harley. The last four hours he had been with a boy who had spent his childhood being shuffled from hospital to group home, picked on by other angry kids, filled with drugs to control him, all the while speaking only to adults who were paid to interact with him. Peter turned and walked out the room and cried. Why? Because he had seen the huge contrast and felt the whisper of the broken heart of God.
Several meetings later, Harley and Peter were playing basketball when a couple of other boys from the house came over. These were boys who in the past had teased Harley for his inability to play. They were very good. Harley knew that his mentor happened to be a very good ball player. So Harley challenged them to a two on two game. It was a close game. Harley and Peter were at game point. Peter faked a shot and drove to the rim drawing both boys to defend. Then he passed the ball out to Harley. Harley froze, looking at Pete as if to question the wisdom of the pass. “Take the shot!” Pete yelled. He did and the game was won. Later, Harley reflected on that moment. “No one has ever trusted me with anything like taking the last shot.”
Harley is now 19. He is a Christian, a regular attendee of his church, and he has been adopted by a family in his church. He is in high school and will graduate later this month. He plans on going to college in the fall. He and Peter still meet on a regular basis. They believe they will be friends for life.