Last week I was suddenly confronted by a story I had not previously consideredâa scenario I'd never tried to picture. I woke up to the reality of ministry in my location.
How often do we assume things about others?
How often do we 'profile' the life experiences of other people?
How often do we just assume the people we interact with every day at work, church and school are just like us?
Wrestling with my assumptions
I help coordinate a Friday night youth group of roughly 40 teenagers who are in high school. Historically speaking, most of these kids come from church-going Christian families, and Christian schools.
Yes, these teens definitely have their struggles, and we often have some great conversations. Discipling and ministering to these second-generation Christians is where I feel most comfortable. I love taking these kids deeper into God's Word, and encouraging them on their journey to find their God-given purpose and calling in life.
However, over the last term, we've invited a few other groups from around the area to join usâas they have limited resources (leaders)âto run a youth program.
New faces in the youth group are always a great thing, but it wasn't long before 'profiling' began to set in. My mind was categorising these kidsâwho they were and where they'd come from.
None of us really knew where these kids were at with the concept of who God is, but they definitely seemed to enjoy themselves on a Friday night, even if they were a lot more rowdy and all around less compliant with the structure of youth group.
To me, they seemed to be average teenagers from a local state high school: the ones who are always vying for attention, the ones always trying to impress their friends, and the ones who are way too cool for the rules.
Every second Friday we'd send one of our leaders to pick them and their leaders up from another local church, and at the end of the night take them home again. On one of these trips two of the leaders got chatting, and a confronting story of one of the youth group members began to emerge.
Charlie* is a teen who grew up in a fairly needy family in the 'low rent' district of town. He had a few siblings, and parents who were struggling with drug addictions. One year, his father had passed away from an overdoseâsoon followed by his grandmother.
During a recent car trip back from a neighbouring city the police had pulled the car over on the side of the highwayâI'm not sure why. All seemed OK with the driver, but the police began asking some questions about the passengers in the back. Charlie and his mother were sitting in the back seat, fast asleep as a result of the long road trip home.
Charlie woke up, but his mother was fast asleep. The police officer knew something wasn't right and just as the driver assured the officer that she was just taking a nap, the officer felt for a pulse.
Charlie's mother had overdosed and died right next to Charlie on their way home.
Now, Charlie lives with his older sibling and younger sibling in the family house by themselves. Their grandfather brings food and other supplies around on a semi-regular schedule.
No answers, just questions
This story impacted me pretty hard.
The story is obviously tragic, but it really hit me: this rambunctious kidâthe one I had labelled a typical attention-seeking teenager, vying for approvalâwas dealing with this as his reality. The loss of family members to drugs, the struggle to find food and shelter: this was Charlie's daily reality.
The contrast was immense, and I thought to myself, 'How many other people would completely pass Charlie by without even noticing?' 'How many other kids are just like Charlie and go unnoticed?'
I'm humbled and grateful that Charlie is choosing to come to youth group on Friday nights, but I still have a lot of questions that I'm not sure I know the answers to.
Are we, as a Church, prepared to help people who are in such desperate need of hope? I know exactly where Jesus would be, if he was walking the same streets as I do today.
The message that Jesus brings is exactly the message that Charlie and others like him need to hear. But can we see it? Will we see it, even if it's literally running right past us at youth group on a Friday night?
I want to say that I will, but unless I have the same eyes as my Saviour, I'll probably pass it right on by.
*Names and details have been changed for privacy.
Blaine Packer is a graduate of Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies who is passionate about media and mission. Currently residing in Launceston, Tasmania, Blaine is involved in both media and local ministry work at Door of Hope Christian Church.
Blaine Packer's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html