In the summer of 2001, when I was 20 years old, I sat crying in the hallway of a convention center in Panama City Beach, FL. I was a small group leader of 5 energetic and rebellious 10th graders that week, a group I’d invested the previous year with, so I highly anticipated getting away to camp. In my head, this was going to be the week that they “got it.” To my dismay, the only thing they “got” was the freshmen girls’ room number.
Hours of conversation and hours of travel felt wasted. The only thing I had to show for this week was about 700 dollars worth of hotel damage and a super soaker filled with a suspicious substance.
“Why am I crying,” I kept asking everyone who wanted to know what was wrong. For some reason, that is always the first question a crying person asks.
The reason was a combination of my inexperience, frustration, and a “scratch of the surface” sense of what was really at stake. In my limited perspective, a wasted week potentially meant wasted lives. In other words, I felt God’s activity in the life of these guys was limited to my time with them. That same night, one of the most troubled of these guys, the one I knew the least but feared for the worst, became a Christian. I felt so relieved that I cried again, but at least this time I knew why.
A few months after camp, I got a frantic call from his mom. I hadn’t seen him since July. He was in a hospital in the college town I lived in, and apparently his weekend of fun had come to a screeching halt in the ditch of a freeway. She was out of town, and he was lucky to be alive. I rushed to the hospital and spent an hour or so with him. When I walked into his room, I wasn’t so sure he wanted to see me. He thanked me for coming, and I left feeling helpless. I kept track of him through some of his friends, but a moment of “getting it” at camp didn’t translate into a lifetime of pursuing Christ like I hoped. In my mind, the story was over.
I tell you that story to tell you this one. Last night, I’m walking out of a small group with 10th grade guys at church. Youth group was over, and I was headed to my seat in the main service to meet Rosanna. As I walked, I was wondering if I had made any difference at all. To be honest, I was pretty sure I hadn’t. As I looked for a seat, I heard a vaguely familiar voice.
“Jared, is that you?” this grown man asked.
His face was vaguely familiar. No wonder I didn’t recognize him- the last time I saw him he was lying in a hospital bed. The look on his face, the way he carried himself, and the way he excitedly talked about church, I knew he finally “got it.”
It was a powerful reminder of a God who refuses to let go. When my arms are too short to save someone from self-inflicted wounds, His arms are not. (Isaiah 59:1)
All day today I thought about Psalm 126:6. “6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”
If you are small group leader who is ready to throw in the towel, you have no idea what God is orchestrating in the shadows of the future. We are stuck in chapter 3, but he has already written chapter 10. Don’t let go. Keep being faithful to the students in your care, even if there is no sign of God’s activity. The indicator of success is not how spiritually mature a student is at 17. The seeds of our labor may not bear fruit until they are 32. Don’t discount your investment.
If you are a student, you have no idea what an adult leader has given up to care for you. They do it without expectation, but a “thank you” goes along way. Let them know you are grateful. You don’t have to write a poem, but a simple sentence of thankfulness could carry them to the next week. And if you manufacture some tears when you thank them, well, even better.
Grateful today that it is God who carries people to completion-not me.