I was asked to write this article back in early August. I thought I had a good idea for things that make a difference here at Derry and I chewed on this idea a bit. Being fresh off the Youth Group trip (in full disclosure, two of the young people were my daughters), this would fall right out of my fingers and onto my screen, right? Not quite. It is now September 1 and one of you, without even knowing I was asked to write this, sent me a very nice card, with a brief message about a youth activity that let me know that my thoughts had congealed and I was headed in the right direction.
Here is my working title for this piece: Do You Make a Difference in the Lives of Our Youth? That question and my message here is not an appeal for new sign-ups for Sunday School teachers or Youth Leaders (although none of us would say that is a bad idea and we can tell you that the process of getting your clearances is not that bad at all), but this article is a call for reflection on the difference you make in the lives of our youth.
So what are the elements of our youth program here at Derry?
Sunday School? Check.
Youth Group? Check.
Food? Devotions? Check! Check.
Fellowship and Activities? Check.
So much more? Check, Check, and Check again.
Are you part of Derry’s Youth program? Check! You are!
Do you make a difference in the lives of our youth? Check! More than you know!!
My argument here is based on my observations at Derry and a reflection on my experiences growing up. You provide significant and valuable things to our youth and probably do not even realize it. You are just doing the things that you do as a person of faith. I recall attending church with my family and I remember those worshiping around me — even as I start to receive offers in the mail for senior discounts, their names and faces are still vivid in my mind. I still remember where most people sat each Sunday. I remember being led in hymns by Mr. Shebelsky in our gathering before Sunday School, and finding passages in the Bible with Mrs. Unger. Ushering with Mr. Edmands, the singing voice of the scout leader, who would later become my first boss. Other times, I remember smiles and kind words, or the good food that people shared during turine dinners (it took me a long time to figure out what turine meant). I was given the gift of experiencing the love of Jesus Christ in the people I met. They showed me what that looked like and what people living their faith meant, all without doing any one, particular thing. All these things are still part of me today.
It is a privilege to be involved with the youth here at Derry, and, I am certain others would tell you the same thing. I probably do not have enough space here or time to fully share what impacts me (and how), but here are the first things to come to mind from recent youth gatherings/events:
It is a gift to watch youth get to know each other over the course of a week, when packed in a van for at least 25 – 30 hours over the course of a week, needing to share bathrooms, walking in the woods, taking off across a lake in a kayak or on a paddle board, getting sand out of their shoes, helping to cook meals, and getting help finding the sunscreen. I am moved by their participation in devotions and worship planned by them. I often am given pause as I hear them sing the hymns I remember singing when I was growing up. I take so much from them when I hear their expressions of the intersection of their lives and faith when we go around the circle offering prayers, and it is particularly poignant when their prayers are heard by adults or they hear the prayers of adults. At other times, I am not looked at too weirdly when I join in a music experience that requires a stand up and clap, move to your left, turn around and jump required along with the singing, taking me back to memories from my younger years.
More and more each day, I realize how much I appreciate the involvement of others in the church as I was growing up and the experiences I have here at Derry. I not only appreciate the gifts that were given to me (and continue to be), I rely on them. The older I get, they are a comfort to me, but also provide a foundation for what I need in this world that seems to challenge us more each day. I suspect many of you feel the same way and rely on the gifts you have received and still receive. They make a difference.
Believe it or not, you make a difference to our youth program and are a vibrant part of it. By being here, worshiping, welcoming, expressing your faith, singing, eating together, working, or just chatting with others, you make a difference. I am pretty certain that our youth will reflect on what they have received from you in years to come, even the littlest thing may be significant to them. They will come to the same conclusion that you made a difference to them, I just bet, and will later make a difference to others, too.