I attend a Bible study on Thursday nights that is very unique. It is held in a restaurant (Smokey John's Bar-b-que). The man who owns the place (affectionately known as "Smokey") decided quite some years ago to open up his restaurant for a "Bible study" with ex-offenders. He prepares a large buffet that serves the entire 50+ people that are there every Thursday and there is a very non-coercive passing of the hat that allows people to donate money for the meal if they can or want to.
There are a variety of people who attend. The majority are ex-offenders...people who have come out of jail or prison and are trying to get their life back together. Many of them have been caught up in drugs and are working to stay "clean" (free of drugs). Not all are at that point. Each Thursday there are at least a few who are intoxicated or high, but they are welcomed in just like everyone else. In addition, there are others who have been clean for quite some time and are there to support others as well as continue receiving support. Then there are others, like myself who have never been incarcerated or on drugs, but just come to be a "part of."
Though the speakers are usually addressing issues that relate to drugs, crime, doing time, or other similar issues, the messages are always about real life. I have found that I can always apply the message to my life as well, which is why I keep going back.
Cherrece is a teenager who comes every Thursday. Her dad, a wonderful man named James Reed who works with R.O.D. Ministries, coordinates the group. As I was listening to the speaker last night one of the regular men walked in late (I'll call him Israel). I noticed Cherrece get his attention so she could say hi. I see her do this every Thursday when he walks in. From what I can tell, there is a bond between them despite his more than questionable past and her youth. She looks up to him like a big brother; he treats her like a little sister.
Cherrece realizes what some adults don't. It doesn't matter what he has done in his past. She values Israel for who he is at this moment. Israel may or may not continue down a straight and narrow path. It doesn't matter. She knows who he is now and loves him unconditionally for who he is right now.
I love that James and Brenda (her parents) have set such a wonderful example of being around all types of people and loving each and every one of them for who they are (myself included). I can't help but think our world would be a better place if more of us looked at people like James, Brenda, and Cherrece do.