On Sunday night, we took 54 youth and adult volunteers to the women and children’s shelter to serve dinner to the 40 families and 100 kids living there.
If you have any natural inclination toward math, you may have already realized that we were perhaps overstaffed. It was a non-RSVP event that was extended from our normal Sunday night programming time. I expected around 25 youth, and I will be honest, I was not logistically prepared for double that many to walk through the door.
But I am so glad they did. I am so glad for what that reveals about what our teenagers are like, I am so glad that they all had the opportunity to serve in such a hands-on way, and, best of all, I am so glad because we had so many eager volunteers, we were able to give each family living in the shelter their own personal waiter for the night. Our teenagers brought them their meals, got them silverware and napkins, refilled their drinks, and talked with them and their families. One family got a Ukulele serenade, and I overheard one child engaged in a lively debate over just who was the best transformer with one of our youth (a conversation that the mother of the family may very well have been glad to have someone else take up).
One child in the shelter celebrated their birthday and our youth sang along. As they sang, I looked around the room and thought of the incredible gift of getting to step into these people’s lives and community for a night. We were eating dinner with these people in their own home.
After dinner, our kids ran out to the playground with the children living in the shelter and played tag and basketball and went down the slides. They made friends and told stories, and when our teenagers piled back in cars, I could hear them excitedly talking over each other and laughing about how funny that one kid was, or how sweet that baby had been. Because of shelter rules, they took no pictures, there was no other programming later that night, and only one kid even brought a service hours form for school (nothing against kids using church stuff for service hours by the way).
This wasn’t for social media, it wasn’t for school, it wasn’t forced, or convenient, they just came because they wanted to, because they were excited to get to serve and know the people in their own community. A lot of people will try to convince you that teenagers are lazy, and selfish, and don’t care about anything that matters because they’re just staring at their phones. They’re wrong.
I have watched our kids serve with love as their arms bled because the mentally disabled child they are working with scratched them. I have watched them come late to lunch because they wanted to finish mixing mud, outside, in June. I have watched them sweat, and bleed, and cry for the sake of others because this church told them that was what it meant to be a Christian. And on Sunday night, I watched 42 of them don hairnets and bug the crap out of me and the shelter staff saying, “What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?”
And I loved every second of it.