I was in junior high the first time I saw another human being try to travel faster than the speed of sound. We were at a camp in the foothills of the Cascades, enjoying a weekend youth group retreat. About a dozen of us piled on to the merry-go-round and several of our ADULT leaders started the “Extreme Merry-Go-Round of Death” (as they affectionately called it). I point out that they were “ADULT” leaders...supposed to be mature, wise and guardians of our well-being. Did I mention this whole thing happened with ADULT leaders supervising?
Anyway, the ride started spinning faster and faster, and I remember being toward the outside, holding on for all I was worth. The merry-go-round started to wobble and a steady hum was heard. Exhilaration was replaced with terror and I seriously feared for my life. Then it happened -- one of my peers lost his grip on the ride of death and he went airborne. A sonic boom was heard as he travelled through the air toward the lake. The lake was a 1/2 mile away and a 1/2 mile wide. He skipped three times as he crossed it from one side to the other. Amazingly he was relatively unharmed.
A few years later I was in the downtown district of a southern California city in the middle of the night. We were in a 15-passenger van packed to the gills with loud students and a very lost driver. As we pulled up to a stop sign at 2am, our other van pulled up beside us with the driver rolling down her window. I was in the passenger seat, so I rolled my window down to hear what she was saying to our driver:
“You’re an idiot! Don’t you know you’ve been going the wrong way on a one-way street for 1/2 a mile?!? Pay attention!!!”
My eyes were the size of saucers when I realized that being lost was the least of our troubles. So what did our driver do? He promptly turned on the next street. Again, going the wrong way on a one-way street. Somehow we still made it to Mexico and had an amazing missions trip; proof that there is a God!
During my junior year of high school, our youth group went to Wisconsin for a service trip to help mentally handicapped people in a very special ministry. On one of the afternoons, we had to take the residents to a nearby zoo and I was charged with putting sunscreen on three of them. Only one problem: I had never used sunscreen in my life. As a hispanic, my skin tans up real nice, and I’ve never burned. So I had never needed sunscreen and had never used it.
I watched a few of my peers apply the gooey substance to others and I thought, “How hard can it be?” Like a boss, I applied sunscreen to three young lads and off to the zoo we went. Everything was great that day, and even though we had a really hot day and found ourselves in the sun all afternoon, I knew my boys were doing just fine.
You can imagine my shock when we showed up the next day for service and three residents had arms that looked like sunburned zebras. White and red stripes travelled up and down their arms and one of the teachers asked, “Who put the sunscreen on these boys?!?!” I hung my head low and owned the mistake: “It’s my fault. I let Craig put on the sunscreen and I knew I shouldn’t have.” I’ve always been a hero that way.
Being part of a youth group has always been a big part of my life. From 7th grade on, I was connected to youth group, and I’m thankful my parents made church such a big part of our lives. I know a lot of people have bad church experiences, but I wasn’t one of them. Church, and especially youth group, was really good for me. Probably another reason I was so eager to become a youth pastor myself.
I learned valuable lessons about serving others, respecting authority and the values my parents taught me at home were reinforced in youth group. I also had a ton of fun, and learned that following God wasn’t boring or a drag. And the experiences I gained on cross-cultural mission trips, service projects and youth group retreats still influence my life today.
It’s not too surprising when I look back over those years, that my life was so shaped by youth group. After all, God designed us for community and youth group can be the perfect place for that to happen. Youth group can be fun, it should be safe and it’s a place where a teenager can learn how they fit in with their talents and gifts.
A good youth group however, needs one more component -- it needs to engage the spiritual growth and development of its members. Students need to be challenged with God’s Word and urged to grow in their relationship with Him. The closer students get to God, the closer they’ll be to each other, to their families and to the church they are connected to. Grounded students can change the world!
Are you part of a community of people that are helping you grow in you walk with God? Are you enjoying your journey with others? Are you learning how to use your gifts and talents in a safe environment? You can’t live the Overboard Life without being in a community that will help you along the way. If you’re not part of a community today, find one, join it and then share your life with others who are trying to get out of the boat!
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!