From the very beginning, my hope for these teens was simple: Their faith would be put into action. I challenged them to think about ways they could do this and they were quick to respond. They wanted to host a worship night to support a ministry, started by a woman in our congregation, focused on helping those with disabilities living in India. (Did I mention how much I LOVE these kids… most of whom are adults now!)
When I brought this idea up to the youth pastor he appreciated the sentiment, but worried about their ability to “successfully” pull off such an endeavor. He insisted they “prove” themselves to the leaders of the church before he would consider the worship night. (I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the example Jesus had in mind with Matthew 19:14, but whatever.) And I don’t need to tell you how discouraged the teens were with his response. Hearing from someone in the church, especially in a leadership position, that you need to “prove” yourself is antithetical to the gospel. But, unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence in a culture that lives and dies on the success of “programs.”
I told the kids to look on the bright side: He didn’t say, “No!” That was the first step. The next step was leading a monthly church meeting centered around teaching, testimonies, baptisms and prayer. Our family had been to a few of these events, which were relatively small in size, maybe 20-25 people. I thought the kids might be a little discouraged. I knew they were dreaming about a HUGE worship night where they could invite their friends from school, many of whom had absolutely no relationship with the Lord. But, instead, they were settling for a monthly church event with scant attendance as the vehicle to prove themselves. But, their response surprised me. They felt like the youth pastor was putting out a challenge and they wanted to accept it.
These teens spent weeks preparing and rehearsing. They brought in other kids from the youth group to help. The night had a different feel right from the beginning. Instead of the usual all-seats-facing-front set-up, they decided on creating a circle with candles in the middle. They began with worship, incorporating contemporary music with some classic hymns. This was followed with a teaching about the Holy Spirit (remember the frozen orange juice analogy?), an exercise in prayer complete with homework for all the adults in attendance, a sharing of testimonies and baptisms… including the baptism of one girls in our group.
When she shared her testimony, she talked about going on her first prayer walk with the group. She was actually with me during that walk and I remember how nervous she was. I think she assumed we would awkwardly stand somewhere, circled up, and just start praying smack-dab in the middle of town. But, that’s not what our prayer walks were about.
Instead, we would pair up and simply walk, praying for the city and for the people we saw. If anyone was looking at us, they would have thought we were simply conversing with one another, but, in fact, we could have been praying for them. It was an exercise in observation. It was an exercise in intercession. It was an exercise in listening to and following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
As this young lady was praying, a woman jumped in front of us and started walking. She soon turned into a local coffee shop and I immediately felt like we should follow after her. (I know… that’s weird. It’s still weird for me, too. My Southern Baptist indoctrination always fights against the super spiritual stuff. But, I really did feel like we were suppose to, so we did.)
So, I interrupted the young lady’s prayer by linking my arm with hers and swinging both of us into the coffee shop. When I think back to it now, I can’t help but laugh. Not quite sure about what was coming next, she asked, “What are we doing?” Not quite sure myself, I replied, “Just watch.”
What unfolded can only be described in one word: God. I offered to buy the stranger’s tea. She was obviously confused by the kindness extended to her and asked why I would want to do something like that. I told her we were Christians and simply wanted to do something kind for her. Her face showed both confusion and intrigued. Her response, “I think the universe is trying to tell me something.”
She went on to tell us how she recently moved to the city with her boyfriend and found out their house was owned by a missionary. She thought the coincidence was weird. I told her it wasn’t a coincidence and it wasn’t weird. It was God. Soon after we left the coffee shop and parted ways with the young lady, both of us trying to contain our laughter as we walked down the street. I was quick to tell the teen that not every prayer walk ends in that kind of interaction… but it does happen quite frequently.
Back at the church prayer meeting, she shared part of that experience and how she was stretched past her comfort zone. It was a theme several of the teens repeated. They talked about how much they had grown over the past few months, how their faith had grown. Looking back, it was such a beautiful night with over 90 people in attendance… the largest in the 18 months we had been at the church. Several parents and grandparents stood up at the end to tell the teens how proud they were. The pastor and several elders congratulated them on a job well done. Everyone seemed to be thrilled with the night… except the youth pastor.