When I was a new mom at 23, the youth pastor of our church approached me one Sunday and asked if I would help out with the Junior high youth group that met every Friday night. The very first night I was there, I stood a bit in the back and observed. I remember he asked for me to assist in something and my hands were shaking. I didn’t really say much and I was nervous and very quiet. I had long dreadlocks at the time and didn’t know if that would freak out the kids. We had 3 freshman kids who were in the junior high youth group as well so they could hang out with their younger friends. Even though I was nervous, in time I started to get to know the kids and my heart grew attached to them.
As time went by, I believe I fell naturally into the role of youth leader. I know how to have fun, when to join in and be crazy, when to be serious, and was in God’s Word enough to try to encourage and help guide them. After the first year I started to be involved in the senior high and junior high, meeting Friday and Sunday nights every week. I loved giving lessons here and there. I learned to eventually become comfortable with praying in public. After the first two years we started to get other leaders who came and went here and there. I think the best thing about being a youth leader was listening to how God was helping the students grow deeply in love with Jesus, watching them bond with one another, and seeing how things they learned in youth group has kept their interest in their adult lives with what their future goals are that have to do with “Kingdom work!”
After my first 5 years, the youth pastor had left. Our group grew so large at the end of his run and it was a shock that he suddenly wouldn’t be there, though I tried to hold up and feel fine over the matter, but my heart had adjusted, that I was nervous about who would be the main leaders next. I was scared that I wouldn’t even be allowed to continue in my leading as well and would be “replaced” when I adored all the students and built up relationships with them. We had a whole new church but the same students other than a few continued to come. Thankfully I was able to continue on.
The past year and a half was definitely a blessing and I feel as if I was there was an extension of the new leaders getting adjusted to the roles of “leader.” I had a whole year off from giving lessons and felt less stress and only gave one lesson during the whole time, which was a strange feeling for me (because giving lessons also helped keep me in check and I feel I became more lazy in my Bible reading while not giving lessons. . .that probably sounds odd, but I love to learn while preparing for lessons). There were 9 or so leaders during that time, including two of my former youth kids! I was used to it being just me and the youth pastor, so it was definitely fun and hard at the same time to adjust to the new schedules and activities and getting to know how people work. I changed a lot during that time, and I don’t think it was always for the better. I started to go through crazy personal issues during the last 9 months that were thankfully resolved a month ago, but it is as if I regressed a bit and had only one person (outside of Christ) who helped me (my husband). I was not in a good place to be a leader, honestly. Somehow though, being around each student would always revive me and encourage ME in my faith and love for Christ, when you’d think I am supposed to be the one to do that for them. We had such wonderful students and most of them impress me and make me excited about their futures. I am so glad that I continue to keep in touch with them. If any of you are reading this now, continue to invite Rob and I to your events and keep us updated on everything!
Rob and I were changing a lot these past two years. It is as if God had started to truly lift me up out of the “swamp of sadness” and revive my soul. Rob and I felt a calling in missions (specifically communal). We had no reason at all to leave the church that we were highly involved in. We loved to be involved in our church. We love the people that we have formed bonds with there and also hope to continue on with those friendships and bonds.
We started to attend an Anabaptist Mennonite church. I know when you think of “Mennonite” you think of Amish people, but no, I don’t wear a cape-dress or anything like that (even if I am all for modesty) and there is no legalism or set of rules to follow in our church. It is such a small community with about 35 people in the church, but they have big hearts for the people around them. The community area is a rough one. We had been attending a church in a “nice safe town” where you don’t see homelessness or poverty ridden people. It was actually in the top 10 best towns in the state a couple year ago. The church we attend now is very different and is even right across from a “Go-go bar” (strip club). In 2004 it was the 11th worst town in NJ (crime ranks and such). There is no youth group at this time yet, but many kids are on the streets who are from broken homes and may not know a thing about Jesus. In time, even if there is no youth group made, I want to take the gospel to those kids. Thankfully the church members are very involved in the community there already! We are excited, nervous, and praying about everything at this time and ask that you can do the same!
We therefore had to give up being youth leaders in the church we had been going to for years. I had a very hard time with this and sobbed my eyes out for days and was so upset about it, but I know that the leaders there will do a great job. I am confident that this is NOT the end for me as a youth leader! I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be involved with wonderful people of God over the past 6.5 years! I hope that I can send my own sons to the youth group at our former church when they get old enough to attend (I attended three at once as a teen, and so can they if they want to). This is not the end. This is a new beginning. I wanted to just end by showing a sweet picture that one of my long-time youth kids drew for Rob and I on a chalkboard. This student has played video games with us. He drew Gordon Freeman from Half-Life for Rob and drew Necrophos from Dota2 for me, saying, “So long Victoria and Rob!” I thought it was so sweet! It made leaving even harder, by the way!