The Night My Youth Group Almost Got Attacked By A Knife-Wielding 8-Year-Old

21 06 2010

It’s every youth leader’s worst nightmare:

Leader: “Hey kids, how did your scavenger hunt around the neighborhood go?”

Kids: “Wowie, it was great! We almost got attacked by an insane little Asian boy wielding a 10-inch butcher knife, yelling and compulsively pulling his pants up over his bellybutton!”

Yes. As I often say, I’m not creative enough to make this stuff up. It actually happens.

Let me rewind a minute for you. Last Friday, after a grueling week of Vacation Bible School in which I made a fool of myself in front of hundreds of kids and parents (and furthered the personal torture by somehow managing to get interviewed on camera by our video team while wearing my bee-bopper costume and bouncing Styrofoam antenna, which naturally ended up being selected from the hundreds of other interviews the teams did…which meant that my sweaty mug was plastered all over the screens at our 3 sites and thousands of people on Sunday), I had a youth event.

Our youth event was our annual “Bigger and Better Scavenger Hunt”. The premise is simple: kids split into teams. Each team gets a small object–like a straw or little coffee creamer–and races around the neighborhoods near the church, knocking on doors and asking for anything “bigger or better” than what they have. All the donations either go to the church or to charity, so people are more than willing to give us their junk.

We take whatever we can carry and hike it back to our church, where we gloat over our spoils of war like brave and tired little soldiers.

This is the third time we’ve done this event. Two years ago, the winning item was a ping-pong table. (Yes, that’s right: we carried a full-sized ping-pong table all the way back to the church. Uphill. Past a police officer, who didn’t even blink upon seeing a gaggle of kids pushing a ping-pong table down a busy street at dusk.)

Last year, the winning item was a large sandbox, full of sand and sand toys.

This year, however, topped the charts with weirdness.

To begin with, the group of boys I was with got a fence.

Yup--they hauled these babies all over the neighborhood!

Yes, a fence. They pulled it out of the ground themselves.

By the time we finished our 2-hour scavenger hunt, our group had managed to procure two large sections of fence, an exercise ball, a large fake Christmas tree, several electronic toys, a plastic fire truck, 3 rusty nails, a yoga mat, a purse, a candle, a brand-new tennis racket, a box of brownie mix,  envelopes, and a car vacuum. We almost got a dog, but had to turn it down at the last second.

Despite my personal feeling that nothing could ever top the sight of 6 boys slowly dragging all this rubbish through the neighborhood on a 95-degree night, I was wrong.

Upon arriving back and meeting up with the other teams, I discovered that they had dragged suitcases, a bathroom stall door, and boxes of European chocolates with them back to our headquarters.

But, that wasn’t all they dragged back. They dragged back a wild, almost-unbelievable story about a little Asian boy with a knife.

Of course, this happened to be the group of kids who took off with my husband, Tyler. The weird things seem to stick to him like sprinkles on honey (sorry, latent VBS joke…I’m still trying to get it out of my system.)

Apparently, they had knocked on the door of a large suburban house, only to have the door creaked open by a small but fiesty Asian boy around 8 years old. He shouted at them in a language they couldn’t understand, and then screamed something about how his parents weren’t home and they had to leave him alone. As the group turned to leave, the boy whipped the door open again to reveal the said shiny knife and the pants pulled up over his bellybutton, a la Steve Urkel.

At this point, the entire group backed away slowly. The boy flashed the knife around, saying, “Come in, one at time! One at time, inside!” while the group shouted their apologies and made a hasty exit to the street.

No harm, no foul–but boy, was I cringing as I listened to the kids tell their parents how they “almost got attacked” at the youth event. It was one of those rumors I wasn’t too excited to have posted on Facebook that night.

When the kids clamored around me, shouting their versions of the story, my knee-jerk reaction was to pretend I hadn’t heard this. It’s the same sort of feeling I got after finding out that one of the high schoolers had shimmied up the very slick roof of our student center to chase after a loose frisbee–like if I just pretend that I didn’t hear it, I can continue to revel in my ignorance.

And I wonder how I earned the endearing nickname “The Fun Stopper” from my dear husband?

Thankfully, in the end, no one was stabbed by that pesky 8-year-old with the knife.

But, if they had been attacked, they could’ve used the bathroom stall door to defend themselves.

I guess next year I’ll just have to send the kids out with army tanks….





God in the Midst of our Community Tragedy

24 04 2010

I’m struggling with how to possibly start explaining the events I’ve been through in the last week.

To begin with, I was already swamped. Our gigantic confirmation banquet is this weekend, so my schedule was packed every day with meetings with confirmands and more things than I could actually do in a workday (i.e. I didn’t eat lunch every day this week). Add to that the fact that all of the pastors and two-thirds of the rest of the staff were out of town at a conference, and you begin to see where this is going.

On Wednesday afternoon, one of my confirmands came in from school with the news that his cousin–a seventh grader named Chelsea who attended school with him right down the road from our church–had committed suicide.

I was shocked. She was only 13 years old.

In the ensuing hours, my cell phone buzzed with texts and phone calls. All afternoon and all evening–until 11:00 at night–I fielded phone calls from parents and students, Facebook messages, and texts. Students were incredibly shocked, and many didn’t even know how to process.

No one understood why…and no one had a clue that it would be this girl.

As I took a moment to breathe, I heard the church bells from the chapel across the road ringing out one of my favorite hymns: “Abide With Me.” I listened to that song, with a fresh understanding of what it meant. Abide with Jesus. Be in constant communication with Him as you go through something like this.

In the most chaotic moments, and in the moments in which I was comforting upset students, I truly think He was guiding me–without me even realizing it.

In the course of that evening, an idea began to take shape in my head. I felt compelled to open up our student center, the Hangar, as a safe place for students to come and grieve together. After a few phone calls to the staff in Florida, we set things in motion. I posted a message on my Facebook page, inviting students to come to the Hangar after school the next day.

By the time I woke up the next morning at 6:00 am, several of my students had reposted that message on their own page. I hastily sent several emails to staff members, explaining what was going on, and sent an email to my confirmation leaders, asking them to come pitch in that afternoon. I then headed to the middle school to see if they needed any extra help.

I hadn’t even pulled into the parking lot when I saw one of my seventh grade boys sitting on the playground, bawling his eyes out. I rolled down my window and talked to him, and then parked and ran inside.

As much as I had steeled myself for what I would likely face, I wasn’t even prepared.

The school was like a war zone. Students were sitting on the floor, standing, draped in stairwells–all sobbing. Some kids were just blindly wandering around, crying by themselves. I ducked into the office, and could barely squeeze in the door with the number of students congregated there with tears streaming down their faces. The secretaries were frantically answering call after call.

I sought out one of the adults standing in the office and managed to say, “I’m Cassie, I’m here from Faith Luth…”

They didn’t even let me finish. I was immediately grilled for information about the after-school open Hangar time, and then led downstairs by the guidance counselor.

As we were walking down, she quietly said, “This is nothing, upstairs. We’ve told everyone to come downstairs to process, down here in The Pit.”

I walked into The Pit, and was floored. All I could see was a sea of middle schoolers in this cafeteria, all in various stages of grief and distress.

I barely made it in the door before I heard, “Cassie’s here!” and had a whole swarm of Faith kids launch themselves at me. Even my eighth grade boys threw themselves at me and hugged me fiercely.

Literally every kid who had ever stepped foot at Faith or attended a youth event there came up and hugged me. Several wouldn’t leave my side.

I cried with them, seeing how devastated and heartbroken they were. In my mind, I pleaded with God to give me the right words to say to these kids.

I spent most of the school day there, comforting not only the Faith kids, but plenty of total strangers. The school was doing a great job handling the chaos. Everyone I saw, from the teachers to guidance counselors to the school police officer to even the janitors, were busy talking and counseling kids.

All day, I heard kids talking about coming to Faith that afternoon. Before I left school, the principal actually got on the intercom and made an announcement about it. I was stunned–not only that an announcement about our church was being made in a public school, but what I pictured as a small gathering of students was turning into something the entire school was talking about.

That afternoon, we had hundreds of students pour into the Hangar, and dozens of parents come in. Some arrived even before school had ended. In the end, Chelsea’s father and one of her brothers even came.

I was so thankful for our incredible staff and amazing leaders. The tiny staff that was left–Mary, DeeAnne, Andy, Steve, Wayne, and Dave–pulled together and made signs, slides, assembled tables and chairs, and prepared the Hangar for the giant onslaught of kids. The preschool sent over all of their staff to pitch in. Pastor Tim Wesemann came and brought tons of helpful resources for kids and parents. Randy King came and was our in-house counselor, and was able to give me some great advice on handling the kids. We had tons of middle school leaders–and a few high school leaders–come and spend time with these hurting kids. With little notice, they did an awesome job and were a great help.

I was drained–but so strengthened and appreciative of the many leaders who came up to me and whispered, “I’m praying for you!”

It was an amazing event, and we were able to pray for and connect with so many kids. God was so clearly working through so many people, and a lot of hurt kids were able to hear the saving Gospel message–straight from Chelsea’s grieving father himself.

To me, one of the most powerful ways God worked through this whole experience was how He prepared me. Several weeks ago, the editor of the LCMS youth ministry publication, the ESource, asked me to help her out and write a resource for suicide. The person who was going to do it apparently backed out at the last minute, and she needed it done in a week. She actually offered up two different topics I could write about–either suicide or handling grief in general. For some reason, even though I knew it would be the harder topic to research and write about, I was drawn to choosing the suicide topic. I researched like mad for a week, talking to every expert I could get a hold of to write this piece.

Originally, it was only supposed to be a Bible study on suicide. Instead, I opted to write an additional resource, a guide for parents and leaders to help youth cope with suicide. At the time I was writing it, a few weeks ago, I remember thinking that this would be the most helpful resource I could picture handing out to parents and leaders, if I were ever to encounter a suicide situation.

Amazing how God works, isn’t it?

I wrote the resource, and ended up being the very first one to use it.

Just a few weeks earlier, and I would’ve been wholly unprepared as to what to say and how to answer the “tough questions”.

We printed off copies of that resource, and every single parent I saw walk through the doors took one. Just being able to offer something to confused and emotional parents was evidence to me that God was so powerfully at work through this whole experience.

As I write this, exhausted and emotionally drained, I still marvel at how I’ve seen God work through all of this–in our leaders, in our staff, in our students, and in the situations that have played out. I know this is just the beginning of a long healing process for many kids and families, and my heart goes out to them. It’s no easy thing to handle suicide at any age, let alone when you’re as young as 11 or 12.

As I write this now, the church bells are softly ringing out, “O God, Our Help In Ages Past”. I know from memory the most poignant lines of that song:

“O God, our help in ages past,

our hope for years to come,

our shelter from the stormy blast,

and our eternal home.”

As one of my leaders said simply yesterday, “God is good.”





Like Newborn Kittens In the Ocean…

19 04 2010

I’ve said it time and time again: our youth are facing incredibly huge issues today.

Over the last few weeks, our 8th grade confirmation students have been writing and preparing their faith testimonies–their stories of what they believe, how they’ve seen God work in their lives, and what sort of relationship they have with their Savior.

As the confirmation program director, I daily tackle the complex issues surrounding the leadership of 100 youth and over 30 adult leaders in our confirmation program. But, for these brief few weeks, I get to sit back from the heavy administrative side of that job and spend some serious time with many of these kids, as they walk through their testimonies with me.

Hearing what these kids have gone through in their relatively short lives is inspiring, and sometimes jaw-dropping. I’ve sat in stunned silence, listening to kids tell me about the death of parents and the impact of divorce on their lives, about diseases and depression, and about dealing with constant bullying and aggression directed towards them.

I’ve been shocked to find out that some of my biggest “headache” students (those that my kinder friend, Tam, would label “EGR” people–”Extra Grace Required”) have walked through situations that would likely rattle my adult faith. Yesterday, I met with a student who confided to me that he has spent his life dealing with Asperger’s, a syndrom that he tells me feels like he’s “constantly searching for a missing file in his brain” to come up with even the simplest response to a question–but since he’s been in school, he’s been mercilessly taunted and shunned for this. Yet, his identity rests so securely in God that he told me he refuses to respond to these cruel bullies, and instead reminds himself every time they tease him that “he’s a child of Christ” and it’s a “privilege” to suffer on this earth just like His Savior did.

Wow. Get me a box of Kleenex.

The more I immerse myself in the youth world (even when it requires painful things, like listening to teenie-bop Justin Bieber songs), the more clearly I see the challenges that our youth are facing daily. It’s like throwing a newborn kitten into a dangerously murky ocean teeming with ravenous sharks–they are doing their best to save themselves with their limited knowledge, but everything around them tempts them to succumb to the dark waters and the carnivores waiting for them.

Does that mean it’s any easier for me, a 24-year-old? Not necessarily. I had to tread a lot of those same dark waters–as did the many generations before me.

But do I think it’s gotten worse? Judging by the middle schoolers I spend the majority of my time with, yes. When I was in 8th grade, it wasn’t normal to have friends who cut, tweens who were suicidal, and boys who had access to porn on their cell phones. We didn’t have our own private lives via Facebook, and didn’t spend every waking second texting our every thought and emotion.

But, at the same time, I see so many of these kids navigating these dangerous waters and keeping their heads above the water. I see them clawing at those sharks and slowly looking heavenward more and more often.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of these kids’ lives. They’re growing up so fast, and grabbing hold of their faith as their lifeline right now. As one of my boys put it, “It’s like my faith used to be a little piece of yarn…but in the last two years, it’s grown to a giant coil of rope that you can’t cut easily.”

Now, if only I could convince them to listen to some real music…and now I sure sound like a crotchety oldster, don’t I?





“You’re Not Mrs. Moore.”

11 03 2010

Today, I was greeted by a fifth grader at Point Elementary with the words, “You’re not Mrs. Moore.”

My response: “What do you mean?”

Her: “You’re not Mrs. Moore. Even though everyone calls you that.”

Me: “Uh, ok…what’s my name?”

Her: “Cassie.”

Me: “Yes, my name is Cassie.”

Her: “Yep. That’s what we get to call you outside of school, when we’re having fun at church.”

Me: (thinking to myself–”She said she has fun at church! Sweet!”)

Our church recently started a tutoring program in the local public schools here in Oakville. We see it as a service to our local community–after all, our goal here at Faith is to be “transforming communities and changing lives”. Our schools are in desperate need of extra help around the classroom. A few months back, our church responded by gathering a group of nearly 40 people together to talk about how we could help by tutoring in classrooms on a weekly basis.

Our thought? “Hey, we actually get to be in the schools, working with kids and teachers–serving our community with the same love and compassion that Jesus demonstrated for us!” No other motive.

We all went through training, background checks, and school initiations in order to be fully prepared to serve.

The schools absolutely love us–in fact, we’ve had schools from all over the St. Louis area contacting us to see if they can get involved with our tutoring program. 

The first day I arrived at Point Elementary, where I’m stationed to serve twice a week for about an hour each time, the guidance counselor introduced me to the entire office staff and pretty much every person wandering around in the halls–and they all knew already that I was a “Faith tutor”. In fact, their guidance counselor was raving about how she couldn’t wait until next year, when we could really build this program up because it’s filling such a crucial need at their school. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so excited about a church program–and the fact that it’s a public school welcoming us with such open arms is pretty significant.

I’m currently tutoring  in a fifth-grade classroom. On the first day, the teacher introduced me and gave me a chance to talk about Faith. When I mentioned the church, several kids excitedly yelled, “I’ve been there before!”

Since then, as I work with the kids by coaching them with their writing assignments, many have asked me questions about the church and about what I do. Several of the kids have commented on how they’ve either attended or been invited to Fusion 56, our Sunday morning Bible study and monthly themed event night for fifth and sixth grade kids. Today, the teacher even asked me specifics about what I do.

Even though I don’t know what the beliefs of these people are, and even though I’m not pushing Christianity on them at all, they’re curious. And open.

As one student today said, “Why are you here? You don’t have to be, right?” I responded truthfully, “No, I don’t have to be here. I have a full-time job. But I want to be here, to meet new people like you, and get the chance to help them.”

He flashed me the biggest smile I’d ever seen from this student (a quiet, somewhat morose boy) and simply said, “Cool.”

Today, several students stayed in from recess to talk to me. And they wanted to know all about middle school ministry at Faith. Talk about an exciting opportunity–by merely having our team of volunteers in the schools, we’ve tapped into an entire population of kids hungry for a connection with church.

And the little girl was correct–at church, I’m just Cassie.

Not “Mrs. Moore”.

I like that.





Pressure Cooker

8 03 2010

As I idly flipped through channels last night, waiting for a friend to come over (I mean, who really wants to spend all night watching the Oscars?), I landed on a program talking about the ethics of cheating by students. I watched for just a few minutes as the commentator interviewed dozens of students, young and old, about why they cheat. They all said pretty much the same thing—“You have to.”

Many of the kids talked about how they just couldn’t keep up with their extremely demanding schedules, and how everyone they knew was cheating, to some extent, just to get by. Some of these kids looked no older than 8, but they were all clearly frustrated by both their grueling daily activities and the insane amount of homework they had every night. The program also talked about how a record number of parents are now cheating just to help propel their child to the top of the class, even stooping to sneaking into their kids’ friends’ backpacks to see if the other kids are reading more advanced books than their own child. Teachers are not only turning a blind eye to this rampant cheating, but many are also intentionally changing answers on tests so their school gets the top mark.

Just yesterday, one of my eighth graders posted the following message on her Facebook: “I’m so worried about the end of quarter…. I hope it’s straight A’s like usual but somehow I have a feeling it isn’t going to be, and Oxford is on the line…”

These same messages of frustration are echoing across almost all the conversations I have with overwhelmed middle school and high school students.

These kids are in a pressure cooker.

One article I read on ABC quoted a mother justifying her three-year-old daughter’s weekly schedule of preschool, cooking classes, gymnastics, dance, and soccer by saying she needs to experience all of these things in order to narrow down what she wants to participate in as she gets older.

But—are these kids actually dropping all of their activities in order to “narrow down” their lives as teenagers?

No.

Instead, we’re racing to hyper-schedule kids from the cradle to the grave.

As author Stacy Debroff points out, “If you bring a child who’s 6- or 7-years-old to the soccer field for the first time or gymnastics, there are kids who have already way excelled them in terms of skills, and they can’t catch up! When we were growing up, we were kicked outside to play, and you went from house to house. Now, kids are being driven from activity to activity. The kids next door aren’t around to play because they’re off at gymnastics or starting soccer leagues.”

Kids now have, on average, 12 fewer hours of free time a week, less family dinners and vacations, and virtually no conversations that involve the entire household, compared to the youth of 30 years ago.

Three years ago, I wrote a short research paper on the “quest for the perfect child” and the impact that parental pressure has on kids. In that paper, I cited some research performed on 800 families with “academically talented students” and found that 73% of the parents interviewed deemed it crucial that their child would attend a top-level university and 81% desired their kids to be highly successful in their future profession.

At the same time, 39% of their kids said that they felt a lot of pressure from their parents to always be a top-notch student, and that the stress of that was wearing them down. And remember, these statistics are a few years old, now—I’m confident that number is a heck of a lot higher now.

Just looking up some basic information about homework was an eye opener for me. According to the National PTA and National Education Association guidelines, homework for kids in grades K—2 is most effective when it doesn’t exceed 10 to 20 minutes a day. Children in grades 3—6 can handle 30 to 60 minutes a day.

So, how much homework are kids actually doing? Researchers from the University of Michigan compared the amount of homework assigned in 1981 to the amount assigned in 1997, and found that although the amount didn’t vary much on the high school level, the amount of homework assigned to younger students almost tripled during that time.

A lot of research points to the fact that although homework pays off in high school, little correlation exists between homework and test scores in elementary or middle school. Translation? Educators are pushing ridiculous amounts of homework on kids every day, expecting huge gains in test scores—and the research doesn’t indicate that that’s happening.

My husband has long said that we’re raising a generation of kids to perform well on tests, not actually learn. I think he’s right.

I know it’s a hard time to raise kids, and it’s hard to buck the fast-paced, out-of-control trends of our culture right now. But when I can’t find a single night of the week where kids aren’t obligated to at least two other activities to host a youth event, and when I hear that my youth are being shuffled to games at 10:00 pm on a Friday night and then expected to get to an early-morning activity by 7:00 on a Saturday morning, I have enough sense to realize that we’re failing our kids.

What’s the long-term effect on these kids going to be? Who knows.

One of my favorite quotes about this subject is from child expert Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld: “Free time is crucial. Harried schedules take away the free time that is essential for children to be able to fantasize and create. If Einstein’s parents were alive today, poor little Albert would get a comprehensive evaluation and end up on Ritalin. Deprived of his daydreams, he might not discover the theory of relativity, but he certainly would focus more fully on the complex demands of fourth-grade math.”

So true.





They’ve Grown Up–And Been Changed

24 02 2010

Whenever I have middle school students in tears while reflecting about how they see God working in their lives, I can’t help but think how amazing my job is–and how alive and active our Creator is.

Our confirmation program at Faith is set up to be a two-year process, where kids get put into small groups based on gender and spend those two years meeting regularly and growing with at least two small group leaders. These leaders are incredible servants and role models–our requirements are that the leaders meet with the kids at least twice a month, but almost all of the leaders go above and beyond and take the kids out to the movies, attend their sporting events, and work with them on service projects. We have over 30 leaders in this program, and they are without a doubt some of the most dedicated and faithful people I’ve ever met.

I have my own small group of girls with an amazing co-leader, Dawn. We’ve been together for nearly two years, and we’ve seen our girls grow and mature in incredible ways. We’ve bonded and been through a lot together–including some pretty deep and challenging situations.

Our small group at this fall's confirmation retreat

In the last two years, we’ve been to the zoo, been to “Phantom of the Opera”, been on mission trips, gotten snow cones, gone shopping, and eaten several dozen (perhaps maybe thousand) pizzas together. We’ve cried together, prayed together, and been on sugar-highs together. We’ve tackled every conceivable teen issue together, everything from sex to drinking to cutting to depression. We’ve had sleep overs  together, and have spent entire nights crammed onto one bed, sharing everything on our hearts. We’re a little family.

This summer, our girls will be confirmed–they’ll be publicly professing their faith in Jesus and their committment to our church. They’ll also be sharing their own personal testimony in front of their friends and family in a few months. I’m already proud of them.

In order to prepare them for their testimony process, we started talking about what they’ve experienced during these last two years of confirmation–how they’ve seen themselves grow, how their faith has changed, what their feelings are on the process, and how they’ve seen God at work in their lives. After spending some time shopping at the mall (yes, somehow I was blessed to end up with girls after my own heart!), we crashed at my apartment and started talking.

I expected some pretty meaningful answers. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be absolutely blown away by their responses.

This group has been a lifeline for these girls. They all talked about how it’s been a place of safety, security, acceptance, and understanding. They’ve been loved, and they’ve found a “second family”. They’ve grown, and they’ve stopped relying on the faith of their parents and have embraced their own faith. Despite the fact that they’ve all come from drastically different backgrounds (some were born Catholic, some come from largely unchurched families, and some have grown up in the Lutheran church), nearly every girl shared how she’s wrestled through her doubts and finally understood the truth that God is real.

They all talked about how they’ve seen God at work, undeniably and tangibly. And how they’ve discovered a personal relationship with their Savior, Jesus.

Even our most hyper, off-the-wall-and-never-serious girl broke down and cried as she shared how deeply changed she’s been through this experience. She shared how she never even really knew what Christianity was before she started, and how she now not only understands what her faith is all about but she also loves being in church every single week. Our entire group was reduced to tearful hugs as she shared her feelings with us.

I get chills thinking about how profoundly impacted these girls have been, and how markedly different their entire lives will be as a result of these last two years.

So, I say again: our God is alive–and He’s moving in very real ways.





Why Middle School Boys Give Me Hope

18 02 2010

Middle school boys.

I wish I could say how utterly maddening they are with their boundless energy, their enthusiasm for throwing popcorn at each other (and threatening to dump it on me), their racing around the building chasing each other for no reason, as well as the way they down multiple Snickers bars in one sitting, hijack my computer to show me funny pictures, and fight for a spot next to me to show me their cool new iPhone app…but I can’t.

They’re awesome.

Last night, I had a whole slew of middle school boys show up to my youth event. This was definitely a first–not a single girl in the entire place. Well, I take it back–I did have one girl poke her head in and assess the unruly crowd, before running back across the parking lot to the safety of the nursery and all other teen girls. Luckily, I had three great male leaders ready for the challenge–and boy, was it a challenge when we broke out the chips, candy bars, and cappuccinos for the boys.

We also experienced another first–we all went to the Ash Wednesday service together. Usually, our events are on Fridays and there’s no opportunity for us to attend a church service together. Tonight was an exception, and it was incredible to see how these wild boys behaved in church.

They made me proud.

As a youth leader, you so often don’t see the fruit of your hard work. I can’t even count how many hours I’ve painstakingly researched for events, gathered supplies, organized leaders, set up the rooms, written devotions, and prayed for the kids–over and over and over again. Every once in a while, you get a little glimpse of how God is working in these kids–and that’s enough to keep you plowing ahead.

Sometimes, you get more than a glimpse, as I experience on our middle school mission trip to Tunica, Mississippi, last year. During that week-long experience, I saw the Holy Spirit at work in these kids and leaders so tangibly that it literally brought me to tears just thinking about it. Not a single person left that trip without seeing it and being changed by it.

Last night, I fully expected to see a bunch of rowdy kids whispering to each other and giving each other dead-arms during the service.

Instead, I saw kids–including some who I don’t think have ever stepped foot in church–soaking up every word. I saw boys hungry to read the Bible and those same boys at rapt attention during the sermon, not screwing around at all. I saw these guys discussing the Lord’s Supper together, and figuring out how to download the Bible onto their phones so they could keep reading any time, not punching each other in the arm or playing knuckle wars.

I saw teenage boys actually enjoying church.

Yes, there’s hope for this next generation (as I’ve said many times before). These boys are, well, middle school boys…but they’re more than that. They’re our church–our present and our future.

Don’t let MTV fool you–after all, it’s being run by middle-aged adults with an agenda. These kids are hungry for something deeper than they’re being fed.

And that sure does give me the inspiration to keep going. It’s not hopeless.





Priceless

9 02 2010

Listening to the speakers

 

Two and a half hours of sleep. Kleenex boxes and sleeping bags all over the building. Tears of understanding and hugs. Impromptu midnight worship, led by students. And an entire counter full of goodies. 

 It was our first-ever Priceless Retreat, a retreat for girls junior high and senior high girls held in our student center. 

 And boy, was it incredible. 

 Over the course of Friday and Saturday, we heard from amazing guest speakers, including a doctor who explained the differences between how guys and girls are wired, and a young leader who courageously shared her testimony of loneliness and suffering. We had worship, a beautiful meal complete with a candlelit walkway, and great times of affirmation. We prayed, talked, sang, and talked some more (notice how sleep wasn’t in that list?) 

 As a leader at this event, it was just amazing to see how these girls opened up and revealed the things they really struggle with as teenagers. At one point, we kicked all of the parents out of the room and had a heart-to-heart talk about “things you wish you could tell your parents, but can’t”. Wow. I think this is truly the hardest time in history to be a teen. 

 I saw older girls putting aside their popularity and elite status as high schoolers, and intentionally taking younger girls under their wings—not one girl was left out the entire time. 

Student-led small groups praying and discussing together

 

 I saw girls admitting their biggest struggles, and entire small groups hugging each other as they cried. 

 I saw girls truly looking for the best in each other and verbalizing it during our affirmation exercise, not judging each other. 

 However significant my observations are, the real testimonies about this event are coming from these girls themselves: 

 “I learned that God treats me like His daughter and that He loves me beyond what I can imagine. I also learned that I am beautiful in His eyes!” 

 “I learned that God is never going to stop loving me.” 

 “All the girls here were saying ‘I love you’ and hugging each other like daughters of God!” 

 “He made me the way exactly how He wants me to be.” 

 “I learned that God is a friend to me and he’s always there for me to fall back on.” 

 “I had been worrying a lot about the way I looked…I felt like God was trying to tell me that I am priceless!” 

 “All of the topics were so perfect. They are exactly what I wanted to learn about.” 

 “I saw God at work through everyone bonding and getting along with everyone else. I’ve only known these girls for 24 hours, and they are already my sisters.” 

 “I was created by God. I am an image of God, and He created me for me.” 

 “I saw the tears in all of these girls’ eyes. It’s empowering. God is changing these girls and their lives.” 

 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”





Look, We Made the News!

13 01 2010

BJC Article

Thank goodness we didn’t make the news for something terribly devious (“Youth Group Blows Out Pilot Lights in Church Kitchen and Building Explodes”–oh wait, that just almost happened).

We actually made the news with a positive story!

Click on the link at the top of this post and check us out at the bottom of the page. I took four of our youth to Missouri Baptist Hospital in December to represent our confirmation program’s service project to the elderly patients there.

Here’s a summary of the information I gave to their reporter:

“At Faith, we realize the vital importance of not only exposing kids to situations they wouldn’t normally encounter, but also exposing them to people who are in vastly different life situations. We encourage our youth to participate in all sorts of activities that reach out to people of all ages, from Christmas caroling and visiting with the elderly at local nursing homes, serving in our homeless ministry downtown, working with little children at our summer Vacation Bible School, to witnessing about Christ to their own peers. Our church’s goal is to be constantly transforming communities and changing lives—and the kids throw themselves into this vision wholeheartedly.

We decided to do this project a few months ago, since we saw a need in our own community to help bridge the gap between teenagers and senior adults—two groups that don’t necessarily spend a lot of time together, but have a lot to offer one another. Sandy (one of our leaders in our middle school youth program) suggested we do something for her ACE unit at Missouri Baptist Hospital, since the patients there need a little something to brighten their days—especially at this time of the year. In talking with some of the kids and adults, the idea just took off. Before we knew it, we had people donating supplies for gift bags, scarves, pillows, and cards. Many of the kids themselves donated their own scrapbooking supplies.

We had 35 eager seventh and eighth grade youth from the confirmation program at Faith come to work on this service project in early November. We have a fabulous group of kids who are always eager to serve, and especially enjoy relational, community outreach projects. Our leaders, parents, and kids worked side-by-side and had a great time creating and organizing. The kids were so excited to make something that would touch someone else’s life, even if just for a moment.

Several individual students spent several hours each cutting out scarves and heart-shaped pillows at home before the service project started, and the larger group spent 2 hours stuffing the pillows and tying them, making handmade cards, and assembling gift bags of lotion, candy, pens and paper, and tissues. We assembled about 100 pillows and gift bags, several dozen scarves, and a large stack of cards.

I received a card from a Ms. Emly about two weeks after we donated the items to Missouri Baptist. She wrote, ‘Yesterday, I was the recipient of a beautiful blue and white scarf made by a member of your church youth group. I was a patient at Missouri Baptist Hospital and feeling very depressed. Your generous gift lifted my spirit, enough that the doctor allowed me to return home that afternoon! I will always remember your kindness and generosity and especially remember you in my prayers. May the Lord bless you!’”





Things 2009 Taught Me

12 01 2010

I’m figuring that most people post some uplifting message about the hopes and dreams of the New Year—that untarnished, sparkling, exciting 2010. Ever the realist, I’ve spent some time thinking of some practical things I learned in the last year—including some things I don’t want to repeat this year.

For instance, I learned that it’s never a good idea to invite kids to do an activity called “Gingerbread Head”. To the pragmatic youth worker who buys rolls and rolls of thick plastic wrap and carefully plans to instruct the kids on how to put this over their head before building a gingerbread house on their face: IT WILL NOT WORK. Those kids will smear frosting all over the poor victim’s face, stab them with licorice strands, and explode several bottles of sprinkles all over their heads. You will spend close to an hour cleaning up this simple, fifteen-minute activity.

I’ve learned that middle school boys have the most disgusting, filthy, foul-smelling things in their gym bags. And, they don’t hesitate to throw them on you if you get to close to them. So, if you’re ever on a mission trip with 28 kids, don’t go near the boys.

I discovered the reality that mashed potatoes will always be flung if you have them out when kids are around. And that it’s impossible to peel an orange with your toes. And that you should simply never host a youth event entitled “Play With Your Food Night” unless you want to spend the rest of the evening removing all of the furniture from the youth center and hosing it down.

I learned that, in a Bigger and Better Scavenger Hunt, kids will wheedle just about anything out of poor, unsuspecting people. And then they’ll hoof it back to the church with these incredibly strange things—everything from full sandboxes and giant clocks to baby swings and ping pong tables. I also found out that a group of 7 kids wheeling a ping pong table down Erb road at 8:30 pm doesn’t even raise the eyebrow of the police officer sitting in his car, clocking speeders.

I figured out that, if you try four times to host a “movie under the stars” outside, it will always rain. And it will only start to rain about twenty minutes before the event starts, so you don’t have time to make other plans.

I discovered that you should never give glow sticks to people under the age of 25. And you should really never play a game that involves calmly sliding the aforesaid glow sticks across a gym floor. The translation to a middle schooler becomes: “Collect as many glow sticks as I can, whale them at my friend’s head as hard as I can, pray that one of the sticks breaks open on his face”.

I’ve also learned that somehow, when children in the state of Missouri pray for a snow day, God answers their prayers. He never answered mine when I was in school. He also did not answer mine this year, when I was hoping for an extra day off of work. Apparently, God listens to those in Missouri more than anyone else. (Really? Do I have to insert a disclaimer here that I don’t actually believe what I just wrote?)

I’ve learned that patience is indeed an incredible virtue, that kids are more interested in relationships than the perfect event, and that sometimes the best days of your life can be driving in a van full of 13 and 14 year-olds.

I’ve learned to always triple-check my files after an event, because that’s always where that missing check will be found. I’ve learned that a hug from a kid is better than an hour of reading a book on youth ministry, that parents should never be undervalued, and that coffee is not necessary when 8th grade girls are anywhere within earshot.

I’ve learned that God works through the most imperfect vessels, that no feeling on earth can compare to watching the kids in your youth program pick up a Bible unprompted and read it to their peers, and that sometimes the most meaningful conversations occur in the strangest places.

I’ve learned that I can hang in there with a job that sometimes seems impossible and overwhelming, because God’s running the show. And I’ve learned that God is working and will continue to work, despite the daily frustrations I have with the copier, my PC, and myself.

Yes. Good ol’ 2009 was indeed a very valuable year.








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