Young is Just an Adjective

While on the mission trip, one of the high schoolers asked me how much longer I planned to be the WHAM team leader. Thinking that they were looking to get rid of me, I let them know that it's okay if they wanted a leader who was younger (aka someone who can keep up with them!), but I was hoping to stick around until WHAM's original group graduates, which would be another two years. Expecting their reaction to be rolling of their eyes or grunts and groans, it was quite the opposite. On behalf of the group, Hannah C. put it bluntly - they don't want a "young" leader because "young" leaders try to be your "friend."

I was surprised and a bit confused by this statement. First, Hannah definitely emphasized the word "young" and it wasn't used as descriptive adjective when speaking about me. But I had opened up that line of conversation, so I was asking for it. After all, I was the one who stayed on the ground when they were zip lining, cheering them on as they disappeared into the jungle. I was the one who, as we were racing through the airport to catch our flight home, was asked by Andrew if he could carry my backpack so I could walk faster. I was the one who kept after them to take showers, go to sleep (I didn't care if it was only 9:30!), fix their beds, and clean up the kitchen. I was the one who shook my head at the boys when they chose to be the "skins" in the soccer game against the local village team - their glow-in-the-dark white chests a stark contrast to their dark-skinned and shirted opponents. I was the one who made them say their prayers and write in their journals. But I wasn't the only one looking after them; they had five not-so-young chaperones, and it seemed to work - and worked well.

When I got back from our trip, I began to review the curriculum for next year's Confirmation class. "Confirm not Conform" is a new curriculum for our junior high school students which Bill Haljun and I will be teaching on Wednesday evenings. An important component of the program is a mentoring system - "non-family members who . . . serve as a source of encouragement and support." The guidebook describes ideal mentors as "senior" members of the congregation who have a curiosity about the students' lives and interests, who are reliable and have the time to spend with the students, and who take the students seriously and respect them and their privacy.
So maybe Hannah was on to something! In a roundabout way, I think she was letting me know that I, along with Ann and Steve, are their mentors. Friends can come and go, but a good mentor can influence the future of a young person's life. And in return those young people will be indelibly etched in the memories of their mentor. WOW! What an incredible responsibility . . . and what an awesome compliment!

Finding good and appropriate volunteers is always difficult and I expect it will be a challenge to recruit good and appropriate mentors for the junior high Confirmation class. Having heard many stories about your children and grandchildren, I can envision many of you "seniors" in that role - and when I contact you about joining, I do hope you will give it some serious thought. It might take up a bit of your free time, you might worry that you won't have anything in common with this age group, and you might feel you're not up to the challenge. But it also might be the most rewarding thing you've done in a long time.

That's how I feel about WHAM and our high school youth. I am proud to be called their mentor. It has been - and continues to be - the most rewarding thing I've done in a long time.

If you are interested in becoming a student mentor, please contact Bill Haljun or me. I promise you won't regret it.