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Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 14: Sushi and Sundaes

Last night we hosted the Christmas party for our 12-14 year old youth group.  We have not spent much time with this group so we were happy for the chance to connect more personally with them.  We were unsure how many would come but in the end, we had a very good group.  When the kids first arrived, they were a bit quiet, keeping to themselves, politely taking one potato chip at a time, not wanting to be appear overly interested in much of anything!  But we got things started by having them create a living Christmas tree...each group was given a bag full of ribbon, bows, wrapping paper, colored paper, ornaments, tape and scissors and had about 20 minutes to create a tree.  The only rule was that a person had to be the trunk!  We split them into boys and girls, sent one of the male leaders with the girls and off they went.  It didn't take long to begin hearing laughter throughout our house.  In the end, one tree looked like a tree and the other one was an abstract interpretation!  To get them even further mixed, we played this silly mixer whereby you simply make statements and if it applies to you, you move a designated number of seats in the direction the leader tells you to...if the seat is empty, you sit on the seat.  If someone is in the seat, you sit on them, etc.  Silly mixers like this get the kids more and more comfortable with one another and you learn a bit about them along the way as you listen to how they respond to the statements.  By this time they were inhaling the food that was set out on the tables! Handfuls of potato chips and popcorn were disappearing by the minute, homemade chocolate chip cookies didn't last, and they devoured every last pepparkakor cookie as well!  Once we ended the mixer, we pulled out the ice cream and had them make their own sundaes.  At this point, two of the kids said that their mom had sent some treats along.  One had cookie bars, the other kid, a boy from South Korean, pulled out a huge container of homemade sushi!  It too disappeared!  What a sight to see these kids eating their ice cream piled high with sauces, sprinkles and whipped cream with a side of sushi to go along with it!  The whole scene just reminded me of how unique and special our setting is, where we get to see the cultures of the world come together in our little corner of the world.
We ended the evening with Christmas pictionary and again, the kids did great.  One team was called The Elves, the other, Team Sushi!  Team Sushi prevailed I'm sure inspired by the delicious Asian treat we all enjoyed thanks to E-Joon's mom!
We ended the night with a short talk about how we want them to feel at home in our home and in our church.  We reminded them that in the midst of all the Christmas happenings, it's God's love that remains the central point.  Isn't that mostly what kids, and well adults, need to hear...that they are loved unconditionally...there is a place for them in this world where they will be valued, cared for and loved?  As they know this in a concrete way through our church, our hope is that they will experience it in a spiritual way by meeting Christ.
Doug and I both have backgrounds in youth ministry, and we have fond, beautiful memories of the years spent pouring into kids lives.  We are grateful for our youth pastor and the team of volunteer leaders who give so generously of their time to our youth.  While I don't want to do youth ministry full time anymore, I have to say, it was a real pleasure to connect with these kids last night.  I think it is a big mistake for pastors in churches to separate themselves from the youth and children's ministry entirely.  Kids need to know their pastors and be able to connect with them on some level...their level. From my perspective, if you throw a lot of food a kids, open your home, relax and be a bit silly with them, you open doors for them to connect with your church in a much more significant way.  Plus, it's fun for us oldtimers to be with the kids once in awhile!
Everything we did was old school youth ministry.  No bells, no whistles, no technology...just loads of food and pathways to creating connections, friendships, and a sense of belonging.  My prayer is that these kids will know how deeply they are loved.