We plan for and pray for the development of a deep and abiding faith in Christ among all, but particularly for our young people.
I’m not an expert when it comes to faith formation, but as a parent of seven, and having been engaged in the college scene for many years, I’ve come to some conclusions.
First, it’s about relationships more than programs. Catechism didn’t exactly work for our son with Down syndrome. But faithful mentoring by a wise elder in our church led to Paul’s profession of faith. In front of the church he gave the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism—that he is not his own but belongs to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
Second, it’s about events. While we know that mountaintop experiences are hard to sustain, Barb and I were so grateful for the service project our youngest experienced in Sioux Falls, S.D., last summer.
That trip occurred at a time our family was dealing with loss, and that week Fekadu learned about prayer and developed his ability to voice his faith. His testimony in church the following Sunday morning was an answer to prayer. Our eyes teared up as he said, “Being adopted means that I’ve been chosen—chosen by God, I’ve been chosen by my family.”
Third, it’s about new cultures and places. I believe the Holy Spirit uses situations where we experience new things, causing us to reflect upon our typical ways. We’ve had wonderful opportunities to be in off-campus study with students from Calvin College and Trinity Christian College.
Imagine the conversations and discussions that emerge when staying in a wing of an AIDS hospice in Johannesburg, South Africa, or learning about the Long Walk forced upon the Navajo people in 1864 by the U.S. government.
Such learning—especially in the context of dedicated Christian inquiry—lasts for a lifetime. Recently, I asked some former students to reflect on the impact these experiences had. Here are some of their comments:
“I’ll never forget my first day driving into the dusty campus, feeling anxious about the mistake I was making! But as we toured the stunning countryside, met fascinating new people, challenged ourselves, and grew roots together as a group, I learned the joy of creating a family from friends and the deep importance of community.”
“God used my experience to teach me that there is not one bit of creation that God cannot redeem, whether it’s a person, a building, or even an entire city. That experience, along with many others, has shaped my approach to ministry and the way I view God's kingdom and the job that all Christians have to build his kingdom here on earth.”
“This experience pushed me in my faith and allowed me to dig deeper and have a closer relationship to God. What I learned is something that could never be taught in a classroom! I will be forever grateful for this experience!”
The Spirit can use relationships, events, and places in powerful ways to form hearts and minds. So what’s our job as the church?
- To make sure that caring, wise adults (besides parents) step into the lives of our children and youth.
- To support events that might provide a mountaintop experience for young people, and then keep walking alongside them after they descend from the mountain.
- To make sure that we step out of our comfort zones—as families, as groups of youth, as congregations—to confront the reality next door and far away, and find the certainty of God’s promises.
For God is making all things new—including the lives of the young people we love.