I stared out my window separating me from the perfectly manicured landscapes 30,000 feet below. I was on my second round-trip flight in 15 days. Unadulterated exhaustion was living comfortably in my half-open eyes. But as I reminisced on my journey, back and forth twice between Florida and the Midwest, I was overcome with how full my heart felt.
Unequivocally, I have the best job ever. In partnership with my husband, Stanley, pastor of Victory Church, Melbourne, Florida, we founded Victory Kid Sports, which provides two sports organizations for kids, a nonprofit and a for-profit.
Daily we get to see pure delight through children’s eyes. A lot of what I do is operations, behind the scenes, organizational systems mumbo jumbo so that everything runs smoothly. Often, I get to be on the front lines with our coaches, connecting with families and helping them through life’s changing phases.
Our Victory Kid Sports Foundation serves as a charity arm and is funded by federal grants, private donors and fundraising. The mission of the foundation is to remain constant and resolute in helping children overcome barriers and obstacles through the vehicle of sports and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).
“They ain’t coming”
Although some of our for-profit programs cater to middle- to upper-middle class families, not all Victory Kids live in a four-bedroom house with a white picket fence, a dog and two parents.
Victory Kids persevere through their daily struggles. They overcome though the stats say they are sociologically prone to poverty. And they must be relentless about staying focused and on track when they go home and are hungry each weekend.
Our coaches hold their hand through the entire process. Our coaches are there...unconditionally.
I vividly remember providing a Victory Olympics experience at a very low-income elementary school. There were about 100 kids, activities were finished and parents began to arrive to pick up their little ones.
As the group got smaller, it became evident that history was about to repeat itself for the third consecutive week. It was clear, with only one child left, that “Jason’s” caregiver had forgotten to pick him up again.
After trying to call and text repeatedly, I sent our coaches home and sat next to Jason. I looked at him. He was small, just 6 or 7 years old, and had transparent eyes that told a story saturated in pain, overcompensation, false confidence and anger.
I opened my mouth to begin to speak and he quickly cut me off, detached but direct.
“They ain’t coming, so we should probably come up with a different plan,” he said.
As Christians, we want to swoop in and save everyone. I’ve learned you say so much by not saying anything. By just listening.
Dr. Melissa Patton
As I sat with him, nervous about saying the wrong thing, I combed through every “tough story” I could think of in order to share something to make the situation better.
It was almost as if Jason could sense my insecurity in not being able to find the right thing to say. He told me this was not a big deal, that it could be worse. He explained that ever since his dad had gotten locked up for drug possession, his mom was forgetting more and more. He concluded that the forgetting and sleeping spells must have something to do with the small white pills she regularly shoved into her mouth.
He said that it got so bad that often he would have to walk home from school and prepare his own meals. He confidently stated that everything would go back to normal when his dad returned from prison in six months.
Slow to speak, quick to listen
I struggle daily with my posture as a mother, pastor’s wife and Christian business owner, wearing so many hats but making sure I do not cross any lines. Doing so would eliminate my unique opportunity to meet families where they are.
There are very clear lines of what you can and cannot say or do when it comes to the separation of your faith and your capacity to provide services as a school vendor. And much of the time, as Christians, we want to swoop in and save everyone in the way we know how.
But what I’ve learned through many athletic leagues, after-school programs and camp experiences is that you say so much by not saying anything at all. By just listening. Sometimes just being there when a child makes the decision to trust you is enough.
I am learning to shut down Melissa and just allow the Holy Spirit to direct my next movement, my next word, my next course of action. It’s a new challenge for me, but it’s not a new concept in the Bible.
In many places in Scripture, we see God “being there” for someone in their time of need by decreasing and humbling himself, becoming flesh so that we can see the hope, faith and peace that comes from knowing the Lord personally.
If I am being 100% transparent, I must admit I am a work in progress. I want to save all the Jasons, and I want to remove all the adversity they are going through.
I am learning that it’s not about me, it’s about them. And my biggest weapon in fighting the enemy is not to enable but to empower by modeling God’s favor in my life.
The seed that sprouted
Essentially, I am in the horticultural business. I train our coaches how to plant seeds in the lives of every child they work with. We pray that those seeds eventually grow roots and sprout.
Often, I feel a burden to know the outcome of the seeds sown in the lives of the thousands of children that come through our Victory Kid program. I don’t always get to hear or see the “success” of our program on their lives internally. But I did with Jason.
About nine months after I sat with him — well after the program was over — I stood in the foyer of Victory Church greeting families as I usually do on Sunday mornings. His face was familiar, but I could not remember where I had seen him. Jason ran up to me and gave me a big hug. His mom and dad stood beside him. Their eyes locked with mine, and again I was speechless, searching for words.
Just as before, I said nothing as they simultaneously mouthed “thank you” before finding their seats in our sanctuary.
There are so many encouraging examples of how Jesus calms our spirit, allowing us to listen to his soft, sweet voice and just be there in the moment. I am always in awe of how those very normal moments are used as a vessel to help people see Christ.
Dr. Melissa Patton, Co-founder, Victory Kid Sports
Dr. Melissa Patton and her husband Stanley Patton, pastor of Victory Church, Melbourne, Florida, are founders of Victory Kid Sports. Learn more: victorykidsports.org