Youth Ministry Series: You Don’t Always See Immediate Fruit, by Amanda Waterson.
This can be disillusioning and disheartening, but we want to encourage you because there is light at the end of the tunnel- even if the tunnel is very, very, VERY long.
One of the toughest parts of youth ministry is to pour your love, life and wallet into a young person, only to have them walk away from you and other positive influences based around faith…..and then welcome the next young person in with open arms, ready to love again. It’s always good to remember that we are children of God and our identity is in Him, not our statistics. Christ is in us and that is what matters – regardless of how many are at youth, how they behave when they get there, how many times your leaders let you down, and how many complain and walk away – it doesn’t change the fact that you are a son of the Most High God and your identity is in that – circumstances don’t change truth.
But, to encourage you, we are sharing the stories of some young adults from our youth group from years ago – from more than 10 years ago for most of them. Some of these young people, could have been easily written off, but now, a decade later, they are bearing much fruit. May their stories encourage you and inspire you to love your youth relentlessly and passionately. May they give you keys and strategies to help with your own youth ministry.
I will never forget Sandra’s first night at youth when she was in grade 9. She was dragged to youth by her friends and sat glued to the wall in a tight ball for the whole night. I remember sitting beside her and chatting to her but it was hard work.
After a few weeks of coming to youth we had a night where we had a sausage sizzle. Some of Sandra’s friends came to me and told me she was ‘cutting.’ After a brief conversation with this precious young girl, it became apparent she had a history with anorexia and wasn’t coping with food at youth group.
We connected over social media, and it was then that I realised how deep her pain was and how real her struggle with food was. She had actually been hospitalised for a long period of time in grade 5 for anorexia. Her suicidal thoughts and self-harming activities were escalating. Sandra didn’t have a connection with God at this stage, and it was becoming apparent that her needs were beyond the expertise of youth group.
She wasn’t attending school, and when she did, she would often run away, or display bursts of anger that the school was not sure how to deal with. I decided it was time for her to seek professional help. She was adamantly opposed to this and refused to go.
I had to take her personally to the Child Mental Health Unit for her appointments every week. Pretty sure she resented me doing it back then. It was such a horrible time in my weekly diary – the waiting room was scary, the rooms were scary, but we did have a lovely case support worker. Even though the case worker was lovely, she had to ask Sandra some tough questions and set some tough goals. We were there however, to help cheer Sandra on every step of the way.
We set a goal – if Sandra ate one slice of bread each day, for a whole term, she would be able to travel to cattle property with us to run an Easter Camp. Believe me, it was a real battle trying to achieve that goal. Sandra would message me at various times during the day, telling me how difficult this was for her. But with prayer and persistence, we made the goal and she came on team with us. That first trip wasn’t easy – for Sandra or me, but we made it and it was a real turning point for her.
I am not sure when Sandra’s journey of faith started, but once it did, her medical progress became so much easier. We had a power we could connect to that helped her to achieve the goals set by the professionals.
We kept attending the appointments (yes, I kept dragging her along) but the goals became easier once Sandra connected to God. Her social worker told us at the very beginning of the sessions that eating disorders were the most difficult to overcome and that we shouldn’t expect great results. Not long after that first mission trip, the same social worker agreed to discharge Sandra.
Sandra had a few rocky years after that, but the road very quickly began to level out and become more stable. The self-harming stopped, the anger was now controlled and her diet was now normal. Sandra has just finished Bible College and is continuing her studies at uni now. Recently she was part of the ‘Red Frogs Crew’ who ministered to teens at the Gold Coast during ‘Schoolies Week.’ She remains a youth leader, shines in the creative arts department at church and is hugely gifted in the area of IT and AV.
Sandra communicates well with young girls and has a heart for them. She has shared her story on mission trips and at home. She is growing in confidence daily, led many lives to the. She has big dreams involving ministry, girls, and overseas work.
Sandra is a real example of the importance of ‘referring out.’ She had a very real and complex medical condition that needed specialised medical treatment and goals. These goals were only made easier through the power of Christ working through her. Sandra is a beautiful example of the church working together with medical science. Through the partnership we had with the Child Mental Health Unit, we were able not only to see Sandra move to a healthier place, but now she is qualified to help other girls in similar situations – and there is a whole mission field of Sandra’s in any high school these days.
Four of my favourite photos of Sandra are below. The first two were taken at her water baptism (April 22, 2014 – three years after her first youth group night). Sandra was baptized Easter Sunday on the cattle property in outback Queensland where she met God in a very real way. The next two images are the first time Sandra shared her story (July 6, 2013) and the most recent time Sandra shared at youth group (August 25, 2017). The growth in confidence in four years is exceptional and is a testimony to a loving God who used modern medicine and his church to turn the life of a gorgeous girl around so that she is positioned to bear fruit for him.