I've been working with the youth group in my church for around 12 years. In those years, I've gotten to know hundreds of kids, lots of who are grown up now - even married. I stay in touch with a lot of them through facebook, some through church and some not at all. As I've been going through cataloging my pictures in Picasa, I've seen kids that I'd forgotten about. I've called some of them to check in on them and keep up with others through their friends. There's a part of me that feels responsible and hurts when I hear about my kids making bad choices, no matter how long they've been out of my youth group.
Junior high misfit kids have a special place in my heart. I like the soul-level misfits.... For some reason, my favorite kids are the ones who don't know or don't settle for the easy church answers, the ones that don't get how to behave in church or treat others in a "nice" way, the outcasts or the hyper-popular who think they have no space or need in their life for Jesus, the ones who are too cool to be a part of a youth group.
There was a girl ten years ago who was like this in my youth group. She was full of junior high girl drama, a cheerleader, insecure but with a great heart. She stopped coming to Crossroads after junior high, and I never saw her again. She was one of the girls I would always ask about as I'd talk to other kids her age that I stayed in touch with and it was sad to hear what was going on with her.
Joe came up today and told me that she was in church today! I ran over to see her, giddy at the idea that she'd come back. My heart lept to see her. She's 21 now. The kids and I sat next to her and we caught up. I was so excited to see her there today. It made these two parables come to life for me...
"Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, 'Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep!' Count on it—there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. Luke 15:4-7Seriously, I felt just like that... Ok, I didn't try and throw her on my shoulders - because I'm pretty sure that's just a metaphor...
She seemed a bit ashamed to be there, like she felt out of place, like she would be condemned for having left to begin with. The other story that came to life was the prodigal son... This is the parable of the son who turns his back on his Dad, goes off and sows his oats and comes back ashamed, awaiting his father's condemnation. Instead he's greeted by a father who is ecstatic that his son has returned:
"When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.'I texted friends after church, and called a few to share the great news. My friend Ken Buck pointed out the value in being a part of one church over the long haul - being able to see people come back like this. I probably sound goofy gushing like this. At some level, it affirms what I sometimes have a hard time accepting about youth ministry: it's not my job to fix and save every kid that comes through our group. We get to put some of the puzzle pieces on the board, but in the end, God has the cover of the puzzle box and knows how it's going to turn out.
We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time.
Anyone else have any good prodigal son type stories in their lives?