Working with youth is such a great experience. Not only does it give you an opportunity to influence the next generation of young people, but you might also learn a thing or two. Plus, it makes you feel young, while at the same time making you feel old. But that's part of the experience.
I spent over a decade working with youth. I say working, but it wasn't never work. It can be challenging at times, but it is more often fun. My experience was through several different churches. I grew up at Bells United Methodist Church in Camp Spring, MD. After graduating from being a youth myself, I continued to volunteer as a youth counselor at the church for another year and a half. It was at that time that my family began looking for a new church to attend. As happens at too many churches, there was a split in the congregation over the future of the pastor who lead the church for the past seven years, and when he left, we left, too.
I was a student at the University of Maryland, but as a commuter, and though my time was very busy with school and band, I still wanted to stay active in my church. Too many churches at the time don't have programs for young adults, but the pastor at another church, Tom Kaylor, at Good Shepherd UM Church in Waldorf, MD, asked me to lead a young adults Bible study. I'd never "taught" a class, but I gave it a try, and we had several devoted attendees. I realized I really wasn't much of a teacher, though, and the class died a fast death. My strength really was with youth.
At about this time, my younger brother was invited to attend a youth group by some old friends of ours. However, their church was way out in Galesville, MD, on the South River, near the Chesapeake Bay. It was kind of a hike, but I volunteered to shuttle my brother on Sunday nights, and I was invited to be a part of the youth ministry team there. It was a wonderful experience, and I continued to volunteer there even after my brother graduated from high school. I made a lot of great connections with the youth there, and with members of the church. Galesville UMC was a wonderful, small town church family. The distance was still a factor, and working a full-time job and with all of the driving I was doing, I really needed to find something closer to where I was living.
The youth director at my old church, Bells, called and asked if I would be available to help co-direct and act in a full-scale stage production/dinner theater. So I did. It was a another great experience, with a wonderful group of students. The other counselors were about my age, and we immediately bonded. Lisa was the youth director, and Diana, Scott, and Chris were all single young adults who brought different talents to the leadership of the group. Once again, though, some old wounds were opened with some of the folks at the church, and within a year, Lisa decided to move to another church.
Cheltenham UM Church was a nice little country church, and Lisa was asked to take over the youth ministry there. Scott & Diana decided to join her, and I did, too. Once again, it was a great experience. As much as you give to the church and to the youth, you get that much more back. We spent a couple of years with the group, but I moved in the summer of 1997 and was too far away to be a part of the group anymore.
Within a year, I met the woman who became my wife, and I began to attend her church, Montrose Baptist. It was a much larger church than anything I had ever been a part of. Teresa was a member of the drama ministry and acted regularly during both big productions and Sunday morning sketches. Because of my background, I was asked to participate, as well, and it was fun to be involved again. Shortly after Teresa and I were married, the drama director left the church, and Teresa and I were asked to take it over. We were the drama team leaders for several years and led, directed, wrote, and acted in many productions during that time. It was an awesome time for us, but what was really great were the people we worked with. It was a nice mix of young adults, older adults, and youth. The youth, in particular, were incredible young men and women. Grace was quite a talent, a beautiful young lady with a natural acting ability. She did anything and everything for us. In addition, Omar became a steady regular for us. Omar was a bit of a comic, but it came very naturally, and transferred quite well to the stage. He grew a lot during this time, and became better and better the more he was on stage. Omar also had a love for the Lord like no one else, and it was infectious. He's a remarkable young man. I remember his father telling me how thankful he was for the drama team, and for giving Omar an outlet to use his talent.
Anyway, after a while, Teresa and I moved to Howard County and got involved at Grace Community Church and the drama team there. Nine months later, though, Teresa had passed away and I was consumed with work and raising my baby girl. Eventually, I got up my nerve to get involved in the drama team again, and did some acting on Sunday mornings, before the drama team folded.
But that isn't the end of the story. In fact, my point in telling the story was how much the youth that I worked with impacted me. While I'm currently not in touch with any of the kids (and I call them kids, but they are all adults now) from Bells, I am in touch with a few from Galesville, and even more from Cheltenham. I'm also friends with Grace and Omar from Montrose. In fact, I had lost touch with Omar for several years, and tonight I reconnected with him on Facebook. He's still that awesome young man who loves the Lord. It filled me with joy to hear from him. He sounds like he's doing well. But he said one more thing, which touched me more than anything. "Every two weeks or so, I tried to find you on FB, but to no avail. I'm so glad we could reconnect. I really do love you, brother. I'm thankful for ya." And that's why working with youth is so awesome. You never know how these kids are going to turn out, or if you're making a difference in their lives, but to get confirmation makes it so worth it.
Take some time to get to know the kids in your life. Not just your own, but the ones in your community. All ages. You never know what kind of impact you might have on them. Just being available to listen to them may be all you need to do. And they may not even act like they care or acknowledge your presence in their lives, but I'll bet you can make a difference. And, years later, you might get a note from that kid that you gave some time to, and they'll say thank you. And it will make you feel awesome.
Have a great evening, everyone!