It seemed simple enough at first for Darryl Evans -- he was to greet a group of children arriving for the summer start of a church-run tutoring program and escort them to class.
But one little girl had something else in mind: "I'm not going."
Acting almost instinctively, he hunched over, put her on his back and dashed off, shouting, "You're going now!" And then, of course, he had to carry everybody else, laughing and screaming in delight all the way.
Evans, 20, of Dayton, Ohio, laughs about it now, but he marks that as the moment he passed muster at Community Children's Ministries, a project of the National City Christian Church at 14th Street and Thomas Circle NW.
Today he closes out 10 weeks as a summer intern in STEEM (Short-Term Employment Experience in Ministry), a special program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for minority youths -- mainly college students -- considering religious careers. The main goal of the program is to help interns decide, through on-the-job training, whether ministry is the right choice for them.
At the program's conclusion, Evans says, "there's more to it than just doing good" -- you have to care and be able to show it.
He will return this fall to Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Tex., where he's a junior math major. "At school, it's totally different," he says. There, "you deal with opinions and what people might say and might do," but here with the children in their inner city neighborhood, you're often "faced with a problem you have to solve then and there." And, he adds, on your own.
The answers do not always come as easily as the solution to the budding mutiny that first day. On another occasion, "I had someone tell me he hit a girl as hard as he could," Evans recalls. "I said, 'Why did you do that?' " but the boy didn't know. Evans found it hard to talk to him, but tried to show concern and affection nonetheless.
The boy and more than 50 other local children were part of a six-week Summer Enrichment Program, a free tutorial minischool for grades two to five, with a principal, five teachers, and classes in basic reading and math skills. The program, held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., also featured instruction in music, art and religion and included swimming and chapel visits.
For Evans, who spent part of each day assisting teachers and occasionally substituting for one, the program went beyond the regular hours scheduled. For one thing, he coordinated a series of overnight camping trips.
Evans also discovered, early on, that roughly 15 of the children lived in the neighborhood around 12th and T streets NW, where he was staying at the Christian Action Center, a project of another Disciples of Christ church, Twelfth Street Christian. Evans says the kids would arrive at his door shortly after 8 each morning for the half-hour walk to the church, yelling "Come on!", and return with him each afternoon.
Working "just as much if not more" on the streets as in class, Evans whiled away much of the sultry summer romping with his charges, doing magic tricks, sometimes just being there while they played.
In general, he saw his role as a "father figure or a brother figure, anything they wanted" him to be, he says. "Some were saying I was their grandfather!"
He met other neighborhood children through Antonio (T.J.) Bottoms, another intern with STEEM and also from Jarvis College. Bottoms, who had his own group of kids, was with Twelfth Street Christian Church this summer.
Besides Evans and Bottoms, STEEM had five other interns in similar programs across the country this year. Costs for each, including travel, housing, insurance and other expenses, along with a weekly salary of $125, totaled around $2,500 and were split by STEEM and the host churches.
The Rev. Earl M. Caudill, Jr., associate minister at National City Christian, says this is the third year his church has used interns from the program with mutually beneficial results -- helping the children and providing a "tremendous laboratory" for future church leaders.
The internship over, what does Evans see ahead? He may become a minister, or be a math teacher active within the faith. In either case, there's some searching yet to be done:
"Really, love is the answer," he says. "How do you express love, and how do you know you have it? . . . I have to know that for myself."