My favorite thing about YouthWorks is that it throws together four or five individuals who might never in any other context find themselves spending significant time together. YouthWorks takes these four or five individuals and tosses them in a mini van to drive to a place they’ve probably never been before to live and work together for ten weeks. Basically, you’re strangers and then you’re inseparable for ten weeks.
It’s a breeding ground for conflict. And conflict is a breeding ground for growth. More than any other experience in my life, YouthWorks shaped, and continues to shape, my understanding of relationship and my ability to intentionally love, serve, and get to know people who are different from me.
I was half-way hoping, while mostly knowing that it wasn’t going to go this way, that by the time I got to this Area Director position, I would have all of this figured out. I fancied myself the expert, riding in in my little hatchback rental to fix all of the problems and give all of the advice. I imagined my teams would have wonderful experiences as they worked through conflict and disagreements and being different because I would guide and coach them toward unity and servant love.
It’s kind of going like that! But, surprise surprise, God is teaching me something, too.
Isn’t it awesome of God that He reveals our sin to us in little bite-sized, digestible pieces? Like, if he pulled back the curtain, opened my eyes to the death and decay going on in my heart all at once, like some kind of divine and unholy ripping off of a bandaid, I would literally drop dead with hopelessness. But, He is kind and gracious and merciful and coming from the perspective of eternity, so He’s not in a rush, praise Him. He reveals, in my experience, our sin one issue at a time. “Hey, Suzanne – let’s work on your mouth. You should be nicer with that thing.” Then, “Alright, you’re starting to get a handle on that, now let’s work on your pride.” I’m all, “Again, Lord? Aren’t I humble enough by now?” And He just shakes His head at me and chuckles and we work on my pride some more. Pride and being judgey come up a lot in this sin-revelation thing God does in my life.
But just recently what God so graciously revealed to me is that I don’t actually honor and value all diversity like I totally thought I did all this time.
I love cultural diversity. I love hearing different languages and smelling different spices and eating different foods. I love understanding that this group of people functions this way because of their culture. I love understanding the different kinds of poverty and how it’s systematic and generational and therefore cultural. I love being able to explain why poor people do this or that and how I can relate. I love knowing what all of the letters in LGBTQIA+ stand for!
Of course, I still have SO MUCH to learn about all of these things I love understanding. And I’m happy to admit to that, too! Look at me! I’m a learner.
BUT when someone thinks or talks or processes things differently than me and they don’t have a fun or flashy cultural reason why (hm, looks like my privilege is showing) I’ve found I don’t take it so well.
I’ve found myself thinking thoughts like, “We’re both from suburbs of big cities in the Midwest – why can we not communicate?!” Or, “We’re both strong female leaders – why don’t we better understand each other?”
It’s frustrating that in the same way people lump together all “poor people” or “gay people” or “brown people,” I am lumping together all “strong females” or “middle class white people” or “Midwestern people.” But it’s also kind of a sigh of relief that I’ve realized what I’m doing. Because the first step is acceptance! Now that my eyes have been opened to my sin I have to do something about it.
The truth is, the truth I know with my head and want to plant deep down in my heart, is that there is no way of thinking or processing or listening that is inherently better than another. The truth is – won’t this sound familiar? – I am not more important than anybody. The truth is, I still have so much to learn about what it means to worship and serve as a member of a super diverse body of believers who all follow this Jesus guy. The truth is, YouthWorks is still tossing people together and I am still one of those people, with just as much to teach as I have to learn.
The truth is, humility is always the best posture. “Help me to understand,” is always a good response. Listening is always a good use of time.
My hope for this summer is that I can celebrate the hugeness and diversity of God as He reveals Himself and manifests Himself differently in all of the people around me. My hope for this summer is that by the end of the whole thing we all look more like Jesus, more like the people we were intended to be. My hope is that I don’t let my pride and haughty thinking get in the way of any of that. My hope is that by the end of the summer, this Kingdom that we’re ushering in looks a little more diverse, and a little more unified.
*I took the picture above from #yw2017 on Instagram. If you’ve never been a part of YouthWorks or short term missions and you find yourself with some scrolling time, look through the hashtag. It’s exciting and funny and heart warming stuff. God is at work this summer through YouthWorks and I am SO GRATEFUL to be a part of it and SO HUMBLED that He not only chooses to use me, but that He also uses this to grow me. Praise Him, Hallelujah.