Sunday, January 9, 2011

Youth Group - Is it a safe place?

When Michaela started to tell her story she was a few drinks into her evening. By the way she looked I would have guessed she was 65ish but she was only 53. Her voice was raspy and loud from years of smoking cigarettes and most likely other things.

I’m not sure why she started speaking with me. Early in our conversation she asked me what I did. Usually I don’t enjoy telling people I’m a pastor but for some reason I let the cat out of the bag immediately. After I shared my confession she stared at me for about 15 seconds wondering how she should respond. I actually thought my budding friendship was only going to last a minute.

She finally gained her composure and told me she was a Catholic Jew who was baptized Southern Baptist. I was pretty impressed with her religious diversity.

If she said it once she said it 50 times in our short encounter. “Remember, your not a man of God, you’re a man with God and a man for God”. To be honest I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about…until I heard her story.

She began to tell me a story that would haunt me the rest of the night. When Michaela was 7 she and her parents where in a car accident. Very little happened to her physically but both her parents where killed. From there her life was spent from foster family to foster family and yes, her experience was horrific.

She told me about the abuse and how every one of her “parents” were fostering so they could collect the $350 a month that was provided. The abuse ranged from locking her in a room without food to sexual abuse. She had lived an incredibly sad childhood.

It was at this point in the story that her “man of God versus man for God” statement began to become clear. You see, Michaela was in church pretty consistently. She had some great experiences in church but also some negative.

Many times she told someone in church leadership about what was going on behind the closed doors of her home. Either they didn’t believe here or didn’t know what to do. They did nothing. People where given the opportunity to speak for one who had no voice and they squandered the opportunity to rescue. I’m not sure why.

Sure, today it’s a little bit different. Church leaders and youth pastors are better equipped and more qualified to deal with these kind of issues when they come up, right? I sure hope so.

Michaela has some serious trust issues with those of us who are in ministry. She didn’t know me at all but in no way believed I was a “man of God”, she’s more right than she knows. After reflecting for a while I think her point is that even though pastors should communicate who God is and the beauty of his gospel, we’re still very flawed.

After talking for 20 minutes or so she gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. She reminded me once again I’m a man WITH God not OF God and told me to keep doing what I’m doing. (she has no idea what I do).

It made we wonder, for those of us who care about kids how are we doing in being an advocate for them? Have there been times in my ministry that kids have cried out for help but I’ve been too busy or distracted to listen?

We must create environments where students feel the freedom and safety to share about the junk going on. Whether it’s abuse or failure, what are we doing to make sure students can talk about the tough stuff of life without judgment or skepticism?

My we be people who by God's grace rescue those who have no voice. Would Michaela's life be different if someone had listened?

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