When I was in high school, our youth group took a mission trip with the theme of “The Least of These”. We were given the opportunity to serve in places of great need, to feed and love on people who had been disenfranchised by society.
It was good. Hopefully it was good for them…the memories I have certainly seem like God used us to bless others. It was definitely good for me…to have my world-view broadened, and to realize that as bad as it may be at times for me/my family…..that was nothing compared to the needs of some others. I stayed involved in ministry to the “underprivileged” (even though I put myself in that category growing up…having attended as a camper, and then as an employee) through a camp called “Youth Haven Ranch“, and man…if I had millions, I’d support that camp like crazy. The theology may not run deep, depending on who is actually doing the programming that year, but they feed and clothe, and love God’s children in a personal/relational way that fed my hunger growing up. And thinking of it….that’s pretty good theology. Pure and undefiled, even.
Now, I’m a youth pastor. We’ve talked about poverty recently, and will touch on it again tomorrow night. What our response should be as followers of Christ, etc. But I know many of the students in our group come from homes that float close to the line of “poverty”. They see themselves as “poor”. Resting inside their own shell of need, they don’t see themselves as called by God to serve others (wonder who they get that habit from?). I can show them videos of true poverty for hours, but it wouldn’t sink in until they actually travel across boundaries to experience/view these conditions first-hand.
Wish we had a “Youth Haven” type option nearby. Maybe there is, and I’ll find it someday. So many teenagers today get depressed about life in general. Or bored. Or feel like their situation is so uniquely bad that no one could possibly “get” the struggles they have. I want to introduce my teens to a regular ability to serve others less fortunate. To see the change that happens, when instead of focusing on “how bad I have it”…we focus on how we can contribute to the needs of others.
There are many who went on our “mission trip” from last summer. But those types of experiences fade if not incorporated into a lifestyle of serving others. Their youth pastor probably should’ve found a way to continue that pattern when they returned.
But I don’t want to simply take them to a bad part of town, and have them walk door to door giving out hugs of God’s love. This is Decatur, IL for crying out loud.
Our Church has a food pantry that is open every Monday from 11:30am-1:30pm. I’ve not been involved regularly, but have gone a few times. Teens don’t have school in the summer. I think a good option would be regular participation in the pantry for now…and see what happens. I imagine cheesy scenes of teenagers smiling while walking a nice older lady to her beat up car, showing her God’s love in a brief moment of relational connection. Will that happen? Maybe. Or maybe it’ll be pulling teeth just to get one or two teens down there on a regular basis. I sure haven’t set a good example of it being a place we should be.
Thanks for following that thought train. Chugging on for now….