As young people come from around the country to participate with our Students Living a Mission program, it’s easy to visually depict the projects they participate in. We can take pictures of them working on a widow’s house, video of them playing games at a kid’s camp, and we can give you impressive stats of what they accomplished.
What we can’t always depict with such ease is what happens in the hearts and minds of young people as they focus on learning God’s word and giving themselves to serve others over the course of five days here in Nashville.
With this year’s theme of HUMBLE, students were exposed to the journey of Israel and how they were humbled as a people during their time in the wilderness as they learned to depend on the Lord more than anything else. From their time, we learn lessons like, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” - Deuteronomy 8:3. Students participating with us this summer were invited on a similar journey. They were taught that tests are part of life, and that God is watching to see how we respond. They were encouraged that the most important part of life--even more than food--is the nourishment we get from God’s Word, and they were challenged to grow a hunger for it.
The results have been amazing. Kids have been experiencing the Lord like they never have before. One young man said he had never heard God’s voice until his Nashville week. Others committed (before everyone) to using their gifts for the Lord. They’re surprised to find facilitators who are more than ready to pray for them, or with them, with the kind of sincerity of heart that you just can’t shake. They’re thankful for Bible teachers who relate and connect to them, and make the Bible something they can understand. On our biggest week of the summer, almost every student in the room stood up and committed to a 40-day Bible reading challenge, keeping up their appetite for what God offers us all, but so few slow down to eat.
Still other small groups spent time reprioritizing their lives in order to ensure that the Lord’s presence is more evident in their lives when they return home. One group of girls talked of planning a youth group showdown between Minnesota and Illinois, to see which group can do more things for God before next summer, when they reunite at SLAM next year. Still others made simple, powerful statements like “I finally felt free.”
Throughout the summer thus far, more than 400 participants have connected with the LORD through worship, study of the Word and small group dialogue. Every group expresses a collective desire to ‘take it back home.’ (This is our goal!) What they came to understand is that they must recognize the factors that enabled them to experience the presence of the LORD in their midst. They have to give him room to work through prayer and worship. They have to be unified with fellow believers as they work together to serve in ways modeled by Jesus. They have to commit themselves to coming into a better understanding of God’s Word and how to practically apply it.
The teams were loved on and supported by a multitude of volunteers and staff who knew that what their youth needed most was God’s Word and living examples of its truth. One of the youth leaders commented, “I just feel the presence of the LORD here. People are on fire for the LORD and it’s just an amazing thing to have so many people outwardly love the LORD.”
Another wrote to a facilitator, “ I wouldn't trade this week for anything. Tirelessly and happily, you worked hard to make our week successful and enjoyable. Your labor alone is a testimony to your faith.”
One of the most humbling lessons we learn from HUMBLE is that we are the ones who most get in the way of our own experience of the Lord. We don’t often know what we are capable of until we press ourselves to depend on the LORD (the test of the wilderness journey).
At the end of one week, when it came time for participants to reflect on their experiences, one young man vulnerably expressed: “I didn’t really want to be here spending my week doing something like this. But I’ve come to appreciate being here and what I’ve seen and experienced and learned. I know I won’t be perfect after this, but this week has motivated me to set goals and challenge myself to really follow God.”
Participants like this young man will remember the times that they denied themselves and their needs and pressed into the LORD. They will remember the good they did for others, the presence of the LORD they felt so strongly. They’ll remember the reward of becoming humble.