I knew the call would come one day. Youth projects don’t last forever. The timing of the call was interesting. Everything had gone wrong for me. After leaving my job running One Eighty I found it difficult to figure out what was next. After a couple of jobs that just weren’t me, I went to house sit for my parents whilst they were on holiday, to finish my MA dissertation and get some space to decide what to do next.
After much thought and prayer…skate culture has taken a real dive…attendance numbers are really low…idea for another project that seems more needed…One Eighty is closing in two months.
I put the phone down after saying all the right things and meaning them. I had left the project, it was no longer my decision what happened to it and I trusted them to look after it and do what needed to be done. I knew they would have thought, prayed and discussed it lots, so I told them that and put the phone down.
Then I sobbed. It was over. It was all over. I was gutted.
The last One Eighty event was to be at Greenbelt 2011. One Eighty had run the skate park there for about five years and it always marked the end of an academic year and the start of another one. I made my decision to resign there. Greenbelt was always about beginnings and endings. So it made sense.
I just had to see it. I had to say goodbye. I arrived on site and walked up the slope to the familiar spot the skate park was always housed in, accompanied by the beautiful sounds of skateboards hitting ramps and wheels hitting concrete. And there it was. Nothing different, just those ten little pieces of wood and metal, that I had spent seven years of my life with.
I felt like I should be having some big profound moment, where thousands of memories flooded through my mind, where I thanked God for all he had done and marched off into the distance with a smile on my face, ready for my exciting future. Instead I had two thoughts.
My back hurts and there is John.
I’d started having problems with my back in the last year of my role with One Eighty. The lower right side of my back would just start hurting, and it became difficult to bend or pick things up off the floor (a major skill in youth work). It was worse after a day of lifting the ramps, but I just kind of ignored it. It got worse. It started causing pins and needles in my right foot. A couple of years later and after MRI scans, physiotherapy and a nice lady called Lauren explaining in big words with a spine model how basically I had trashed my back from years of lifting things that were probably too heavy for me, it was clear One Eighty had taken its toll on me.
Should I have been more careful? Probably. But sometimes there isn’t an option to be more careful. One summer during the school holidays, we had lots of bookings, and only two staff. In those early days our expert staff team, was me and my mate Hannah. Most days we would have an event in the morning and then an event somewhere else in the afternoon. So the schedule of the day would go something like this; drive car to trailer (which weighs one and a half tonnes), hitch trailer to car, drive car to event. Unload, bolt and check ten different pieces of equipment – ramps, boxes, platforms and rails. Unload and set up skateboards, helmets, safety signs and barriers. Do skate event for two hours. Unbolt, set down and load trailer. Drive trailer to next event. Unload, set up, set down, drive home. You get the picture. It was hard work, every day. One day we did three skate events in one day, and I had to pray during the last unload because I had just completely run out of strength. Also Hannah kept making me laugh because she is funny and you can’t lift things when you are laughing. Seriously, try it! There wasn’t anyone else.
I remember one year we had to use a different youth centre to run one of our sessions in as our normal one was being refurbished. I got there about half an hour earlier than my two staff (strong men this time!) to find the hall full of chairs, tables, a table football game and trampoline. If I had waited for the lads we would have not been able to set up in time. So I moved it all. Which was probably a bit stupid but I didn’t have a choice.
So back to Greenbelt. My back is trashed. Because of this project. I don’t feel all nostalgic and proud, I feel a little bit pissed off and I start thinking about whether it was even worth it. What did it even do? The project no longer exists. What was the point? A trashed back for nothing.
So I moved on to my second thought. There is John. That year at Greenbelt John was on the One Eighty volunteer team. I watched him lifting ramps, helping younger kids, making sure things were safe, doing things without being asked, laughing and joking with the other volunteers, and I remembered when he first walked through the door at One Eighty.
He was ten years old, a very nervous and shy boy who was just learning to skateboard. He started coming along every week. He wanted to do our Switch course. He met Jesus in a way that was relevant to his life. He decided to follow Jesus. He became a Junior Leader. The next year he brought his friend Adj to the Switch course. On a weekend away John gave his testimony. I just fell apart as I watched this shy boy turn into a brave and bold preacher, clearly and concisely telling a room full of his peers about how God had made such a difference in his life. Adj decided to follow Jesus. I think I did it was so good.
I remember after it had happened we split into small groups and John and his friend Ben prayed for Adj. It took everything in me not to burst into tears because I think it was one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard. It was real. It was from his heart and he wasn’t afraid to pray it loud in front of all his mates. But I shouldn’t cry because they might get freaked out and it’s not very cool. I looked across at my colleague Dave who had tears streaming down his face and that was it, I couldn’t keep it in and Dave and I just stood there crying like babies, whilst John and Ben prayed for their friend. It was one of those moments you know you will never forget. A moment that is so special, so holy, so absolutely nothing to do with you, that all you can do is fall to your knees in awe of this crazy God who let’s you see and be a part of stuff like that. Wow.
That is John. Now sixteen years old. Shy boy turned bold preacher man. A disciple of Jesus, making more disciples of Jesus.
I sat there and wondered if it was all worth it. There aren’t many stories like John’s. Lots of the young people who ‘decided to follow Jesus’ are long gone.
Tens of thousands of pounds, seven years of my life, a wrecked back. All for a project that doesn’t even exist anymore.
Now I know you can insert all the cliches, about the seeds that we’ve sown, the other skate projects we’ve inspired, the leaders we’ve trained up…but right there in that moment all of that wasn’t important. What was important was the question going round and round inside my head.
Was it worth it?
All the hard work, all the tears, all the mistakes, all the everything…was it worth it?
Was it all worth it just for John?