I am a person that struggles with OCD to some extent. I like things in their place, a certain way. I'm not the kind that will check the lights 5 times to be sure they are turned off, but definitely the type to be sure all the shampoo/conditioner bottles are turned label out and the bath towels are hung with the tag in...Yeah, structured...err, insanely so. On top of that, I struggle with ADD issues. That probably explains why I am happiest when organizing things, but the reason they never get done. If you ask me (and, anyone who knows me can attest), I'll tell you that I have at least a dozen projects started. That's right, started...not finished.
Anyway, enough background for you....to the reason for the post: Middle school students and volunteering to serve them-be a part of their lives.
About three years ago, I made the move from serving each weekend with children ages 2 to 4 years old to serving with 6th grade students. There was something about the environment (called 56 at my church which stands for 5th and 6th grade). There was an energy that I couldn't explain that I felt in the first 10 minutes of being in the room. I wanted a piece of that. It inspired me.
To be a life group leader, you end up with a group of students (girls in my case), generally about 10 to 12 or so, that you work with each week to discuss the lesson and challenge them to dig deeper in their spiritual walk and apply the lesson to their lives. You also keep tabs on them here and there...check in on them, you know. It sounded daunting when they first explained it, but I so loved that energy that I wanted to give it a shot.
You know my biggest worries?
1.) I wouldn't have the answer if asked a question of the Bible.
2.) I wouldn't be able to dress cool enough to fit in.
Sad on both counts. I wasn't raised in a Christian home and really was nervous that one of the students would site a scripture I had no clue of...GASP! I know, both seem kind of silly, but were valid anxieties that I was feeling. Many of my friends expressed doubt that I was planning to serve in this environment...They kept saying things like: "Oh, Amy...you know that it is crazy in there, right?...Amy, are you crazy? Why would you want to serve with those MIDDLE SCHOOLERS?" (They acted like they had the plague or something or would eat me?...)
Fast forward to today...I've been serving in middle school ministry, have moved up with them each year and now walk alongside them as 8th graders in JCrew. I've gotten the honor of attending weekly gatherings structured just for these students, all night events, community service events, 3 winter retreats and 3 summer week-long retreats, as well as life group events at my home or the nearest mall. These events are action packed, sleep-deprived events that require immense patience, a good supply of coffee and often tend to use up a number of vacation days.
You know what? I would not trade any one of them for something else. I would not trade one of them for a beach trip or a cabin trip. I would not trade one afternoon spent texting a student afraid of a failed test. I would not trade one week away with 200 students. I would not trade 24 hours of serving and cleaning and praying in inner city Philadelphia. Every single trip, every one, caused me to walk away with a greater appreciation for God and what He does in their lives...and in mine. Every trip gave me a greater appreciation for what God is doing in the hearts of these students. Every trip left me wanting more involvement.
You know what else? I've discovered that middle school ministry is far from chaotic and unstructured. To the observer (or some of my friends), it many seem that way...but, I've seen what goes into an event, seen what goes into a weekend gathering. There is an immense amount of planning to be sure that the environment is just right, that just the right song is played, that this pause be taken or that joke be made to make sure that the students have that opportunity to have it "click." I've also gotten to see the clicking part...you know, when a student finally "gets" it...realizes the power of the salvation offerred them and accepts it right where they are.
A few weeks ago, I got to be in the water for the baptism of one of these students. She wasn't a student from my life group, but one that I have had the pleasure to have at a few retreats. I had not had the opportunity to read her story prior to her baptism, so I wasn't sure what would be read from her letter. As I stood there encouraging her, I heard it: "I've always grown up learning about God, but it wasn't until my first retreat at UE that I really got to know Jesus and connect with him." Tears welled in my eyes...she had been with me for my very first week long summer retreat. In some small way, the lessons we learned and I helped teach (that we are all the family of God) made an impact. I was flooded with emotion that God had used me, even if I didn't realize it at the time. Seeds planted, sort of thing right there.
I'm often reminded that I wish I would have had a place to go like this when I was in junior high...someone to guide me, a "good" group of kids that do life together through thick and thin. But, I guess I get to be that in the smallest of ways for someone else and appreciate that they need it. Will I ever have all the answers?...I doubt it. But...
I now have come to realize that
1.) If I don't know, it is okay to say "I'm not sure, but let's find out together." and
2.) The students don't care what you wear or how you look as long as they know you love them and are there for them, accepting them right where they are in life and not judging them but challenging them.
So, it has been the perfect fit. I'm humbled, honored and proud to be a part of middle school ministry.