Guarding hearts not computers

On October 10th 2017 Amanda Todd, a 15 year old Canadian girl, was found dead in her home. Her suicide was attributed to cyber bullying at the hands of ‘friends’ and strangers alike.

It started when a photo of her topless (which she uploaded at the request of strangers she was connecting with via video chat) was circulated on the internet. What followed was a series of tragic events – she struggled with anxiety and depression, turned to alcohol and drugs, her family moved towns, she changed schools twice, she had sex with a guy-friend, she was physically attacked … On September 7th she posted this video online …

Her story has sparked a lot of discussion about the perils of social networking and the need for greater regulation. Whilst this heartbreaking story is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of internet use (the need for adequate monitoring, the degree of ignorance our teens tend to have to the permanency and scope of choices made in those ‘now’ moments, the cruelty of teens to one another, the speed with which those things can escalate etc) my heart broke to watch this video for a deeper reason.

I watched this and wept for a girl who was completely at the mercy of others to determine her own sense of self and to know her value and worth. Every step of this story is reflective of her search for significance in the responses and acceptance of others who are seeking exactly the same thing in their own (dysfunctional and depraved) way. I see a girl who would no doubt have felt she had no other options than the ones she chose.

I wonder if this couldn’t be a great resource to parents and leaders looking to engage and invest into youth? Perhaps this is a video you could watch with your teen and discuss it together? It would be a great opportunity to help them see the various “t-intersections” Amanda faced and the choices she made at each – workshopping some alternatives or ways she might have avoided some of the situations she found herself in.

Our young people are inundated with opportunities, interactions and decisions that are beyond their maturity and capacity to handle alone. Let’s be intentional about having preventative/pre-emptive conversations with our young people. Firstly, to equip them to navigate life in positive and healthy ways. But secondly, (and of infinite importance) to develop relationships of trust, safety and openness that will stand your young person in great stead to look to you (or other significant adults in their world) when they find themselves in circumstances beyond their ability to navigate alone.

Just a thought.

Y O U T H & the power of a cause

If we want our kids to thrive in life and flourish as people – we’ve got to get them involved in serving and giving.

The power of participating in a cause is well-documented for its contributions to general well-being (or happiness). The associated implications for physical health and levels of anxiety and depression are meritous alone. But we add to that the whole “let’s make this world a better place” idea and there seems little reason not to. 

Here are just three of the many ways engagement in a cause empowers and encourages our young people. 

Purposeful use of their time 

Every summer holidays you’ll find a group of youth from our church serving our local community through the “SummerWorx” initiative. 

Here youth spend their discretionary time working together on projects in local schools and community organisations – cleaning, gardening, removing rubbish, painting and sorting. 
We often bemoan our young people’s overuse of technology or seeming laziness without necessarily giving them an alternative by calling them to a greater purpose and genuine satisfaction in the work of their hands. 

The camaraderie of time spent with others with a mutual goal and the shared success in the achievements, grow skills of teamwork and responsibility. While providing a sense of deep fulfilment and belonging. 

A way to understand and fight injustice

Each year our community participates in the PingPongAThon. A 24 hour table tennis event created to raise awareness and funds for exploited, abused and trafficked young people via a number of organisations on the ground in Sth East Asia. 

Last year we raised over $24,000 as young people responded to the empowering realisation that they could in fact do “something”. As small as their contribution might have been it was caught up in a greater whole and each was confronted by the privilege of their freedom and the power in each of them to bring hope and restore dignity. 

A call to something bigger than themselves. 

Within our church community, young people are encouraged and assisted into roles of leadership and serving. They supervise children’s programs and lead small groups, connecting with families and participating in the faith and life development of children and youth of all ages. 

These opportunities allow young people to invest in others as they themselves have been led and nurtured in different aspects of their lives. They see the role they have – to step in to the time and place they’ve been chosen to occupy in history and to work to provide a hopeful and fruitful future for emerging generations. 

What do you think? What benefits have you seen from youth engagement in causes and projects? What initiatives have you seen that facilitate such involvement?

camps are the best!!

When I was 7 years old I made my own response to Jesus at a camp. Mum & Dad were Camp Parents at a teen camp which meant I got to tag along and I can still recall many details of the moment when I was touched by Jesus in a personal, powerful way. 

Camps were a significant part of my faith journey as a youth. I lived in a small country town where only a handful of teens were part of my church. It was incredibly important for me to connect with a broader network of Jesus followers to ground and inspire my faith as I navigated my teen years. 25 years later some of the people I met at those camps are some of my closest friends and key players in my continuing God-story. 

As a Youth Pastor I have seen and championed the value of camping to the discipleship of young people. There are many reasons for their value but I think among the most impactful is the intentional setting aside of time and attention to make oneself open to the plans and purposes of God. 

There’s a new environment – a beach, a mountain, a view – at the end of a physical trip that marks a disconnecting from the routine, familiarity and comfort of home. There’s the need to sign up, save up and plan towards it that builds expectancy for what might happen. There is a new community created for the set time – relationships started and built in that set apart environment. There’s the worship and teaching sessions on a Saturday or Tuesday morning – normal “Sunday” activities engaged in a new way at a new time. There’s a leadership team who have been gearing up for this and are prayerful and hopeful for real God encounters and transformation – giving of their time and money to create an opportunity for young people to experience all that God has for them. 

Research points to camps as being a major contributing factor for faith retention and development. 

Critics of camps will point to the concern that camps generate an artificial spiritual ‘high’. They might observe behaviour afterwards and question whether or not that experience was authentic. I have ridden that wave as both a camper and leader. My belief is that ANY encounter with God is used by Him to draw us closer to Him. We don’t ever return to the same kind of ‘normal’; what we learnt is not un-learnt. The discipleship journey for everyone – particularly young people – is a series of steps and missteps as our faith increases and our personal story of God expands. 

I can’t recommend camps highly enough. The research is in. The testimonies are strong. The investment of time and money is worth the reward it reaps. 

What about you? How have camps been part of your faith journey? What involvement have you had in seeing camps impact others? What resources have you found to make camps most effective?