I wonder what most teens in our city were doing this morning. I am sure some were up, maybe even up to something good. I know there are other churches, at least one or two, with sizable youth ministries. Maybe a lot of kids were there. I wonder because I spent the morning with a group of teens who have challenged and blessed me, and I cannot imagine spending that time any better.
On the night before we departed for our youth group mission trip to Ensenada, Mexico, a realization descended on me like a tree on an unsuspecting lumberjack: I felt no desire to go. The youth pastor was done, and we hadn’t even started yet.
And it did not stop there. A few times during our adventure, I knew I was at the edge of me. I had thought of myself as tough and accustomed to missions like this; I grew up going with a church to Tijuana every Thanksgiving, Easter, and summer break. And the work we did on those mission trips in my past was exponentially more physically strenuous than anything I did with the youth. I’m talking hard construction projects, where we wouldn’t stop for lunch sometimes until around 4:00 in the afternoon, and for dinner sometimes not even until 9 or even 10PM.
On this most recent encounter, I guess I didn’t account for how emotionally, mentally, and even physically strenuous it can be to lead a youth group. (I’m sure it didn’t help that our team was grossly unprepared for what we had to do.)
WIth all of that, how is it possible that I walked away feeling it was the most meaningful time to date I had ever had with a youth group? God showed up and showed off among the group of courageous and inspiring people I was with. They had energy to keep going in times when I was running low. They were intrepid where I was fearful. They reached out when I didn’t have it in me to care anymore. And they reminded me what it looks like when someone has an undeniable encounter with God.
I have had people commend me on a successful mission trip, telling me that I’ve done a good job and that my hard work payed off. To be sure, I poured myself into this trip, though I know next year I can sure stand to work smarter. But, I can honestly say I believe that the miraculous events of this trip happened in spite of, not because of me. So many times, my heart was not there, and God had to force His way into my experience and give my heart no choice but to pay attention and be broken.
I do not have to try very hard to see some of these wonderful young people as the church of today, and I am not embellishing anything to tell them that I believe in them. God did something to me in Ensenada, and He used a group of teens and leaders to do it. This gives me hope for the church of today, and for the church of tomorrow.