I joined our team at Jefferson Middle School recently for lunch at the school. It always feels awkward walking into a cafeteria full of middle school students, even for someone who does it for a living. Our plan was to walk around and check in with all the YOKE kids, and see what doors might open to invite others to club.
We began making the rounds talking with our kids, answering questions about who we were, and inviting kids to club. We saw a couple of young ladies that had been to YOKE in the past, but hadn’t come in a while. As we walked over to greet them, we noticed that two of the girls (one YOKE Kid, one young lady that we just met) were fighting back tears. When we asked them what was going on, the flood gates opened.
This scenario happens over and over again when you show up for kids. Maybe it was bullying, bad grades, parents not getting along, a fight with a friend, or being excluded. We’ve experienced it before because we choose to be present. We take the opportunity to sit and listen, to let them talk and share about their lives. That presence earns us the opportunity to speak in to their lives. We are not just another voice talking at them, rather we are entering into their lives. When that happens, we have opportunities to share the love and the truth of the Gospel.
25 years ago, I was that student. I still remember where I was sitting in the Halls Middle School cafeteria, seeing my YOKE Folk walk in the door and sit down across from me. In my three years of middle school, I rarely missed a YOKE Club, camp, or summer adventure. But the moment that is clearest of all my YOKE memories is that one - the YOKE Folk that made himself available to me.
After the tears stopped, we talked about the situation for just a few minutes. The bell rang and they were off to their next class. The interaction was brief and the advice was practical, but more importantly, for those few minutes you could see in their eyes that they felt heard and loved, and that was enough.
"…so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well." 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)