It can’t be understated the effect that the organization YouthWorks has had on my journey in Youth Ministry. I was a youth participant on a summer trip when I was a senior in High School, I spent three summers on staff and I was even an adult leader on a trip. I can’t say enough how much I love those people and what they do. I can remember days and nights of exhausting work. Not just the fact that I was one of four staff responsible for around 70 – 80 youth and adult leaders in a place I had never lived in before. But the 18 hour days trying to always have enough energy to run with kids, make them laugh, cast the vision of what they were doing. The work days were always good work. Explaining and showing them how painting a house was more than just painting a house. The physical work we did was important, people needed their house painted, they needed a handicap ramp, they needed a shed to be built. More than those physical needs it was my main task to help the youth and adults understand the spiritual ramifications of people who might think they unworthy of interaction having people come to them in order to do a necessary task also listen to their story. The communication of love is often in doing things and can sometimes be best communicated without saying a word and merely listening to a persons story.
When I consider the different aspects of the Christian life and the categories we put them in of discipleship, missions, evangelism, servant leadership, and others I have found that you can’t put God in a box when it comes to loving strangers. When you’re able to interact with people you never would have otherwise in an intense summer environment like is set up with YouthWorks God is able to break walls and speak with and through us in ways never imagined before. I can remember sitting in Kansas City with some homeless friends who would tell us about their struggles to find meaning, struggles in the heat, their joys in living on the street, and the joy of hope in something beyond themselves. In these moments there is the hope that it the message of the Holy Spirit takes root. This is not to help the youth understand for them to put into practice at a later time. This is to help them understand that they are not a part of the Church of tomorrow without also being members of Christ’s body today.
I recently spent time with the YouthWorks Staff here in Atlanta. I wanted to find a way to bless them a little bit. I had them over for some pizza and snacks. We broke bread together sharing stories of where we come from, the ministry experience we have and the vision of what God is doing this summer. I was reminded not only how much I miss a YouthWorks summer, but why I got into Youth Ministry. The family like atmosphere of the staff isn’t something that comes together easy, yet that’s exactly what it was like. Swapping stories, digging deep into what The Holy Spirit has done to bring this seemingly random group of individuals to my house eating dinner. There are times when moments feel so real, when the past and present collide in a way that makes the air seems like blissfully sweet. These are the moments conversations come easy and time stands still while simultaneously you find hours have passed.
The Church was made present with YouthWorks for me. In my weakness and inadequacies that I discovered through the summer, Jesus was able to make me whole. His strength was made perfect. I think that happens a lot. In our weakness is when God not only speaks to us, but is able to do work in our hearts that we would never other wise allow Him to do because of our pride or our inability to recognize that we need work to be done.
Today I am praying for all of YouthWorks staff and the staff here in Atlanta I broke bread with. For them to know God is moving among them. That the work He plans for them to accomplish is bigger than they can imagine. For the strength to make it through the preparations, the time crunches, the crazy adult leaders, the crazy community members. I pray for enough coffee to wake up and a miracle on energy when no coffee can be found. I pray for the students coming on these trips to be blessed to have open minds and open hearts ready to receive and move with what God gives them. For many youth it’s an obligation, maybe they are being forced by their parents or they believe it’s an obligation to God and while we have obligations to God it’s never without our free will to obey. So I pray for obedience to the word of God living and present among us.
These memories they never fade. Maybe you can’t see them as clearly in your head, I know I certainly can’t. But I remember the Holy Spirit talking, moving, living. I remember the rush of joy and the crash of a Friday afternoon nap. I remember the feeling of belonging. I remember The Church coming together regardless of denomination and living in common with one another. It set the stage for me to go to Rwanda, to go to seminary and earn a masters degree in youth ministry, to be a coffee professional and serve strangers all day.
These memories and experiences furthered my journey of faith resulting in being at Mt Bethel. For all of that it was for me, the gospel becoming real.