Our young people need to know that adults believe in them, and that they can do great things!
The recipe for greatness is simple: Youth, a good portion of passion, a pinch of faith and a lot of adversity; put it in an oven of hope with adults cheering them on and out will come a ‘passionate generation doing great things’.
They won’t put up with being told, “You can’t do that!” No, they will go for it. I call it ‘love with a cause’. Just look at the ‘Me to We’ campaign, or the numerous youth groups and students who do great things in their communities. An elementary student started ‘Bags of Hope’, and thousands of bags full of needed supplies were given to children in Malawi. World Vision is responding to this youth movement by dedicating a whole department to enable youth to have a voice for social justice around the world. I led an organization whose tagline was ‘For youth by youth’. As the youth drove the vision to help our community, I really just tried to keep up! They did amazing things that adults never even thought of.
A couple of years ago I had the honor to lead a memorial service for a girl named Bobby. She would have been twenty-one that year. She was found dead in the downtown core of Kelowna. The service was held at the drop-in center because she visited there often. We learned that even though she had a difficult life, faced a lot of adversity and was sometimes homeless, she was a person who was always concerned for others. The very people who helped her felt that she did as much for them as they did for her.
I shared the story of the woman in Bible times who poured a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. She was ridiculed for wasting it, but her motive was to honor Him. In Jesus’ time, jars were made of clay so they were hard and bumpy on the outside. The reality is that the contents determined its value. The perfume inside gave enormous value to that simple clay jar.
What I see in that story is that often young people are unfairly judged by their outside shell. When we experience hurts in life, we can get hard and bumpy on the outside and then people judge us by our exterior. As with Bobby and today’s youth, we need to see the value on the inside.
It is easy to look from a distance and have an opinion about Bobby’s life. But by making the effort to look at her heart and hear her story we realized the tremendous value that she had and the amazing contribution she made to this city. If Bobby could do that in her circumstances, think how that would be multiplied if every young person knew their value and shared it with the world. What if we all took the time to get to know their stories and looked at their hearts instead of their actions in a moment of time? What if we sought to understand them?
How can we as a community give hope to our young people?
- Give them a place at the table – Invite them to be involved in meaningful ways. Whether at home or in the community, include them in the decision-making process. Ask for their thoughts on issues you’re facing together. I have sat in too many meetings where experts were making decisions for youth. In a healthy home, kids don’t run the house; parents do. However as a parent I have always tried to invite dialogue to seek understanding before making decisions on things affecting them. It gives them real ownership.
- Give them opportunity to shine – Often we work harder at keeping youth out of trouble than we do at inviting them to greatness. I have intentionally put youth in places where they had to rise to the occasion. One time I took a team of youth to an area in Los Angeles’ inner city which was known for its gangs. We worked with a local organization hosting youth events for one week. One night, a bunch of gang members sauntered in. We had the usual program – music, games, drama and a keynote address. About five minutes before the keynote, which I was to give, I went to a 15-year old girl on our team who had never spoken publicly before and said, “You’re up!” The look on her face was priceless. After a little encouragement and me telling her she would do awesome, she nervously got up and gave an amazing twenty minute talk that brought some of the tough gang bangers to tears! The local leader said he had never seen anything like it.
- Celebrate Effort – Regardless of results, always celebrate a youth’s efforts. Celebration today creates hope for tomorrow and provides inspiration to go for even bigger things.