Working with Young People
As a young adult with no college degrees and no consistent income, I learned a few years back to avoid the question, “What do you do for a living?” I didn’t feel I had the right answer. Lately, however, I’ve found a response I like, “I’m a Young Life leader.” In the last couple years, God has focused my life on loving and serving youth through Young Life. It’s not technically how I “make a living,” but it is a major part of how I go about living. Being a Young Life leader is a style of life formed by choices and unusual events in which I get to try every day to love young people and live life with them.
One day I might be making pancakes that have more chocolate chips than flour because “they’re better that way.” On another day I might cry with a 7th grader as he grieves yet another breakup – his third that week. On an especially tough day, I might drive a kid to court where his mom waits for him as a witness against his dad. On a fun day, I might spend hours kicking a soccer ball around and telling silly jokes that don’t even make sense.
On this roller-coaster ride of middle school ministry, it can be challenging to stay focused. Young Life’s mission is this: to introduce students to Jesus and help them grow in their faith. Sounds easy – some people even make it look easy – but I’ve found it to be pretty complicated. Eighth grade students, the age I’m currently working with, have so many challenges and struggles, many of which I’ve never experienced myself. It makes me marvel at their character and resilience.
Sometimes I wonder if God uses the students to teach me more than he uses me to teach them. Here’s some of what I’m learning:
Play. God made us to enjoy life together and with him. The New Testament epistles talk a lot about rejoicing, no matter the difficulties we face. In working with middle schoolers, I see families divide, parents die, and kids get expelled; but even in unimaginably tough times, these kids find joy and join in play together. The same is true with ruined plans. We planned to go sledding this last winter. We arrived at the same time as the rain. Instead of giving up in the middle of a slushy, muddy Hoover Park, we found a new game: Who could end the day wearing the least amount of mud? There was lots of slipping, tackling, and laughing.
Adventure. God made a world for us to explore. Every time I hang out with students it’s an opportunity for discovery. Trees are so much more interesting when you get to know them personally, top to bottom. Bugs have much more to reveal when you sit at their level or take time to build them a mansion. Life seems more real and more full when we live each moment eager to engage every experience God puts in front of us.
Trust. I had no idea how bad I was at trusting my heavenly Father until I saw what great trust these kids put in us Young Life leaders. The trust they put in me is humbling. So often when we plan an event, students don’t question or try to take control; they just show up and jump in. I think I’m often too busy trying to point out to God how I could plan things better that I forget to just sit back and enjoy his plan as it unfolds. My fists are often too tightly clenched. I don’t open them enough to receive the blessings God lavishes on me.
From their creative playfulness to their optimistic faith, middle schoolers have a lot to teach us. Maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant: “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
God is working in the youth of Newberg. He’s working in Young Life, in Newberg Friends Church, and in many other youth programs around town. It’s exciting. The harvest is plenty, but the workers are relatively few. Please pray with me that God will keep sending workers into this amazing, silly, and crazy harvest field. You might also pray, “God, are you calling me to work with youth?” You never know. God might want to use middle school students to make a difference in your life the same way they’ve been making a difference in mine.