The Call To Listen
This summer marks eight full years of working in youth development. Looking back, I laugh at what I thought I knew about kids, and what’s needed to push them towards success. This realization hit me hardest when I worked at Kids Across America during the summer of 2014. I was working for the Boys & Girls Club during the school year and decided to spend one week as a counselor at camp. I never expected what would happen within that week. No one would’ve guessed how one camper would completely put the entire staff on edge. I can’t remember the camper’s name (Let’s call him Ron) , but he definitely caught the attention of leadership quickly!
Ron was 19 years old and was the oldest camper in attendance. 19 is mad old to be a camper because some of our staff were 19 years old. Weird right?! Being a vet counselor, I was responsible for the oldest group of guys. As much as I want to tell you things went well on the first day, it didn’t.
He sized me up without hesitation. After a few minutes of me breaking down the law of the cabin, Ron straight up asked me, “Aye man how old are you?”
I told him not to worry about my age, and he responded with, “low key you’re not that much older than I am. Why should I listen to you?”
If you think about it, Ron was right. But, I wasn’t going to let him show me up. Establishing control of the cabin was paramount during the first few minutes of interaction.
Young and dumb Jeff responded with the typical insecure, and irresponsible answer of, “because I’m in charge”.
I’m sure you can imagine the back and forth that took place. Days into the week, he pretty much kept to himself. He laughed loudly when my fellow counselors and I failed to maintain order. He moved slowly as if on his time, but he seemed to enjoy himself.
One night during programming, I asked him to sit up instead of slouching. I’m guessing he had enough of me “bossing” him around because he jumped up, got within an inch of my face with his chest flexed, and told me, “I don’t have to take orders from you. We’re practically the same age.”
Again, dumb Jeff tried to assert his “authority” by saying silly things that carried little weight. At that point everyone is our immediate sphere was watching. No one was talking, and time stood still for about 30 seconds. His eyes stared directly to my soul. He was definitely heavier than I was so he probably could’ve done serious damage if he hit me in the right places. The craziest thing happened during this heated stand off.
Expecting him to say more to fuel the fire, he said, “nah I’m kidding, I know you’re in charge.” and he sat down.
Right…Confused was an understatement. Why would you put me through all of that if you were going to follow the rules anyway?! He got my blood pressure high for no reason.
Dumbfounded, I took my guys to the cabin, got them situated for bed, and proceeded to end my night with a well-deserved shower. As my shower was running and the guys were slowly drifting, I walked over to Ron’s top bunk, and asked him, “Hey Ron, what do you believe in? His answer shocked me to say the least, but it gave me mad perspective on how I knew very little about the world.
Ever heard of Brandon Christopher McCartney? I doubt you would because he goes by his rapper name “The Base God”. Ron first shared his frustration on how everyone at camp was drowning him with what they believed, but no one stopped to ask him his thoughts. Until me.
I kid you not, Ron told me that TBG was the returned Messiah. He believe that Jesus returned as TBG and was sharing his message to the world through his music. I thought that was pretty interesting so I let him explain to me everything he believed about The Based God.
Til this day, I have never heard of anything so bizarre. His music, from my perspective, is weird, hard to comprehend, and just awful. Nothing against TBG as a person, I just don’t rock with his music. That night, I had nightmares. I tossed and turned all night and was completely drained the next day. I shared with a few counselors my dilemma , and they referred me to speak with our leadership team.
Ron didn’t disappoint. He began sharing his beliefs with other campers, counselors, and drew the attention of the leadership. I was stuck. I had no clue how to help Ron, and felt drained every day I was there. After a few more days, our leadership encouraged me to leave Ron to his own devices. They asked me to not engage in spiritual talks with him because he became extremely argumentative. The staff avoided him, and the campers feared him.
That’s a terrible place to be in. I decided to just love on Ron. I stopped trying to “convert” him and asked more questions about his beliefs. My hope was that he would allow me to share mine when it was relevant to the conversation. He seemed less irritated after I started doing that so I kept it going. He then surprised all of us. He started talking more, and stayed clear of trouble for the remainder of camp.
Why am I telling you all of this? Why did I take you on a scenic route to experience my interaction with this one camper?
The answer is simple. We often think we know what’s best for our youth, and sometimes may be validated in doing so. However, true transformation happens when the youth can articulate their experience, and learn how to best apply the learned skills to other life situations. Whether you are a coach, a parent, or a mentor, understanding “how” to teach the basic fundamentals of humanity will best serve them.
On the final day of camp, Ron was scheduled to leave immediately after breakfast. He completed his meal, heard his group’s name called for departure and headed towards me. Expecting one final jab at me, Ron walked up, extended his hand for a farewell dap, brought me in for a bro-hug and said “Thank You”. “Thank you for listening to me.” “I’m gonna miss ya bro.”
It dawned on my that for for the past 168 hours, I was responsible for sharing God with a young man who needed to find his own way in life. He was a young man that was outcast for his beliefs, and isolated for being verbally persistent in sharing them.
My encounter with Ron is why I’ve been in youth ministry for almost a decade. I stopped sharing Jesus, and started sharing Jesus. Let me run that back. I stopped reciting the outlined path for sharing the Gospel and social media posts, and started sharing the Gospel with my life, my intuitive nature for listening, and a willingness to learn.
I don’t know if what I did ever made a lasting impact on Ron. But I am certain that Ron made a lasting impact on me.
Be coachable. Be teachable. Be intentional.
You never know who’s life is at stake.
“And as always…remember your purpose and your worth net…never a day are you worthless, because you’re worth it….And so much more”