Little Brother from Cabrini Green

One of the richest seasons of my life was the two and a half years attending the Moody Bible Institute. The name makes it sound like an asylum for the Christianly insane, but it’s really just a school that trains people who intend to go into full-time ministry. Not everybody who goes there ends up going into full-time ministry, but I’d say well over half do, and the other half for the most part probably get more deeply involved with their churches after their education, or some para-church organization.
Ten years after having gone, I realize I’ve never really unpacked the gold-mine of experiences I had there. But I think, having put this many years in between then and now, it’s about time. And one of the first people that comes to mind when I reflect on those years is Ty-ty.*
Ty-ty is a nickname for “Tyrece.” Tyrece was a young black child living in Cabrini Green, which were some projects (i.e., run-down apartments for low-income individuals and families) near downtown Chicago, and just a few blocks away from my college. They aren’t there now. Since I’ve graduated, they have been torn down and the people living there – including Ty-ty and his mother I would assume – were relocated to different parts of Chicago.
On one of my first days at Moody, Ty-ty and a bunch of his friends were hanging around the college. It was kind of a strange sight. They were just sitting, hanging around in the quad area. I was a young, hopeful, idealistic transfer from a community college with the desire to do whatever it was God wanted me to do. I wanted to “step out in faith” – really abandon myself to whatever the Spirit led me to. And there were these black kids just hanging out, so I started talking to them. They were all, I think, interested in the big-brother program at Moody. College students would sign up and be paired with a boy or girl from Cabrini Green to hang out with.
I was hanging out with all of them for the first few weeks – an incredibly unruly bunch. I made the freshman mistake of bringing all of them down to the cafeteria once or twice. Just trying to be like Jesus, I guess, until one them decided to stand on the table and start dancing. I didn’t seem very much like Jesus after that. But eventually I got attached with one of them through the program, and that was Ty-ty.
Ty-ty was an 11 or 12 year old. His mom, as far as I could tell from our conversations, was trying to hold down a job, and his father was in prison. I remember walking up the stairs of his apartment complex and the stale smell of urine and concrete. It was all concrete and metal fences. No carpets. No paneling. Just concrete, like a prison.
If I continue to write posts about Moody, I think they will sound more like confessions. It’s me reflecting on all the mistakes I made, all the missed opportunities, all the gifts I took for granted. I don’t know what I was expecting trying to hang out with a fatherless boy from the inner city. I felt lost most of the time. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. We usually went somewhere and got coffee or something. Went to Dave and Busters once. I suppose I should have done some Bible study with him or something. That’s the Christian thing to do, right? But I think I was so busy just trying to keep him contained and not doing some outlandish thing, I didn’t have time for anything else. A few times, I had to run and chase after him. He took my jacket once, and I had to pin him to the ground and force him to give it back. A young black gentleman walked by (because, obviously, this was in broad daylight) and asked Ty-ty if I was beating on him and whether he should do something about it. Thankfully, Ty-ty said he didn’t need help…. as I was trying to make him say “uncle.”
I got into the elevator back at the dorms one evening after hanging out with my “little brother”, leaned my back against the wall behind me, and prayed to God. “I have no I idea what I’m doing.” And a peace came over me as I felt Him whisper, “That’s the point, hot shot. This is exactly where I want you to be.”
At the end of my second year, as kind of a last hang-out for the spring semester, I went bowling with my friends from church, and I brought Ty-ty along. He was pretty well-behaved throughout. But at the very end, when we stepped out of the bowling place, getting ready to leave and take Ty-ty home, he bolted. We had to chase him around the parking lot. Thankfully, my pastor was an ex-marine, very much in shape and very fast. He grabbed him, and, when we got in the car, he literally had to hold Ty-ty down. I think it was then I finally realized why he ran all the time. He was doing the same thing my own kids do to engage me. Maybe I’m not paying attention, maybe I’m only half way there, but when they act out, suddenly I’m all in. I’m focused on them. Ty-ty knew that was my last night for the summer. And I think he wanted to draw it out as long as he could. He didn’t want to go home. In his own way, he wanted to be with me.
I don’t know if I got tired, apathetic, or what, but after all of that, I didn’t hang out with Ty-ty the following semester – my last one at Moody. It was probably one of the worst mistakes of my life. Ty-ty and I were just beginning to understand each other, but I just didn’t want another semester of trying – taking on this difficult relationship that I felt so out-of-my-league to handle. It’s like this episode of a show I’ve been watching recently about a married Anglican priest. There is this character, a crack-addict, who constantly comes to his door episode after episode asking for money with crazy stories trying to fool him. One day, the crack-addict finally cleans up, but he needs a place to stay. So the priest takes him into his home. His wife finds it difficult to deal with him. The priest finds he is torn in different directions and can’t find rest at home after a long day of ministering to other people. A two-day stay turns into a week or more, and they are wondering what they are going to do with him as he is trying to clean up and making their lives difficult. At the end of the show, the addict solves the problem for them and, on his own, reverts back to his old way of life. And the priest has to admit to himself: it’s easier to deal with the addict than the real person.
I don’t know where Ty-ty is today. I hope he is doing well. I hope someone else found him, an older man, more mature than me. I can’t do him any good now, but I hope, I pray, that I would be mature enough now, filled with love enough now, to step into the fray of difficult relationships. The problem, I think, with the young idealist who wanted to take a “step of faith” was that a lot of that was about him feeling godly and passionate, and not so much about actually doing something worthwhile for others regardless of how he felt. I’m still not very good at living the Christian life that way. But I do still hear the Spirit’s whisper, “This is exactly where I want you to be.”
I’m praying for you Ty-ty. I hope you found that father-figure we all need so desperately. And I hope I see you again some day.

*pronounce it like the “thai” in “thai food”

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