I am not a big fan of the spirituality-through-church-programs approach to things. This is particularly true where youth ministry is concerned.
If I had my way, there would be fewer youth “events” and more emphasis on developing small, tightly-knit cells of discipleship groups among our youth – groups that provide support for each other, study together, support each other at school, and move together into places in the world that are filled with the disenfranchised. (Please realize, however, that is just a wistful musing from a middle-aged guy who doesn’t know beans about youth ministry. There are probably good reasons for doing things the way they are being done right now, and, thankfully, Highland is blessed with Sarah Campbell and Michael Mercer, two terrific youth ministers who know a lot more about this stuff than me.)
There is one “event” that is a part of Highland’s youth program, however, that I wouldn’t change at all: Faith Decisions class.
For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of attending this class with Levi (our 9th grader) and now Rachel (our 8th grader). Its a rite-of-passage that encourages parents and kids to talk about spiritual issues as the kids move into High School and closer to adulthood.
The most powerful thing by far about the Faith Decisions class is the “blessing” night: a time where parents get a chance to read a letter of blessing to their chlidren in front of their peers and the parents of their peers.
It is a tearful time for many parents and kids. And I mean, seriously, seriously tearful. Relationships tend to get strained during this period in a teen’s life, and it is wonderfully therapeutic for parents to say (and their kids to hear) all of the warm, hopeful things in these letters.
It is an evening filled with holy, redemptive moments.
Tonight, I was moved as Dan Allen, one of our elders, stood up and affirmed an eighth-grader who had been attending the class without any parents. Though he hardly knew the young man, he spoke powerful words of encouragement to him, based on little more than knowledge of his name and a few conversations.
Parents – especially moms – the just bawl and bawl. The perspective that comes when you are forced to put on paper – and then speak – all of your hopes and fears for your children is chilling and warm all at once.
Here are the words that Sheila read to Rachel tonight:
Our Sweet Rachel,
When you were a baby, you set yourself apart from others, especially, your brother, Levi. You slept when you should and ate when you should. You were not a needy child. But that lack of “neediness” soon grew into a full blown case of independence. You were headstrong and bossy, and never afraid to speak your mind. It did not take long before you were doing things that your older brother never dreamed of. You were brave and courageous and daring and bandaged, a lot. You called your knees “boo boos” before you called them knees.
This independence became even more evident as you got older. You were willing to take risks and challenges that Levi would not. You took charge, and it wasn’t long before he basically gave you his birthright as the oldest and let you be the “boss”. You were very capable, plus he figured out it saved him a lot of work.. This was such a blessing to us when your little sisters came along, because you became a second mommy to them and an awesome help to me.
So as you got into late elementary, I saw you being a good helper, a good friend to others, and a good student, for the most part (I won’t mention the year you hid your math book for three months.) But God was already working on you in ways that we were not seeing.
The first glimpse of this came with a note from one of your 4th or 5th grade Bible class teachers. She was telling you how proud she was that you were always willing to be friends with everyone and she was praising you for one particular incident where you had taken extra care to include a girl in class who was have a hard time fitting in. She said you didn’t make a big deal of it, but she had noticed your quiet servant spirit. That was followed closely by other people pointing out how you made them or their children feel special by the way you treated them. I remember one time that a physically handicapped young adult had taken part in the games at Bibletimes Marketplace. Every one needed a partner, but no one felt comfortable being his. You volunteered and let him lead you through a maze and you both enjoyed the games. I only found out about this because he sought me out to tell me the story. With tears in his eyes and, of course, tears in mine, he told me how you made him feel included and how you blessed him.
Those simple beginnings of service and compassion have shaped the amazing person you are today. I have seen you serve your friends and total strangers. I’ve seen pictures of mission trips and service projects where you are loving those that others won’t. I have seen your compassion for people ranging from infants to the elderly, the homeless to the handicapped and I have seen you be the hands of Jesus to them.
When you were born, my wish for you was for you to be healthy and happy. God has modified that wish over the years. I see that He has so many greater plans for you in His Kingdom. I see you growing into a beautiful godly woman who will use your life to glorify Him. Whether it is with friends, family or strangers, I see you being the hands of Jesus. And with the help of godly men and women, some who are in this room, your daddy and I will always be there to help you and cheer you on. We are so proud of you and feel so blessed to have a daughter as wonderful as you. We thank God that He has allowed us to share this life with you.
All our love,
Mommy and Daddy