Archive for category youth group
This past weekend I did World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine again with my youth group. If you’re not familiar with the 30 Hour Famine, it’s an event run by World Vision where youth groups fast for 30 hours in order to get a taste of what it feels like for children around the world who face starvation and malnutrition every day. The teens participating in the fast raise money from donations, which World Vision then uses to help feed these children and their families. Usually when youth groups do the Famine, it’s a lock-in event. They begin the fast on their own at noon on Friday and end the fast together at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. I did the 30 Hour Famine when I was in youth group so I always had fond memories from that weekend. That’s why I love doing it with our youth group now.
For the past four years when I’ve done the Famine as a leader, I’ve been able to get through the entire 30 hours without really feeling hungry. At first I felt guilty that I didn’t feel hungry at all because I wasn’t experiencing hunger like we were supposed to, but I also see it as God’s provision for me as a leader. It’s hard to lead 30 or so youth in a weekend of events when you’re suffering from hunger too. Last year I even increased my fast to 40 hours, but I still don’t remember feeling very hungry the entire time.
This year, however, was different and I came away with a couple lessons. I ate lunch a little earlier at work and then started the fast. Usually the fast isn’t too bad on Friday because you’re only missing one meal. As I drove home from work, I kept thinking about how nice it would be to just eat a little snack. I wasn’t even that hungry, but I just wanted to eat something. I realized how much I take food for granted. Even though my body’s not telling me I need food, I decide to eat it anyway because it’s so available. When I got home, I was tempted to eat some candy we have sitting out and later at church I was tempted again while putting together some bags of pretzels and marshmallows for an activity. No one was around in both of these situations and it would’ve been so easy to just take one bite, but I resisted.
It’s funny how the food I wanted had little nutritional value. The things that are good for you are always the things that take more work and effort. We exercise in order to stay fit. We have to cook to try and eat healthier meals and read labels to make healthier food choices. We need to put in time and effort in order to see results and successes at work or school. We have to invest time and energy into our marriages and relationships. We need to spend time reading our Bible, praying, and seeking the Lord in order to have a better relationship with God.
During our games on Friday night, I felt a little lightheaded, something that happens whenever I’m really hungry. I didn’t feel like I was starving, but I knew then that this fast wouldn’t be as easy on my body as past years. I drank more water and that helped, but I definitely felt more out of it at different times during the Famine. It was hard trying to lead Bible studies when I couldn’t focus as well. I can only imagine how the kids felt trying to sit there and pay attention. It gave us an idea though of how hard it is for malnourished children to pay attention in school when they’re hungry. It’d be nearly impossible to do well.
Our youth group’s fundraising goal this year was $4,500.00. I’m not sure what our final total was yet, but I think we reached it or maybe even exceeded it. Thank you to those of you who donated to my online page! I exceeded my personal fundraising goal in just two days! Praise God for your generosity and heart.
We watched a video from the Catalyst conference during the Famine that showed the testimony of Michelle, who was a
Compassion child from the Philippines. I’d actually heard Michelle’s story on Moody radio before, but I was moved again by seeing her testimony. Gerald and I are talking about sponsoring our own Compassion child. It’s a small sacrifice we can make each month that has a huge impact in a child’s life.
This post might be a little disjointed because I’m still tired and recovering from the weekend. I went home Saturday night after our break-fast meal and crashed. I got nearly ten hours of sleep that night! Obviously right now though my sleep cycle’s getting messed up again (it’s 11 p.m.). Though weekends like this are tiring and I give up most of my weekend for the youth, it’s worth it. The kids all filled out meal tickets before they could eat to share what they learned or how the Famine weekend impacted them. I can’t wait to read some of their responses to see what God was doing in their hearts. These kids never cease to encourage me!
A couple weeks ago, I did the 30 Hour Famine with my youth group at church again. The past couple years when I’ve done the Famine as a leader, I haven’t felt hungry at the end of the 30 hour fast. Part of the point of the Famine is to get a taste of what it feels like to be hungry–like what millions of people feel everyday. So this year I planned to do a longer fast.
I came to the 30 Hour Famine lock-in on Friday night exhausted after having gotten up at 3am for a Royal Wedding viewing party followed by a dentist appointment and then work. I started my fast at 6:30 am after the Royal Wedding and planned to do a 30.5 hour fast hoping to to feel hunger more.
During the 30 Hour Famine, we worshipped in song, did devotionals and had small group discussions. We cleaned and did yard work as part of our Youth for Rent service projects, played games, and built cardboard shelters. Throughout the weekend I felt some slight hunger pangs, but I was never so hungry that I felt like I couldn’t do anything.
By the end of the Famine as we started our worship and sharing time before breaking the fast together, I did some reflection of my own. The recurring theme for me during the Famine weekend was that God is more than enough for each day. I don’t have to worry and I can trust Him because He provides all that I need for each day. So even though I wasn’t hungry at the end of the Famine again, this time I saw it a different way.
Maybe I wasn’t hungry because God was providing for me with what I needed at the time–I needed to be sustained to help
lead the Famine activities and to be alert for the lock-in so we could minister to the youth at the same time. Although the 30 Hour Famine is about raising awareness and funds for hunger, often times I find that God teaches us about more than that. Through the sharing time, we saw how God revealed our need to listen to Him, to obey immediately when we hear His call, how much we complain about when we have so much to be grateful for, God’s provision in fundraising and much more that wasn’t even said.
Speaking of fundraising, this year our ambitious goal was $7,500.00. I’m not sure of our exact amount for the year yet, but I do know that we raised at least 58% of it (which is pretty good!). Again this year, I kept feeling skeptical (and still do, honestly) that we’ll reach that goal. I constantly remind myself that nothing is impossible with God. And even if we don’t fully reach our goal, our youth group is able to feed so many kids with the money we raised. $30 feeds one child for a month. We’ve already been provided with more than enough. It’s a blessing to provide children around the world with even a little (a little that they see as more than enough).
How has God showed Himself to be more than enough for you?
This weekend we were surrounded. Surrounded by God’s presence, His Word, fellowship, love, the Holy Spirit, worship, grace, and prayers.
Thank you to those of you who surrounded us with prayer. You were as much a part of what happened at this year’s youth retreat as the 37 of us who attended (31 youth and 6 leaders).
Let me just share a few things I learned (or was encouraged by) during the retreat:
1. Be flexible.
This is something that I struggle with often because I am such a planner and scheduler. I created the schedule for the retreat and knew that we’d most likely get off-schedule, but that still doesn’t make it easy for me to accept. Our bus driver got lost trying to find the camp (we had to turn around twice), but I’ll admit it wasn’t quite his fault. It was rainy, really dark, and those Wisconsin roads have no lights and tiny signs. So by the time we arrived at Camp Timber-lee, we began our evening program about an hour late. We cut a few things short (like fewer ice breakers and worship songs) and it didn’t seem like the best start to the weekend because I felt like my Bible study that night was very rushed (and it got too noisy to hear…our meeting room wasn’t that big). But our time is not God’s time and I am reminded that He is constantly working. It doesn’t matter if things are going according to my schedule as long as they’re going according to His.
2. Barriers were broken.
We’ve been working a lot this past year and a half with our youth group on breaking down barriers (between gender, age, cliques, etc). Last year we studied Ephesians and talked a lot about unity in the body of Christ. We made a lot of progress in integrating different groups of people together since then, but this weekend it seemed like that happened even more. It was amazing to see guys and girls getting together in small groups on their own initiative to pray together and to pray for each other, supporting one another. High school students and junior high students joined together to go tobogganing and tubing together. Older students encouraged younger students through group activities and with encouraging notes, which we call “Sunshine Mail.” Newcomers were immediately welcomed. New friendships formed, aquaintences became friends, and old friends grew closer. There’s nothing like realizing that all this happens because of what GOD is doing–not by us counselors motivating the kids to hang out with each other.
3. Don’t doubt God’s work in someone’s heart.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if and how many of the students were being impacted through the retreat that weekend other than getting time to hang out with each other for what was like one long, extended youth group meeting. I wasn’t sure if they were engaging with what the speaker said or the things we talked about in our workshops because sometimes it’s just hard to tell. There were a few that you could tell were being more moved emotionally, but for the rest of them, I just wondered…and I prayed. I prayed that God would move powerfully in their lives and transform their hearts.
It wasn’t until after the retreat when we read the response cards that we could really see how God was working that weekend. He challenged them. He movtivated them to want to change their lives to live more for Him, to evangelize to their friends and invite them to church, to read the Bible more, to trust God in everything and to make their faith more real. We got great feedback on our workshops with teens saying how they gave them new perspectives and how they enjoyed what we shared with them.
This gives us a lot to follow up with and a lot of encouragement. Even though I might not have been able to physically see how God was transforming lives, He was doing it. I’m encouraged by that–and by the number of students who raised their hands to accept Christ/recommit their lives to Him or to take a step of faith. God is doing and will continue to do great things in this youth group. The school year isn’t over yet and I’m excited to see what God will do. I’m expecting the unexpected to happen.
One other thing I learned from this retreat: Gerald and I make a great team. We worked together to lead a workshop on godly opposite sex friendships and boundaries in opposite friendships (just briefly touching on dating). We really only spent a good amount of time working on it two weeks before the retreat doing some of it together in person and finalizing most of it through Google Docs and via webcam (since we live so far apart). We only briefly got to go over it the day before the workshop, but through working together, I saw how we could use our relationship to glorify and honor God. We worked off each other’s comments during the workshop (even though sometimes I was waiting…somewhat patiently…for Gerald to finish talking so I could throw in another point). One of the girls told us that we were cute leading together, which shows me that hopefully our relationship can be an example to them too of what a godly relationship should look like. We do fail at that sometimes, but thankfully we’ve been given grace–by God and from each other.
This week I’m preparing for a weekend filled with late nights, early mornings, Bible readings, worship, games, camp food, good conversations, encouraging notes, fun activities, some stress, and a lot of responsibility as we take about 30 junior high and high school students on our annual youth retreat.
For the past two years, we’ve gone to Youth Conference at my alma mater, Taylor University. Since the college students prepared and led everything, we didn’t have to do much as youth leaders. This year we decided we needed to have our own retreat with just our youth group, so we planned everything and decided to head to Camp Timber-lee. At times, this was a little disorganized because there was a lot to think about and none of us had really planned an entire retreat on our own before. But God was faithful in providing.
We went through several options before we finally found a speaker (that was a huge praise!). When we started registration for the retreat, we only had a few people signed up the first few weeks. I was hoping we’d meet our 25 person minimum for the camp, but I shouldn’t have been worried. We now have 31 students attending and six leaders (including the speaker), which is nearly 40 people. That’s pretty big for us–we normally have less than 30 people total attending the youth retreats.
Our theme this year is Surrounded. It’s easy, especially for students, to compartmentalize our lives: church/youth group, school, sports, music, friends, family, etc. It’s easy for us to see how God fits in with our spiritual lives, but we easily forget that it’s not spiritual life vs. the rest of my life–it’s all intertwined and God is part of every aspect of our lives. He’s part of school (even though it can be hard to see Him in that area unless you’re praying before a test). He’s part of the activities we’re involved in (sports, music, clubs, hanging out with friends, shopping, talking on the phone, etc.). Our spiritual lives are not separate from the rest of our lives because God surrounds our entire lives. We have to remember that and center our lives around that fact.
We’re also surrounded by lots of other distractions: media, peer pressure, unrealistic expectations, being a people-pleaser, and much more. All these things try to pull us away from God, so we need to try and surround ourselves with the things of God in the midst of all of that. Those are some of the things we’re exploring this weekend (along with other issues through special youth counselor-led workshops on defending your faith, understanding and discerning God’s will in your life, and guy/girl friendships and relationships).
So in preparation for this big weekend, I’ve been trying to surround myself with more of God. It’s hard sometimes with everything that’s going on, but I need to be more intentional about it. So sometimes I’ll just turn off the radio on my drive home from work and pray for the retreat (like I did yesterday). Now I’m trying to pray for something specifically for the retreat every day this week and encouraging others to do so with me on Facebook.
If you’re reading this, please be in prayer for us this weekend. Here are some ways you can pray:
- Pray for the youth counselors (me, Gerald, Tiffany & Pearson), our worship coordinator (Rob), and speaker (Peter Moi) as we finish preparing our workshops, messages, and Bible studies this week. Pray that God would speak through us and use us.
- Pray for good weather (right now it looks like it’ll be snowy & cold in Wisconsin) and safe travel on Friday & Sunday
- Pray for the 31 students attending the retreat. They all come with different issues and at different points in their relationship with God. Pray that God would be preparing them now and that they would hear His voice and respond this weekend.
- Pray for our student leaders (Kat and Lauryn) as they lead games and student prayer meetings.
- Pray for our student worship teams as they lead the group in worship throughout the weekend
- Pray for the students not attending the retreat this year–that God would meet them where they’re at as well
Thank you for your prayers! If you have any advice for us prior to this weekend, feel free to leave it in the comments.
This Friday we’re having a Parent Open House Night for youth group. We encouraged teens to invite their parents to join them for our weekly meeting so we can show the parents what their kids do on Friday nights and to give them an overview of our theme and studies for the year.
I stayed up late Saturday night making this last minute promo video to show in all three congregations on Sunday at church. We didn’t come up with the idea until last week, so all the filming had to be done Friday night and all editing on Saturday for the video debut on Sunday.
Honestly, I didn’t know who Justin Bieber was until I saw him trending on Twitter. Even as youth counselors we’re not always in touch with what’s popular in the teenage world. The main message we want parents to get from this video and from Friday’s open house is that we want to increase the communication and understanding they have with their teenagers. Especially in Asian cultures, doing well in school is stressed over and over again. You can see this theme in the few responses I showed from teens about what they wish their parents understood about them.
Parents may think they’re telling their children that they love them when they encourage them to get the best grades and to work hard in school. They want their children to get good grades so they can get a good career and do well for themselves as adults. That desire is loving, but the way it can come across to a teenager is, “Why aren’t you doing better?” “Your best is not good enough.” They may even think their parents will value them or love them more if they get better grades.
So we’re going to take parents through a pseudo-youth group night. We’ll have them play games with the teens, worship with us, and all of us will learn the importance of how cross-generational cooperation benefits the Church and the spreading of the Gospel. Parents play an important role in the spiritual growth of their children. As youth leaders, we’re with them two days a week for a few hours, but parents are there the rest of the time. So as much as youth group can have a positive influence in a teen’s spiritual life, it’s the parental influence that will affect that more. Parents need to be showing their kids how to live godly lives by living out a genuine faith. They need to be able to admit their mistakes, to readily give grace and forgiveness, and to praise and encourage others around them. We watch what our parents do and we learn from them whether or not we admit it. Our family lives shape the people we grow up to be.
Parents, what kind of influence are you having on your children? How involved are you in their lives? (and that doesn’t just mean telling them what they need to do)
Youth, what are some things you don’t understand about your parents? What are some ways you can help them understand you? (this would require you being willing to understand where they’re coming from too)
Last Friday, we had our annual Senior Night in youth group. You can see a picture of our group below with our Oh, the Places You’ll Go Dr. Seuss theme. This tradition started my senior year of high school when some of our youth counselors visited my friend’s Senior Night for her gymnastics team at school. It was to honor the graduating seniors and to send them off to college well. They thought it was a pretty good idea, so my class–the class of 2003–was the first high school graduating class at CCUC-North to go through Senior Night.
Here I am, seven years later, as a youth counselor for this same youth group. It’s incredible to see (and I think this is more true for my former youth counselors) how my own life has come full circle in this way. My various counselors over the years–Thomas, Elton, Jed, Michele, Ted, and Susan–have done their job well. It’s such an honor and privilege to be back in my home church serving the youth group that so greatly influenced and shaped me as an adolescent.
This is a picture of our CCUC-N 2003 high school grads (before the youth group became SNL–we didn’t have a name). From left to right is Wenny, Ryan, Bryan, Priscilla, and me.
So where are we now?
Wenny has been doing AmeriCorp after working for a couple years at Quaker with Gatorade. This fall she’ll be heading to grad school at Stanford University. She has matured in her faith greatly since her high school days when we didn’t really see her at youth group much because she was so involved in sports. This changed more in college and I know she’ still seeking to serve the Lord with her life, wherever He may guide her in the future. We’re also “twins” because we were born on the same day, same year, just 15 minutes apart. I’m the slightly older one.
I recently got connected again with Ryan after all these years now that he’s back in Chicago post-college. He transferred schools a few times and I think changed his major too–finishing with graphic design and advertising, I believe. I saw him a couple months ago when he hung out with our young adult group and we played some old card games (like Screwy Louie), which we used to play in youth group. He also came on our youth group ski trip where he showed off his crazy skills because he’s Canadian and everyone up there knows how to ski. Ryan now goes to Chinese Christian Bible Church of Oak Park.
I haven’t talked to Bryan in years! I did see him about 3 years ago (Dec. 2006) though at the Urbana Student Missions Conference. After high school, he went to college in Canada (where he’s from) and ended up switching schools a lot, but I think he’s done now. I think he was also involved in his Asian Christian Fellowship in school as well.
Priscilla was my best friend for many years. We met in kindergarten and were friends through elementary school until our schools split into two and she went to a different school (3rd grade, I think). I reconnected with her in 5th or 6th grade, but our friendship became stronger again in junior high (7th grade). That’s when she started coming to youth group with me, then eventually to church, and became a Christian. We were practically inseparable since then and even called ourselves “Pristy Chong,” a combination of both our names. I have so many good memories with Priscilla, but starting our senior year of high school and then into college, we kind of drifted apart. I think Priscilla was also drifting away from her relationship from God as well, and unfortunately lost her life in a car accident on August 6, 2006. Even though I hadn’t really seen Priscilla much in those three years since we graduated high school until her death, I still, even today, can’t really believe that she’s not here. I struggled too with wondering where she was in her relationship with God and wondering if I’ll see her again in Heaven some day. I still struggle with that a little bit, but I know that in my times in youth group with her, she was completely passionate about her relationship with Jesus Christ.
So our class beat the odds of high school seniors walking away from their faith, right? The majority of us are still involved in our local churches and still have a relationship with Christ. Though we go through our own struggles, we make mistakes, we’re still trying to follow Him.
As I was packing up my room for my upcoming move to my own apartment, I found a youth group yearbook I made for our group my senior year of high school (2003). I was on the yearbook staff in high school, so I can see why I was so passionate about creating this for the group. I forgot our unofficial name, W.H.A.C.K.–Whoa, Happy Asian Christian Kids! haha. As I read what I wrote to describe the theme, which had to do with a remote control–about pushing pause, play, and fast forward on life–I was somewhat surprised to see that my writing was very similar to something I would have written now, seven years later. Of course, my knowledge of God and the Bible has increased since then, but what strikes me in finding all these old things I’ve done for youth group when I was in high school, is my initiative in starting projects like this or even overseeing all the committees for our youth retreat even though we didn’t have a student leadership team at the time. I guess it just came naturally to me and those were things I wanted to do. Pearson (another youth leader) and I were talking about how that seems to be something our youth group lacks.
It’s not that I think I was better than our kids when I was in high school–I don’t think that at all. In fact, some of our teens have a better understanding of God and the Bible than I did at their age. Somehow we have to motivate them to step up and take initiative–to take ownership of their youth group and to use the gifts and talents God has given them to serve. Our youth leaders didn’t suggest that we make a yearbook or awards for all the youth group members on my Senior Night. I just thought it would be a good idea and got my sister to help me do it. I’m not sure how I had time to even do that during my busy senior year. So that’s something God has placed on my heart for our youth group–to raise up leaders and to encourage them to lead and serve. It’s something I can struggle with because I like to do a lot of things myself and then just have people help me. It’s usually because I think I can do things better if I do them myself. Wrong attitude! I think now I need to be in that helper position and to let the youth try their hand at leading. If they make mistakes or it doesn’t work it, it’s okay. They learn from it and will be come better leaders.
Where has your own high school senior class gone since graduating from youth group? How do you motivate your youth to step up and lead?
The last weekend of April, we took our youth group to my alma mater, Taylor University, for the annual Youth Conference. Taylor was my alma mater and I love being back there. It’s like visiting an old friend even though most of my good college friends are no longer there.
We left on Friday afternoon just as Chicago rush hour began. I drove my own car and the rest of the youth counselors and the kids went on a school bus. We needed my car so we could drive around off-campus (for those of you who know Taylor, you know it’s in rural Indiana in the middle of nowhere) and in case of emergency. While I liked driving on my own and in the comfort of my own car, I also felt like I was missing out on bonding with the kids on the bus.
Since they were in a school bus, I got to Taylor about an hour before the bus did. When they finally arrived, I was pretty excited to see them. I passed out all the registration packets and some of our kids small group leaders (Taylor students) came out to meet our kids since they missed the first main session and the first small group session. All of a sudden, our group was completely split up and the Taylor leaders just took our kids away to their dorms and planned on meeting them for breakfast (last year the kids usually ate with us). The kids that I was ready to share Youth Conference with were suddenly taken away from me. Later that night I told Tiffany (the other female youth counselor), “It’s like they stole our kids!”
I felt like these were the youth I’ve been working with and that I’m impacting through my ministry. So part of me was a little disappointed and for most of the weekend, I felt like I was supposed to be doing something with our kids and trying to build deeper relationships with them–after all, isn’t that what you do on retreats?
But throughout the weekend, God showed me that the teens in our youth group are not my kids, they’re His children. The conference speaker, the amazing Jeremy Kingsley, shared an image that stuck with me. He mentioned how the Bible says God can hold the oceans in the crevice of his palm (like that part of your hand that forms when you cup it). Then he had us imagine what it would be like if some guys were playing frisbee at the beach and all of a sudden a giant hand reached down and just scooped up the ocean. We’d say, “Wow–that’s a big hand.”
And isn’t that true? I was struck by the idea of God’s hands. His hands are so much bigger than my own and wouldn’t I rather have our youth group be in the safety of God’s hands rather than my own feeble ones? Really it’s my own pride that kept me thinking that I’m the one who makes a difference in the lives of these teenagers–only God can change and transform hearts.
So while I felt as though our youth group had been taken away from us at Youth Conference, as I heard the stories and excitement of how God was working in the lives of our girls (during the short time Tiffany and I got to spend with them in the dorm on Saturday night) and saw how the majority of our 21 students went forward on Saturday night saying they wanted to lay down their pride and humble themselves before the Lord, I knew that it’s God who does work–not me.
God used Taylor small group leaders, Jeremy Kingsley, and, of course, the work we’ve been doing with the youth group over the past few years, but all those things were to further His purpose in the teens’ lives. So I’m learning to let go–I don’t need to be in control of everything that goes on in this youth group because I know Someone greater holds it all in His nail-pierced hands.
What’s something you need to let go of and entrust to God?
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Well, let me show you some circumstances where we’ve been giving thanks.
Last Friday, our youth group, Salt ‘N’ Light (more affectionately known as SNL), had our annual Thanksgiving Potluck. I’m so grateful for all the parents who cooked and prepared food for us!! Their support of us in youth ministry is priceless.