We did a lot of research, looking at every organization and effort in Harlan that was trying to help, develop, or contribute to the community in some way. The internet surprisingly held very little information about Harlan and the efforts within this town, so we took to the streets to explore our options and opportunities. From visiting the Harlan Center, to the public Library, to the Harlan Revitalization Association (no longer active – which tells you a little something about hope in this town), to the Community Action Agency, down to Christ’s Hand, etc, etc, etc. Lot’s of different efforts, programs, committees, events, and organizations.
Then we went to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club.
Honestly, I am really not all too familiar with the B&G Club. I have a few faint memories of thoughts from when I was little – imagining the B&G Club as a scary place for scary people. Same thing with the YMCA. I don’t know why, I just dreamed up that it was a place where gangster kids from the hood went to beat up little homeschool nerds like myself, then carried on with their game of basketball.
We showed up at the B&G Club of Harlan County and, in contrast to the neighborhood, it was a very nice building. New actually. Game tables, technology lab, Art room, Education center, outdoor play area, etc. So Connor and I signed up to volunteer. We filled out our forms for our national background-check (I feel like I’ve had a lot of those lately) and then drove away, expecting to wait a just few weeks and then have them call me, telling me that the multiple felonies on my record didn’t matter and they trusted me completely in handling these fragile, innocent children. You know what I mean.
They never called. I guess I didn’t pass.
Months went by, summer ended, and one day last week I accidentally turned the wrong way, wound up on a one-way street and found myself near the B&G Club. I thought, heck, why not go and check out why they never called me. Maybe they’d call the cops when I walked in the door. I dunno.
After they earnestly apologized for not calling me (because they lost our numbers which we had written on a sticky-note) they told me that my flawless and beautiful record certainly allowed me to come and be a mentor for these kids, impacting their lives for eternity and cementing my place in B&G Club Leader history. They even offered to name the new building after me.
Or rather, they said it would be cool for me to volunteer. Anyways.
Today I thought, well shoot – why not go down and experience the B&G Club for the first time? School got out just before 3pm, so I’d show up a few minutes early, ask what I needed to prepare for, and then brace myself for the wave of children. If this was anything like riding a school bus in the inner city of Mobile Alabama., I needed to prep myself for breaking up fights, correcting six year old’s that swear like sailors, and battle off insanity coming from the immense amount of noise, laughter, and screaming.
It actually wasn’t anything like that – except for the noise. But I guess high pitch screaming and laughter is a common quality in all children.
I volunteered to help the kids in the Education Center with the homework they had to get done, and got paired with a group of second graders that needed help with reading and math. Reading was easy. Math got a little more….uh…..well- it was word problems. I’m not the quickest when it comes to math, but we struggled through and I think the kid will pass. Maybe not with flying colors, but he’ll make it to third grade. I hope.
Later that afternoon, after homework was all completed and packed away, I found myself in the commons area. To my right was literally a flash mob of about 20 second and third graders dancing in unison to the one-player game on Xbox kinect (probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while). Then, a few minutes later, the boy who I helped with in math comes up and taps me on the leg. He’s about 3 foot tall. We’ll call him Johnny (I’m terrible with names.)
“Want to join my club?” He asks curiously. Yeah, sure, of course. Why not! I remember being little and desperately wanting a club myself. Why not make this kid’s day?
“Okay! You can be the Protector. And if anyone wants to come punch me, you can do this -” and he mimics catching someone’s fist in the palm of his little hand.
It’s the coolest club ever – and I’m the Almighty Protector. I honestly think that will go on my resume one day.
The main point of this post is to eventually get around to some thoughts about kids, youth, fun, and church youth groups.
There is a wonderful article published by The Gospel Coalition that you ought to read sometime about youth groups and theology. Young people & thinking hard. Thinking deeply. Understanding what you believe, why you believe, and “getting” the theology underneath it all. It confronts the issues of youth groups being all about having fun, getting kids to show up to events, playing games and performing “wacky skits”.
It also questions the mentality in the church of underestimating what students can comprehend. That, in youth groups, the greatest fear is boredom. The greatest fear is not having fun. So we avoid theology. We avoided the messy, complicated stuff. It’s potentially boring.
I get that. Kids want to have fun. I had fun at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club. But during all the fun and games at the B&G Club I started to think about what the club is all about. Their Mission Statement is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
I have no doubt that the B&G Club is doing the best it can to achieve that mission. But, the first step is getting the kids there. The staff there can’t enable the kids into their fullest potential if the kids don’t show up. Therefore…let the games begin. Guaranteed fun = guaranteed attendance.
So what is our mission statement for youth groups? To have fun? To go to camps and amusement parks? To have lock-ins, movies, games, crafts, and lots of pizza? (I know, I know. I loved gorging myself on pizza all night long too). But something I repeatedly felt as I got a little older, growing up in the teen class, was that I kept getting taught the same old stuff. The same mantra, the same lines, the same basic doctrine.
I’m serious. I go look at the journals and notes from when I was 14-16 and they all get around to saying something like “I’ve heard this same stuff before…” and it led to me having a simplistic view of the Bible. A Bible that wasn’t complicated, deep, or impressive. A Bible that didn’t truly challenge you and cause you to think, wonder, and study. A Bible that never exposed gaps in your knowledge. A huge, gaping hole I had in my knowledge about helping the poor. And lot’s of other stuff.
I wish I had been challenged. I wish I had been confused. I wish I was taught complicated theology that didn’t make sense until you thought about it and studied about it for a while (of course, I still wish this. I barely know anything right now, but it is a work in progress). Sure, that deep stuff isn’t necessary to love Christ and have a relationship with him, but you always have to keep growing. Never stop growing.
So go read C.S. Lewis and then tell me what you think. That stuff is dense.
1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
I love that verse. I know it is a common one and lots of people use it. But really – think about a kid setting the example. Think about a kid being the one that old folks look to in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Really? I think we just look at a kid and hope they don’t get bored. We look at a kid and hope they can recite “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Yeah that is all. Because this black ink on this white paper says so. That’s all.