Posted in Stories

Today’s attendance: zero

The first two weeks were great. Five high schoolers came for week one when we tried to smash coconuts. The bible lesson was about Deborah, and Jael who drove a tent spike through the enemy general’s head in the book of Judges. It wasn’t so easy to drive a spike through a coconut, so we simply smashed it with a sladgehammer.

Seven middle and high schoolers came on week two for feats of strength and airing grievances. We talked about Samson and wise vs. foolish choices. The discussion kind of lagged until we talked about the Festivus custom of airing grievances. The room came to life. That they wanted to do. Just lay it all out.

I was stoked for week three. This was going way better than I imagined. I am trying to revive youth bible class at church, which has lay dormant for the past eighteen Covid months. Emails, texts, letters, postcards. And then, they showed up.It was worth the effort. This could be done.

Week three came and I was confident. This would be a great year. There was just one problem. No one showed up. Zip. Zero. Nada. An empty room. Not one student showed up.

OK. Time to stop and think about the current situation. Joint custody means many can only come every other week. Jobs mean some have to work on Sunday mornings. Covid means some will not be feeling well or will be quarantining. Weekends means some will be traveling. Some are spending the night with friends. Others are dancing competitively in far away places.

I believe the empty room was the perfect storm of all of the above. The attendance of one week is no predictor of the next. The fun of one week does not translate into the enthusiasm of the next. The classroom of today says nothing about the future.

The only thing you have is now.

If they are there, in the room, you have a moment to listen, question, teach and pray. If they are not there you have a moment to pray, listen, plan and trust. You are not the only influence in their lives. But by grace, you will be an influence.

So, week four comes. One youth is there. We wait. And we wait. OK, no one else is coming, you can go home. Ten minutes later the text comes, “Was I late, or did you cancel class?” Oh, me of little faith. If I had just waited a few more minutes!

I should know. On mission trips, I learned about island time. The clock is not so important. The people are. Their presence determines the time. It’s not the when, but the who that counts.

Lesson learned. Zero attendance doesn’t mean no one is coming. An empty room doesn’t mean class is cancelled. Wait just a few more moments.

Posted in Grace, Ministry, youth

Look who showed up at the resource center!

When I walked into the Resource Center today I ran right into our church’s youth group. Working the intake desk were Alexandra, Abby, Grace, Nooch, McKelvey and Michael. In the backroom, where staples were sorted, bagged and distributed were Adam and Addison, Jake and Nick, Anna and Cole, Tess and Mackinzie, and Joshua. They had already been trained by our coordinator, Trish, were supervised by youth leaders Rob and Liv, and were assisted by some great parents: Dina, Beth, and Kelly. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone — please forgive me if I did.)

resource ctr

Some of the shelves were on the verge of empty, but there was enough food to send everyone home with a good week’s worth of non-perishables and bread. In our little corner of the post-hurricane world, I know it meant a lot to the clients.

I had stopped by to take a few pictures and encourage them in their ministry. I am so proud of their efforts to serve the congregation and community. Youth in ministry is a much better moniker than youth ministry. They are not the future of our church. They are the church right now.

I wonder if they understand the impact of their efforts? I know them all and I don’t think any of them have ever come home from school to an empty pantry or refrigerator. They may have lamented, “There’s nothing to eat!” But not because there wasn’t any food — just no Doritos or Oreos. Some of them had just gotten power restored. Others had helped clean up debris from yards this past week. All brought joy, laughter, and youthful energy with them. And for that I am thankful. It’s contagious, not just for me, but for the parents and clients, too.

When I was ten, twelve, or sixteen, I didn’t have a grasp on how much need there is in this world. Sometimes you can see it; they are sitting by the side of the road. Sometimes you can’t; they are sitting next to you in school. They don’t let on that the free lunch they get is their only meal that day. Or that they are living with a grandparent.

On the other hand, they also don’t judge. If someone comes in for food, they just need some food. Period. No thoughts of, “Why don’t they get a job?” or “They don’t look that hungry.” Just an eagerness to share what they have with someone else.

I always learn a lot from young people. That’s why I like hanging around them.

The Resource Center in Bunnell (1510 Old Moody Blvd.) is open during the week as well as Saturdays, providing food for Flagler County residents. Call 386.437.7373 for more information. 

 

Posted in Ministry

“The only pastor kind of guy I know”

“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love…” and, as I learned this week, to college.

Weeks after most application deadlines have passed, letters of recommendations mailed and acceptances (or rejections) received, two young men came to me in the space of a week to get a reference from me. Both seniors in high school, each recently was recruited by small schools, in part, for their athletic prowess. Both were small Christian schools that required a reference from a pastor to complete the application. Each student stopped by my office to have me complete that form, saying, “You're the only pastor kind of guy I know.”

Student A graduated from our church's preschool fifteen years ago. His mother also taught at our school for many years. I believe His family was half-Jewish and half-Christian, though I don't think they participated in either tradition very often. Since I had to answer a question about his commitment to Jesus Christ, he explained to me that his parents exposed him to both traditions so he could make up his own mind. I asked him if he had. He said he was open to it, which is what I typed as my answer to that question.

Student B was in confirmation class five years ago. At the time, his family was regular in worship and I got to know him very well. He was smart, asked great questions and seemed to grasp well the basics of the Christian faith. After confirmation, though, I only saw him three more times. Once, when his younger sister was confirmed. The second time was a weekday morning when he asked me to pray for a friend of his in the Marines being deployed to Iraq. Number three was to ask for this recommendation. At one time his commitment seemed strong. Presently I knew little about his faith, so I typed that for my answer.

So now I am wondering how many small Christian colleges get recommendations like mine? How important is my input in the admission process? How important is my input for their athletic programs? Was I just a hoop to jump through? (I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that question.) And why would you ask a virtual stranger to recommend you to a college?

I have written many letters of recommendation over the years, mostly for young people I knew very well and could write pages about. For each I've strived to be unique, creative, entertaining and put into words how impressed I was with them. But this was a new experience. I tried to put the best construction on everything. I tried to express everything in the kindest and most honest way. But I had to be honest.

It took courage to come in and ask me for a recommendation. I'll give them that much. But it takes a lot more than courage to make it through college.

 

 

Posted in Life, Ministry

LCMS National Youth Gathering part 1

After about 10 hours of driving yesterday in a van and a car, our group (13 youth, 3 adults) arrived in New Orleans for the national youth gathering. Pretty easy trip, little traffic, just long.

It took me a while to find a place to park the monster van. I found a lot about 5 blocks from our hotel. Praying it’s still there in a few days.

We then had a little free time. Most wanted to go swimming, but changed their minds when they saw how small the pool was. So while Adam and Gail went to some orientation meetings, I and the youth split up and found something to eat nearby.

We then hiked up to the Superdome, about a mile away. Huge crowds were waiting to get in. We sat on the floor this time. Great band, good, familiar songs, impressive multimedia and good presenters. The theme is “We believe.”

We then hiked back to our hotel, ate some pizza, and crashed.

Sunday morning came quickly. Chris, Thomas and I got up at 5:30 for the gathering 5k run. The organizers were anything but. Finally they gave up on registering and just started the race. Thomas ran about 20:00, me about 25 and Chris about 28.

We are supposed to meet in about 5 min. More later.

Posted in Life

30 hour famine follow-up

The youth group and I ended our thirty-hour famine this afternoon with a worship service, holy communion, and then a great dinner prepared by the parents at 6:00 sharp.

This year’s group is awesome. We had no problems, everyone participated fully and enthusiastically, and everyone was asleep by about 2 am last night. The ground was hard and the air was cool but I was warm in my sleeping bag under a cardboard box. Earlier in the evening we did a few devotions, played some games to help us understand the dynamics of living without much in third world countries, and watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve seen the movie before, but it’s a great reminder of how difficult life is for so many in this world. Today’s program included some strenuous service activities at the homes of some of our members who need a little help with yard work, and a few more games.

One lesson of not eating for a day or so is the awareness of how often you just timefor a snack without even being hungry. I’ll bet I caught myself thinking about it a dozen times over the thirty hours. We could probably all do with a few less snacks in the course of a week. I also learned that our youth care a lot about other people. They may have their moments of self-centeredness, but they also have many moments of wanting to make a difference and leave their mark on this world. I’m very proud of them all.