PARTY WITH A PURPOSE

PARTY WITH A PURPOSE

It was a muggy fall evening in 2000 and our youth leader Marty, and I were almost finished. We’d been at the county fair all afternoon conducting surveys to learn the spiritual needs of our community. Among the questions we polled: Do you attend a church? Why or why not? What attracts you to a church or turns you off?

The replies varied on all but the last question: What do you think the county needs most?

Ninety percent responded with, “Something for the youth.”

I was already leading a small outreach to Christian kids on Wednesdays at the middle school, but, frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. Marty was doing a great job with the kids from our church, but they were already “churched” kids and besides, he had a full-time job at the power plant. He was doing as much as he could. A local pastor’s group, of which I was a member, considered opening a youth center downtown, but funding and leadership were insurmountable hurdles, mostly leadership. We knew that anything effective would need a dedicated leader, called to minister to kids, with plenty of time on his or her hands.

Nine years went by and though I prayed about it from time to time, nothing happened. Then one day I got a cold-call, “Hi, I’m Dave Snyder and I’d like to talk to you about a ministry called Young Life.” I had known a Young Life guy in seminary and was impressed so I listened. “My kids are grown, but I feel a burden from God to get something going for the youth. I think Young Life is the way to go. Would you be willing to visit one of their camps and think about serving on a startup committee?”

I visited two camps that season and was so impressed I’ve been involved ever since. Here’s what I learned.

Young Life was founded in 1941 by Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn. It is known for its high-quality youth camps—they study Disney World for ideas—and enormously fun club nights. They call it a party with a purpose. But it isn’t about the camps, or the clubs, or the party. It’s about the kids.

Teens have tense, pressure-filled, lives. Well over half live in broken homes. Smartphones and social media make escape from peer pressure impossible. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. The sexual revolution is steam-rolling them into porn addictions, unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, abortion and emotional emptiness. Dave Snyder got involved after attending a law enforcement seminar on growing gang activity in our community.

Young Life starts with concerned adults who are willing to go life-on-life with teens on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. That takes time, patience, trust, and authenticity. Its leaders go to their games, and hang-out with them at Bojangles to build real relationships. And not just with churched kids, Young Life specializes in developing innovative approaches to reach uncommitted, disinterested teens. It is the most sociologically intelligent outreach organization I’ve ever seen.

Young Life’s mission is simple: Introduce teens—all teens, black, white, Hispanic, everyone—to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. They don’t wait for the kids to come to church, they go where the kids are and earn the right to share the gospel with them.

Most pastors are generalists by default. We do not have the training or the time to invest in teens effectively. Most church youth pastors also play multiple roles for their congregations and can’t spend the necessary time with unchurched kids.

Our county launched Young Life when local teacher, Sarah Reaves, after responding to Dave Snyder’s invitation to attend a camp, volunteered to lead it part-time without pay for its first year. Many kids began relationships with Christ under her leadership. Last year we took a financial risk and invited Matt Rich to lead full-time. He’s been doing great work. Last weekend, twenty-five teens from our community attended fall weekend at a Young Life camp. Eight began relationships with Jesus Christ. I’ve been in ministry over twenty-five years and never seen that kind of effectiveness. That’s why our church has Young Life in its monthly budget.

I hope you will put it in yours.

For more information, or to give online, visit http://www.younglife.org.

BIBLICAL THINKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION

Sofia[1] smiled as she greeted me and asked for the birthday that pharmacies use as identifiers. Then she frowned and said, “I don’t see that one yet,” in gently accented English, “but I will check.” Coming back to the counter she smiled again, “They are filling it now. I’ll just put your other items to the side and take care of these customers, then call you when its ready?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I said and stepped back to watch her work. We’ve known her since she arrived as a fourth-grade student in my wife’s art class, unable to speak a word of English. My oldest daughter, home from college at the time, became one of Sofia’s first friends by using her rudimentary Spanish to help the young immigrant understand assignments. Later, she gave her life to Christ through the ministry of Young Life, which our church supports.

The pharmacy was busy, but Sofia—now a junior college student and pharmacy tech—gave each customer the same cheerful smile and professional service. It never occurred to me to ask how she got here. I was just happy to see her doing so well, enjoying her work, and learning the business from the bottom up as she pursues her dream of becoming a doctor.

That happy story can be repeated millions of times all over America, as can the unhappy ones, like the increased drug trade, murders, welfare abuse, and human trafficking stories associated with illegal immigration. President Trump was elected in large part because he—famously or infamously, depending on your point of view—promised to bring illegal immigration to a screeching halt by building a wall and “making Mexico pay for it.”

Thinking Biblically about immigration means more than taking sides based on the latest heart-warming or inflammatory headline. It requires sorting through the balance between justice and compassion.

Scripture commands compassion for the stranger, as in Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”[2] Mary and Joseph, too, “found no room in the inn,” but did find refuge from the tyrant Herod as strangers in Egypt. Yet it also emphasizes justice: 20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” [3]

Empathy is easy. It comes naturally to us when we see others struggling. But empathetic compassion without justice, without something to keep it in balance, creates chaos and perverse incentives for criminal elements. Like Felix, my Uber driver earlier this month, who paid a smuggler $12,000 to get him across the Mexican border. “It’s a lot of money,” he said in a thick Cuban accent, “but safer than the Florida Straights in an overloaded boat.”  He’s working with a sponsor now to try to obtain permanent legal status, but the threat of instant deportation dogs his heels.

Barak Obama bypassed Congress when he created DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals), a clear overreach of his executive authority. Some call it a compassionate move, but not if it creates incentives for more illegal immigration. Senator Ted Cruz, in a response to WORLD Magazine’s Evan Wilt on questions about DACA, explained: “Any action on the individuals in the DACA program could potentially lead to chain migration of 3, 4, 5 million additional people here illegally.”[4] In other words, if Congress doesn’t bring justice to bear on Mr. Obama’s attempts at compassion, more chaos will ensue.

Americans, including some Christians, have a checkered past when it comes to welcoming immigrants. Even though most of our ancestors were once émigrés dreaming the American Dream, we are no strangers to bigotry. How soon we forget.

We are also oblivious to more pragmatic considerations. Birthrates are at historic lows, which is no surprise.[5] Since Roe V. Wade, we have killed 58 million babies, each a potential taxpayer. The Social Security Administration says that the fund is healthy, and fears of its collapse are unsubstantiated, but it also says benefits may need to be reduced by 25% by 2035 and taxes increased to keep it solvent.[6]

Some complain that immigrants take American jobs, but fewer Americans are willing to do the “dirty jobs” Mike Rowe made famous. Many business owners report that it’s because of our too liberal welfare system. Why work when you can eat for free? Most immigrants—even and perhaps especially the illegals—see dirty jobs as opportunities. Those kinds of jobs have always been the first step up on the multi-generational ladder of immigrant success. And the legal immigrants who work them pay taxes.

Historically, America welcomed immigration and immigrants helped build America. Biblically, we are commanded to treat them compassionately without ignoring justice and order. Politically and economically, it seems like common sense to create a path for illegals to become legal, and to reopen the doors to immigration once the injustices created by unwise compassion have been addressed.

[1] Name changed to protect privacy.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ex 22:21). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 16:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Marvin Olasky, Here to Stay? WORLD, Sept. 2017. https://world.wng.org/2017/09/here_to_stay

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/health/united-states-fertility-rate.html

[6] https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n3/v70n3p111.html