In The City, For the City: An Interview with Grant Rose
Grant Rose, originally from Shreveport, graduated from the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 2014 with a degree in Religious Studies. Grant currently works at Cleveland County Regional Juvenile Detention Center. He lives at Presidential Gardens, a low-income apartment complex in Norman that Redeemer has partnered with in various events. Recently, a few members of our Story Team sat down with Grant to hear his story. Take a few minutes to read about where Grant sees God at work through various aspects of life, including at-risk youth, soccer, the international community, the local & global church, and the city of Norman.
Where are you currently? What kind of presence do you have in Norman?
In our culture, jobs are central in most people’s lives. Our job takes up the majority of our time, so that’s where a large part of our presence is going to be. This job with the Juvenile Detention Center is a job that I got just to have a job. I didn’t really understand how it was going to discipline me to be able to articulate the gospel into a broken area of Norman, but it really has forced me to polish up and be able to articulate the gospel in a different way and to a different group of people than you would typically find in Norman. This is a unique opportunity for me to interact with a different demographic just based on age (not to mention the fact that a lot of them have committed felonies). The kids at the facility range from 12 years old to 18 years old, which is when you age out of the juvenile system. On your birthday you stay in your room until either someone picks you up or you go to prison. It’s not exactly a happy birthday. You hear stories about people getting saved in prison or people looking for hope. Often these situations are based on wanting to get out, especially for juveniles. There is always someone working on your case; it’s not just about a set amount of time you are serving. There is always the hope of getting out. Because of that hope, as a Christian, you step into this place and you think the gospel truths about liberty and freedom are the ones that are going to appeal to these kids, but they aren’t. The best and most relatable missional approach that I’ve found is to dig into the character of God and who He is. At the center, the kids can have one Bible and one book in their room. As they are going to bed, I’ll ask what they are reading, then ask what is it really telling them about God. It reveals to me how little I actually know about the character of God, and because of that, I’ve spent a lot more time personally investigating the character of God since I’ve been there. It’s been a fun experience for me. One temptation is to glorify my job a little too much and say that I am changing kids’ lives, while the fact of the matter is most of what I do is supervise kids and make sure they don’t run away. However, I do have opportunities. Understanding the character of God through Scripture has pushed me from just doing my job to actually trying to create a different culture in these kids’ lives and their corner of society, which is a big-time advantage to this job.
What’s been the most challenging thing being at the juvenile detention center?
First, I have to deal with my own pride when I think that I control these kids and can tell them everything they need to do. In reality, I am actually allowed to do that, but I don’t want to. I want to empower them to take responsibility for their own actions and learn from their mistakes. At the same time, you have to abide by a strict adherence to the rules, and I personally don’t like rules! Two, it’s tough when you are building some rapport with a kid and you wake up one morning and they are swinging at another kid and you have to take them to the ground. It’s hard when you have seen some maturity and progress, and then it seems to disappear in an instant. You question where everything went. You can feel that whatever you are doing is pointless. It sometimes feels like you don’t accomplish anything for the sake of the kids.
Does that feeling linger or does it ultimately push you into trusting God more in His sovereignty?
There have been times that it can linger, and it makes it frustrating to go to work, but that frustration is going to show up in any job. Sometimes you realize that you’re working with a totally different culture so you fight through it and depend on the Lord’s grace and understand that He’s going to do whatever he wants with that useless day, and you show up the next day and that kid is asking questions about God.
How does this culture relate to life at Presidential Gardens?
There’s a kid in my building who has been institutionalized. You see criminal activity going on, drugs going in and out, kids wandering around at all hours of the night -- that kind of stuff goes on there. Next door is a single mom with a young boy. I can see the influence that mom has in keeping that kid’s head on straight, understanding that he can so easily be just a statistic as an African-American boy. I’ve built some relationships with the people in my building. I have breakfast sometimes with the junior high boys and spend time with them. In that area, it’s tough to transition from having a lot of responsibility over kids at work to encouraging and trying to teach these kids who are doing “fine” in relation. It’s been a weird transition, but I am able to be in the lives of young guys, which is an area that God has seemingly thrown me into. Right now I’m focused on a small group of people, and though I pray for the whole apartment complex to come to know Jesus, I’m doing what I am able to do where I’m at. I try to be out, interact with people, be intentional, and just bring my dog out and let people pet him so I can get to know them. Presidential Gardens is a tough area right now and I’m praying and hoping for good for this group of unreached people.
How has your membership at Redeemer impacted your life, specifically in these areas?
The beauty of the way God designed the church is that we are really social. We interact with each other, which is a big goal within the church in order to encourage and edify each other and hold each other accountable. Just simply being involved in the global church really empowers you to have interactions beyond the church. Whatever comes up in the interactions that I have in regroup or on a Sunday morning flows naturally into the way I interact with people in other areas. For the most part, being at Redeemer has helped me to fall in love with the city. Redeemer has a big desire to see Jesus enter into Norman in such a way to see the city changed or redeemed. I’m beginning to be more aligned with Christ’s heart for Norman. That would not happen outside of being involved at the church, Redeemer specifically.
What has it been like to love the city after moving here from Shreveport?
As you see in Jeremiah 29, it’s a righteous thing to ask God to develop in you an affection for the city and to be there and be present. To do this, you have to be able to dig into what defines the city. Obviously, the big thing in Norman is the university, so what are the cool things about a college town? You have Greek life. Sports. Academia and intellectual creativity. And so on. For me, I saw that Norman has people from all over the world. This is an opportunity to be able to develop a global lens. You see that God is so big that he is passionate about seeing people from Bhutan (wherever the heck that is) know Him. For me, falling in love with these people from all over the world is the catalyst to falling in love with the city. I play soccer with a group of guys and hang out every week. I am friends with a guy from Kyrgyzstan, and we hang out with a guy from Ethiopia; then we play with guys from Vietnam and Bosnia and Chile. That’s not an opportunity you get in a place like Shreveport. You have to find a distinguishing thing about each city, and the international community is what makes Norman different. Within that international community, soccer is big avenue for me to be able to meet new people because it is such a global sport.
What has soccer meant to you?
Soccer is a game that unites people all across the world. This makes it an even more beautiful game and gives you a common ground with people. If I hadn’t fallen in love with the game first, I don’t know that I would have fallen in love with the international people in Norman. I owe a lot of debt to the game, and God has created it for a uniting purpose. The same kind of thing happens with Redeemer enjoying a game of softball and praying with people after the game and having a simple joy that comes from running around with a ball on a field. It’s clear that this is something that God has ordained for the sake of his glory.
How can Redeemer be involved in these areas?
I think we already have been involved. First of all, Redeemer has paid for lights for the soccer fields. Keep giving money so we can continue doing that. It’s big deal. There’s a presence there that Redeemer is a church that is willing to help us out. The guys know about us. Continue to give. Be about the international culture in Norman. I don’t know that there is a whole lot more I could ask because the church is pretty phenomenal. We have done events at Presidential Gardens. Redeemer stepped out while I was finishing school and helped me with rent so I could try to connect with people in this unreached area. There’s not a whole lot more I can ask for because Redeemer Church has been very faithful in empowering me to carry out God’s mission on my life.