Contrary to popular belief it's not gunfire at all hours of the day and night, physical violence, constant lies, all our things that have gone missing, lice, broken promises, mice or a myriad of other things to choose from.
Jesus said (Mathew 10:22) that we would be hated for His namesake; that sending us out would be no easy task.
Great, I know all that, I know what I signed on for. I told the committee during my interview four years ago that I would never work in an office again.
I did that job; where I answered to only the president of the college and had 12 departments under me.
60k a year, nice car, top level corner office, cheap college housing and good health care, boring, boring, and boring.
I'm never going back.
So what is the worst part of this job? What did I miss when I signed up?
She's only ten years old, maybe 11. She's dragging her family behind her. A brother,6 and a sister, 4 - about the age of my three oldest children. They heard about the Madison House at school and came to check it out. After a couple of weeks they decide they like it and stay.
She's a nice girl, really shy but she's tough too, and funny. Being the oldest she is responsible for little brother and sister and she does a good job.
She loves to play pool and every day she asks me to play a game with her. We talk and I learn that she doesn't have a mother, there's a father but he seems in and out of the picture.
"He's gone," she says.
We are playing pool and I look up from my shot, "Who's gone?"
"Where did he go?" I ask.
"I don't know. He said he was going to the store and he never came back."
"Ok...how long has he been gone?"
"He left on Friday." It's Tuesday.
"Well who's taking care of you?"
I ask more questions about gangs or drugs, trying to find out details but she adroitly dodges all my questions from that point on. She's said all she's going to.
A week goes by, we are playing pool again.
"He came back."
"Oh good, when?"
She shrugs, "a couple of days ago."
"Great," I say, "right?"
"I guess so."
"Did he tell you were he went?"
Weeks go by and Christmas approaches; we've been doing all we can as a staff to help her family in particular.
No mother, no father most of the time. We give them extra food after dinner to take home, rides to church and tell them how much we care and are praying for them.
It's a week before Christmas and there's a third day in a row of snowfall. All the kids badly need gloves and I've given out all I have.
"Tony, do you have any gloves?"
"No," I say "I'm all out."
We gave them all away, 100 pairs, maybe more.
"Ok," she says, clearly sad and looking at her red chapped hands.
She starts to walk away and I feel a pang of guilt.
"Wait," I say calling her back, "take my gloves, they might be a little big but you can have them, I can always get more gloves."
She yanks them on, runs off down the hall.
That is the last time I see her, a smile on her face, headed outside with floppy, oversized gloves.
She never shows up for the Madison House party, or the Chistmas Party.
None of the kids she attends school with have any idea where she is or where she went, they just keep telling us, "one day she just didn't come to school."
We've driven her home enough times that I know where she lives so finally 2 weeks into January I drop by the house and knock on the door.
A lady, mid twenties, answers the door. I've never seen her before and she's never seen me. She says she's a cousin but she has no idea where the three kids have gone and clearly and understandably doesn't trust me, a perfect stranger.
"Oregon maybe?" She finally offers in an effort to get me off the porch.
I climb back into my car and head to Madison House filled more with sorrow than frustration. Wherever she is at least she has warm gloves.
It's late February and my 8 year old daughter is holding something dirty, heading toward me.
"Hey dad," she yells as she gets closer, "isn't this your glove?"
"We found it under the last snow pile outside, do you want it?"
"No, just throw it in the garbage."
This daughter is most like me and she immediately senses something is wrong and asks, "Are you proud of me for finding your glove dad?"
"Oh yes," I put my hand on her shoulder realizing my tone and body language have given her the wrong impression. "You did a great job bringing it to me, but I bought another pair so I don't need the old ones anymore."
She skips off happily to the garbage.
I will see her again.
That's what drives me crazy.
I know kids are sold into sex slavery, I know they move from house to house, town to town. I know they are used as look outs and drug runners. I know they are abused in every way imaginable. We call CPS about something and they tell us, "We've already been to that house 3 times in the last year, there's nothing more we can do." This is just one story where kids disappear and we never see them again. It kills me more each time.
People will tell you that whatever I wanted to do, I could always do it:
Played on my state football all star team in high school, worked three jobs and paid my way through college, always made it to management level of every job in less than a year,
Started a band in Seattle, made top seller of the year in my region for Starbucks, Director of operations at a college.
But I'm down here, living across the street from Madison House and I feel completely helpless. I open up the field and building on weekends, I give away my own money and things constantly. I have endless conversations about fundraising and volunteer work.
There's nothing more I can do.
It isn't enough.