The teenage years. Such an awkward time, right? Butterfly clips and body glitter and boy bands. No thanks. Adolescence was dicey in the nineties. I’m glad I never have to navigate those stormy waters again. Thank God the digital landscape was nearly uninhabited back then. It’s exponentially more complicated for teens now since social media paved paradise and took over.
There’s practically a generation gap between me and the undergrads I’ve befriended here. The nuts and bolts of our high school years are not compatible. I wrote notes and they sent texts. I had Destiny’s Child. They had Beyoncé. I traded class pictures. They posted and tagged stuff online. It only took a decade for the adolescent experience to transform radically.
Now that I’m up to my elbows in Duplo I forget about teenagers most of the time. I don’t spend time with them here. If it weren’t for our friend Chong, I would feel completely disconnected. I would feel completely like a parent.
Andrew Chong used to work as an editor for a hockey magazine. He felt God calling him to a different line of work so he stepped out in faith and quit his job. Now he hangs out with high school students for a living. Andrew is North Vancouver’s Area Director for Youth Unlimited, a Christian outreach organization that seeks to simply love teenagers. Periodically he sends us newsletters so we’re up to date with the work/play he’s doing. It’s my window into the teenage world. Giddiness gets the best of me when I see those little white Youth Unlimited envelopes waiting for me on the doorstep. I often weep as I read his newsletters (which by now should not come as a surprise.)
Most of his letters glow with stories of redemption and hope. God is actively restoring lives on the North Shore. But at the same time, his updates weigh on my spirit because I remember being a teenager. It’s wasn’t smooth sailing. I want to hug the kids he spends time with. I get that there is nothing new under the sun but from the outside looking in, it seems the issues teens face now have spiked. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. So many are grappling with their identities. There’s online bullying and substance abuse, broken families, broken hearts.
God often reminds me that these young people are not out of His hand. I’m grateful that Chong and his team serve as Jesus’ hands and feet, reaching out as mentors to love teenagers in North Van. I know the impact they are making because I had the same kind of people in my life growing up and their presence made all the difference.
The older I get the more I treasure the mentors I had as a teen. Adolescence is often a time of secrecy and hiding but for me it was a time of being seen and loved, free of judgement, thanks to the older people I interacted with at my local church. They were my anchors.
We had a lot of fun together and I’ll spare you the details. It was the nineties, remember? Just think body glitter and boy bands and far too many slurpees. I have loads of fond memories but more than that, I gleaned a lot of precious life lessons.
They taught me the importance of spiritual friendships and prayer. They modeled mutual encouragement, accountability, confession and vulnerability. They demonstrated how to practically live as a Christian, looking for ways to love and serve God by caring for other people. They pointed me to the Bible. They listened. They cared. They taught me how to properly apply mascara.
Youth ministry was not a smooth ride then and it isn’t now. It is physically, spiritually and emotionally draining. Tonight I would like to recognize the people who served the teenage population in South Delta way back when. I know I am not the only person who was profoundly impacted by Grant Frederickson and Jon Imbeau and their teams of youth leaders in Tsawwassen.
I know this is over fifteen years overdue, at least in writing, but thank you for bothering to spend time with us. I’m sorry you had to lose so much sleep in the process. Thank you for asking hard questions and listening to our responses. You invested your whole selves in service, planting seeds and trusting that in God’s time something would sprout and bloom. Guess what? God is faithful and He answered your prayers. I owe you all so much more than an internet high-five but it’s what I have for now. *High-five emoticon*
And to Chong and anyone else currently working hard to love teenagers in the midst of all the blustery hormones and foul weather, well done you. Keep on being Jesus.