The bulk of my personal posts are about my daughter and my families journey with her. I love writing those, but this one is a little different. In my non-daddy life, I am very involved with youth ministry and I would love some crowd sourcing help around that today. So I hope you will indulge my departure. You see, when I think of my middle school experience, I think of girls changing best friends every 26 seconds, detentions for not getting homework done, and slow dances where you could fit a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica (if you're under 25, look it up, you'll be amazed!) between the parties involved. I don't think that these memories are completely fabricated but I love that as an adult I get to see it from a different perspective.
Today, Middle School kids never cease to amaze me. I have been working with them in one capacity or another for eight years and have an immeasurable respect for them. The difference between the sixth graders we get in and the eighth graders we confirm and graduate is immense. With most kids, you would hardly recognize the person that walked in 3 years earlier. I suppose that is not too surprising when we remember that the time they spend with us is 25% of their lives.
I think one of the more impressive things about kids at this point in their lives is that, for most of them, nobody has convinced them yet that it is not cool to be engaged. No one has broken them down so far that they stop caring about others and they think that anyone who would break them down like that is not worth their time anyway. To be clear, I am definitely not deluded enough to think that there aren't horrible stories of bullying and abuse that can happen to kids at this age but overall, the light that is within them hasn't yet been covered by the proverbial bushel basket (I know, I know, it wasn't Proverbs but you get my point!) When we give these kids a chance to help someone in need, whether it be on the mission trips we do over the summer, the weekend trips we do in the spring or helping feed the folks in our PADS homeless shelter, they shine. We see them step up in ways that people might not expect. One reason that I think that this group is so important to work with is so that when the world pushes itself onto them, they have a set of experiences to draw from which will support the inkling that they have the doing the right thing is worth it because it feels great.
The advisors for WildFaith, the middle school youth group at our church, have agreed to take on a huge challenge this year which we can only do because we have absolute faith that our kids will step up the way they always have. We are going to raise the funds, make the food, and staff the cooking team for one Tuesday every month this PADS season. Our kids have always cooked for PADS a few times a year but this is by far the largest commitment to mission that we have ever endeavored. One Sunday a month of cooking will mean fewer weeks of playing sardines and board games and movie nights but it will mean a way to guarantee that our kids aren't the ones who don't know that they can do more than "want to" help. They can actually impact lives directly.
This was a wonderful opportunity for us but it comes after years of being told that 11-14 year olds are too young to help at several other mission opportunities. So my question to parents and youth leaders reading this is this: Where have you found fun, hands on, age appropriate mission opportunities for little kids and/or middle school kids? If you have friends who are involved in mission or ministry, perhaps you could share this post with them, I would love to get some varied ideas for what groups, organizations and projects need help from our kids. Thanks Everyone-- Comment Away!