This article was made possible by Science for Youth Ministry in association with Luther Seminary and the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more at www.scienceym.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scienceforYM.
In July 2006 I found myself in Niagara Falls, NY, with my middle schoolers for a mission trip. Prior to our trip I was told that the New York side of Niagara Falls was poverty stricken. I was given the statistics that between 70–80% of all buildings in this area were abandoned. Quite honestly, I assumed this statistic was an exaggeration—it wasn’t. I’ve been in a lot of big cities. I’ve come to expect the run-down neighborhoods, the crime-infested sections of the city, etc. What made Niagara Falls so different was that the entire city was run down. There were no nice areas. No thriving areas. Just deserted building after deserted building.
After working in a soup kitchen, my youth group and I went for a prayer walk. The concept of a prayer walk is simple. As you walk, you pray about the things that catch your attention. This was something new for my teenagers, as the majority of them had never even prayed out loud before. Mysteriously, their prayers seemed to reflect their current needs. So with a soaring heat index, the teenagers began to pray, “Please let people here have air conditioning so they’re not so hot.” And as our feet grew tired: “Lord, please give people cars so they don’t have to walk everywhere.”
Ten minutes into our walk, we met Lord B. At least, that’s how he introduced himself. Lord B.
“I’m sorry, what was your name?” I asked.
I couldn’t remember ever praying about the environment. Was that something I was supposed to do? Surely these were matters that belonged within the walls of government, or perhaps just left alone to the heavens.
“Uh, could you spell that?”
“L-O-R-D space B period,” he said.
“Oh.” I continued, “What does the B stand for?”
“Nothing. It’s Lord B. Just Lord B. L-O-R-D space B period. Lord B.”
Lord B., a skinny black kid who lived in the neighborhood, claimed to be eleven, though I had a difficult time believing he was older than nine.
“Do you want to walk with us?” I asked him.
“Lord B. doesn’t pass up a chance to hang out with chicks.” He declared with confidence. I took it as a yes.
Only five feet into our walk Lord B. posed a question: “Do you want to see my muscles?”
“Sure,” the girls giggled. He pulled up his shirt and the laughter stopped. Though he was flexing his abs with abundant force, our eyes were drawn just above his belly button where a thick tube measuring about four inches was protruding from his skin.
“What is that?” one girl asked. He made a face as if she had just asked him what that fuzzy black stuff was on top of his head. “It’s my feeding tube. I used to be sick, but not anymore.”
“Why do you still have it?” she continued.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. They just haven’t taken it out yet.”
And that was that.
An Inconvenient Prayer
The praying and walking continued. And after listening to the students pray for the government and that people would find jobs, Lord B. announced that he wanted to pray. And so he did.
With his eyes wide open he looked to the sky and shouted—I mean shouted—“Dear Lord! Please get rid of all these cars. Get these cars off the street so we don’t ruin the atmosphere. Get rid of cars so we can get rid of the pollution and save our ozone layer…” Lord B. went on and explained to God how pollution worked in a way that would have made Al Gore proud.
After he shouted his “Amen!” we were strangely quiet. The students were a little rattled that this scrawny kid from a shack of a house and a useless feeding tube was praying about the environment.
“Lord (B.), Teach Us to Pray”
That summer of 2006 I was convicted. I couldn’t remember ever praying about the environment. Was that something I was supposed to do? Surely these were matters that belonged within the walls of government, or perhaps just left alone to the heavens. There was a reason we called things like earthquakes “acts of God,” right? But something about this boy’s prayer rattled me. I could feel myself getting drawn into this bigger world he was speaking of.
I’m glad all of my prayers don’t get answered. I’m glad that most of my prayers don’t get answered. Because sometimes, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be praying for.
Amanda Drury (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) has been in youth ministry for about fifteen years. She serves as Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Indiana Wesleyan University where she lives with her husband and three children. She is the author of Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Formation, and is currently serving as director of Examen, a summer theological institute for high school students, and The Brain Kitchen, a non-profit organization in Marion, Indiana serving children with after-school mentoring and cooking classes in a trauma-informed environment.