She met me in the church parking lot, long auburn hair pulled into a side -do.
“Beka! What fun to see you!” I hugged her tightly, delighted by the surprise of seeing her there.
“Sam invited me, saying you might need help this summer,” she twisted her nose ring, grinning. “I’m not sure yet if I can, but…” she trailed off, and I jumped in.
“We’d love to have you work with the teens with us this summer, but no pressure either.”
We walked through two glass doors and into the cool interior. Teens gathered at the entrance, sprawled out across a carpeted bench and the floor, talking in knots. Guitar sounds, vocals, and drums came from upstairs as other teens prepared for worship. In the large dining room, teens joked and hung out, waiting for youth group to start.
“Want to scoop ice cream with me?” I asked Beka.
In between sticky servings of cookies and cream, chocolate fudge, and green mint ice cream, we greeted incoming students, motioned towards the spoons, and poured root beer around swirling vanilla mounds. Between conversations with teens and handing out styrofoam bowls of ice cream, I slid questions over to Beka, catching up on her last year of life.
“How long has it been since you graduated?” I asked, trying to get a picture of which students she might recognize from her own youth group days. “Samantha does choir at Centennial,” I offered, as blonde Samantha came by. The girls chatted about a familiar choir teacher’s fourth pregnancy.
“Almost four years,” Beka replied a second later, as the line moved again.
“Four years?! Really?” My eyes were wide as I dished up drippy melting cookies and cream. “As our seventeen years here merge in our minds, I find myself thinking that all my teens know each other.”
“Is this normal chocolate?” a teen in short black hair asked. I agreed, yet pointed him to the chunkier chocolate option too.
Spread out across the large room students clustered. Rising taller than the rest were five or six older broad-shouldered, college-grads and twenty-something youth leader volunteers too. Beka was the newest one considering joining– some had already been helping for the last year or two. Mentoring younger students in worship-leading, in soundboard-operating, or by regular attendance and participation, these former students work alongside our long-term adult leaders to serve current students.
Glancing across the dining hall, my heart was happy. Youth ministry is the privilege that never ends. Round-cheeked 6th graders grow into lanky high schoolers, who soon sport woodsmen beards and pay college tuition. Weddings, babies, and school-age children swell the families of former students of ours throughout the years, and their jobs change and grow. We see the impact these former students are having on their worlds now, and it thrills us.
“Six breakfasts” is what Youth Specialties speaker Tiger McLuen once told a roomful of youth workers. He went on to describe how an adult reached out to him during a spiritually-hard time after his first year of college. For six weeks, they met to talk over breakfast. “Those six breakfasts changed me,” he told the somber room of youth pastors and volunteers last spring.
Youth ministry is a privilege that doesn’t end. My husband and I are honored to get to know teens of all ages, and for opportunities to connect with them after their youth group years. Tonight, several former students will pull up into our driveway, and sprawl across our sagging couch to learn how to do youth ministries to the new generation of teens, and I will be smiling happy, I know. Older ones mentoring younger ones mentoring younger ones.
We are thankful for chances to offer hope and advice into any of our teens’ lives, and we humbly recognize how much we learn and are encouraged by them too.
What about you? Whatever your vocation or volunteer options, who can you invite out for breakfast or coffee? It will be a privilege and joy for you too, my friend.