by Leneita Fix
Two summers ago in a day camp for inner city Middle School students we decided to do a little experiment to help the youth see the world. Part of our programming was to feed them lunch every day. So every day for a week, they ate rice with a little bit of beans in it for lunch. We wanted to show them that many nations around the world only have this food, if anything at all, to eat everyday. There are no choices, just rice every day. One morning, I walk into the kitchen of program to find a young man waiting for the start of camp. “Miss Leneita,” he asks, “Why are you making me eat these rice and beans EVERYDAY.” (It was Thursday at this point.) I asked him if he remembered why. He responded with, “I know you want me to care about the hungry people in Africa, but Miss this is the only food I get all day and I don’t want any more rice and beans.”
This is a great example of how, in our well-meaning intentions to help students move to action, they still are stuck in the same place. I believe this is because poverty, more often than not has little to do with the economy. Instead, it is teaching our youth to really love their neighbors as themselves. Unfortunately, many times they are in want of so much that they live in this place of survival. The earthquake in Haiti hits and we want them to care. The reality is that they don’t know how. They are sad that people are dying, but in their minds their own bellies are empty or families falling apart or their boyfriend just broke up with them, so they can’t see the true needs.
Our mission as the youth worker is to help them see why the second greatest commandment of Christ was essentially to think of those around us. James 1:27 tell us that true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans in their distress. We need to help them see.
This is where we begin. It can be easy to think, “What can we do to help Haiti?” The issue is beyond Haiti; so before you start brainstorming ideas, take a moment to teach your youth, “WHY?” They should care. Understand that many times pictures of the rubble and stories of those trapped don’t touch them. Should they? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they will. To them it is still a world away. Many urban youth have experienced a lot of tragedy at young ages. Think about that place of “survival” that we talked about last week. Their lives either genuinely are full of drama, or it feels that way to them. So we begin by taking the time to talk about the hurt in their own lives and how important it is to not get stuck there. This will help them to start to see the world around them.
I once conducted an experiment with a small group of high school urban females. There were 11 girls in the group. I asked them to close their eyes. I asked them to all put their hands in the air (both hands.) I asked them the following questions. If they answered yes to any of the questions they were asked to put a hand up. If they answered yes to a second question they could put their remaining hand in the air.
How many of you have never lived with your father? 10 hands went up
How many of you have not seen your father in the last year? 5 more hands went up.
How many of you have never met your father? 4 different hands came into the air.
How many of your Mom’s have never been married to your Dad? The rest of the hands became raised.
I then said to them. “Do you know that biblically an orphan is defined as someone without a father? A widow is a woman who has been abandoned by the man who should be helping her care for her children. You are orphans and your mothers are widows.”
We all sat drinking this in for several minutes. The girls stared at me in stunned silence. I watched them physically unload a burden. Once we acknowledged where they were at then we talked about how the Lord has called for those that love Christ to care for them in their distress. I explained it is why I and the other leaders love them and spend time with them. I asked, “Have you thought about the other orphans in the world? There are others who live in other parts of the world with no clean drinking water…” We went on to talk about the rest of the world. When we started by acknowledging their own hurt and need, then they were able to care about the rest of the world. This is merely, my example of how I approached it. However, the problems of the world are not going away. Don’t be afraid to take the time train your students in why we are selfless.
Remember those in your group who are not saved. I love the expression, “The lost act lost.” This means that you may do everything that you can to try and get them to care. However, recognize that sometimes telling them that we should care because Christ wants us to can ring hollow. However, the tangibility of feeding the hungry, bringing water to the thirsty, and visiting those in jail and in the hospital is very real. Ironically, these are the very words of Christ of what he wants us to do, but don’t be hurt if some of your youth doesn’t care that Jesus wants us to. However, when that need is real in their own lives and they hear of others around the world living in worse conditions then the empathy to respond kicks in.
If we start by recognizing the place our youth are in, we can now begin to take the action. This helps them to move out of this survival mentality. It isn’t that their needs aren’t important. It is that we are called to respond beyond ourselves and “Love our neighbors as ourselves.
“Hope Lives,” a curriculum put out by Compassion International and Group Publishing is a great place to start in helping your youth to really think about the world as a whole. It is written in response to youth leaders teaching their youth to respond globally. I have also included a sample lesson that I have written to help teach youth in this way.
Next week we will be ready to engage is my ideas in how to teach youth to respond locally and globally.
(Join the conversation around this topic in our Live Webcast Thursday Feb 18, 2010, at 5:30pm Pacific / 8:30pm Eastern at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/uywi)