Way to GO … With the Joy of the Young!
General Conference begins in Portland, Oregon, in five weeks. In keeping with the conference theme, Therefore Go, I am going with a song on my lips and hope in my heart. The song and the hope come from our children, youth and young adults, who are not only the future of the church: they are the church of today. Whenever I become jaded and lament how much we adults misbehave, belittle and judge others at times, the young bring me back to the heart of our faith as found in Matthew 28: going out into the world to create disciples of Jesus Christ and transform our world with joy.
For seven weeks, third-graders in a local after school program learned about Haiti … and
sewing. The girls sewed dresses for our Haiti mission team that is leaving on Wednesday and placed hand-written notes in the pocket of every dress. One note said, “Dear person who is receiving my dress. I made this special for you. I picked out the fabric, the ribbons and everything. I actually made this in an after-school program. We do this program on Fridays. I hope you appreciate your dress as much as I appreciated making it for you. Can you please tell me your name? Your seamstress, Gracie.” While the girls were sewing dresses, a young boy from the church and his friends collected 256 shirts for Haitian boys. Way to GO!
On Palm Sunday, children and youth process into the church, waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Then they lead the congregation in singing “King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Glory, Hallelujah! Jesus, Prince of Peace, Glory, Hallelujah!” Each stanza is sung more quickly until we all dissolve into smiles and laughter. The children don’t fully understand why the “Hosannas” turn so quickly into, “Crucify him!” but they are learning the stories of their faith and are asking the same questions adults do. Way to GO!
High school students dig deep into practical theology by living out a core value of our faith: welcoming all. For our youth, welcoming all means accepting others who look different, have a different type of sexuality, are differently-abled and have different ideas about God, Jesus and the church. Deep discussions with youth not only encourage students to wrestle with their own issues in a safe place but also prod adults to confront our own biases. Way to GO!
Praying without Ceasing
The first-graders are coming to worship in a few weeks to lead the congregation in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. There’s nothing like six-year-olds praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” to jar our sensibilities. May we be worthy of their prayer. Way to GO!
“We found this church by bringing our two daughters to VBS. After just one week of VBS, they insisted that this was their church, and we’ve been here ever since. VBS grasps children and turns Bible stories into energy for kids.” The girls led their parents. Way to GO!
The Middle School choir’s statement of faith through music on Maundy Thursday:
I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent. (Music: Mark Miller)
The words were etched on the wall of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Way to GO!
Renovating in inner-city Detroit
In late February, twenty high school students and six adults spent their weekend renovating the Foundry House apartments that will house mission teams as they serve in Detroit. The work was hard and dirty… and joyful! Installing insulation, ripping down drywall, removing old flooring, scraping and sanding floors and hauling trash into a dumpster, the students worked with tremendous effort and excitement all day long. Way to GO!
Playing Unite Three on Three Basketball
A faith moment during a K-5th grade girls and boys church basketball league, which attracts many families from the community.
- What games would Jesus have played? Running races; board games; spinning tops.
- Would Jesus have played basketball? No, it wasn’t invented yet.
- But would he play it today? Yes!
- Why? Because Jesus loved teams.
- And what was his team called? The disciples. Jesus is the perfect coach.
In this league everyone is a star! Way to GO!
Thirty-one seventh graders wrote their own creeds and read them in front of their family and friends. A sampling:
I believe in God. God is the creator of miracles. God will always love and forgive us. God is graceful and gives us freedom of choice. God helps us get through the tough times.
I believe in Jesus. Jesus is selfless. He is my Lord and Savior. I want to follow in his footsteps. Jesus brings goodness to all people. Jesus made sure people were treated with fairness. Jesus heals us to become stronger.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the flame that never burns out. The Holy Spirit gives us unique talents and gifts and produces the fruit of the Spirit in us to make us better people. The Holy Spirit is passionate about us and encourages, empowers and helps us make the right choices.
I believe in the church. The church is our community. It’s a place where you go to love and serve God. The church is a place where people care about you and you care about people. The church is where we create new disciples and spread God’s love. The church is a place where everyone is welcome and is treated equally. Way to GO!
In our children and youth, I see uniqueness, tolerance, grace, tenderness, hope, peace, joy and a passion to GO and make disciples. Virtually every congregation has at least a few children and youth. All it takes is one spark to ignite the fire of the Spirit!
What might happen in Portland if we let the joy of the young lead us? What might happen if we became like little children with a can-do, work-together, filled-with-hope, changethe-world and transform-our-own-heart attitude at General Conference? Thank God for our youth and young adult delegates who are eager to learn and have a chance to lead.
I especially thank God for Chelsea Spyres and Peter Cibuabua, who will share the thirty minute Young People’s Address in Portland. Chelsea is a Global Mission Fellow/US-2 serving at the NOAH Project (Networking, Organizing and Advocating for the Homeless) in Detroit, and Peter is an engineer in Kinshasha in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In a recent conversation with Chelsea, I asked what it means for her to witness to the joy of her faith as well as represent young people from around the world at General Conference. She said, “I began my service as a Global Mission Fellow/US-2 at a three and a half week training in the Philippines. Being with young people from all over the world, we were challenged to understand and appreciate our different cultural contexts. And then, when I came to NOAH, I was challenged yet again by serving in inner city Detroit.
“What I have learned is the power of relationship-building. When we as a church can focus on listening to each other’s stories and building relationships first, then our conversation looks very different.
“What young people offer to the church today is renewed energy and a sense of hope. We are willing to speak up and name where the church needs to grow. We know that the church is far from perfect and that there is work to be done, but we are committed to sticking around and advocating for a church of inclusivity, action, mission and service. Young people want to be the church living out Jesus’ example.”
Way to GO… with the joy of the young!