Posted tagged ‘teenagers’

The Young Life Ministry

February 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 12, 2019

                            

This past Sunday night Carol and I attended the banquet sponsored by Young Life of North Colorado Springs. Young Life is a long established ministry to young people. It was started in 1941 by a guy named Jim Rayburn in Gainesville, Texas, and has been going ever since. 

Young Life is significant for us in that it was how Carol and I met! We were both working with Young Life high school clubs in the western suburbs of Chicago…she at Elmhurst York and me at Hinsdale Central, and then Downers Grove North. Hinsdale Central was the school she had graduated from and one of the other club leaders, Jeff Slaga, had invited her to come to a summer evening gathering of students who had been to one of Young Life’s summer camps. He knew that I was going to be there and was trying to be the matchmaker. 

So, it was at a Young Life event that we first met! The next March we went on a Young Life spring break ski trip to Colorado with a couple of busloads of students. The summer after that I took a van load of students from First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois to Silver Cliff, a Young Life camp at that time in Colorado. It was a life-changing experience for some of the students. Three years ago when I was back in the Chicago area I met one of those students, now in her fifties, for dinner and she told me that it was during that camp week that she became a follower of Jesus. 

Now, forty years after we had been Young Life leaders, we were back at a banquet to hear the Young Life story again. It’s different today, and yet the same! The gospel is still the center of the ministry, but some of the dynamics of youth ministry are different than they used to be. Forty years ago we didn’t have to deal with a sense of hopelessness in some young people’s lives that made suicide a final solution for several. We didn’t have cyber-bullying or as many split family units. There were different kinds of teen pressure that we dealt with, but nothing like vaping and gender confusion. 

As Carol and I entered the place for the banquet I was manhandled by five of my current basketball players who were a part of the cheering group of greeters. 

“Coach Wolfe! Coach Wolfe!” they shouted as they jostled me back and forth. They were surprised to see me and even more surprised when I told them that Carol and I had been Young Life leaders. 

The evening was a revisiting of part of our life stories, a confirmation of a ministry we had once invested in and will now come back to in support of. 

As I’ve coached and substitute taught I’ve seen and heard some of the heart cries of today’s teens. They’re confused and yet knowledgeable; depressed and yet smiling. Young Life offers an invitation to a relational road that they need not walk alone.

Why I Substitute Teach

August 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 18, 2018

                                     

School began again this past Wednesday in our area! At Timberview Middle School four hundred or so sixth graders waited outside the doors that first day. Seventh and eighth graders came back on Thursday.

The school staff waited inside the doors and cheered them on as they entered the building for their first middle school experience.

And I was one of the cheering high five-ing staff members!

I’m a substitute teacher, but had been asked to teach the first three days of school by a teacher back in April because of a family wedding she would be attending out-of-state.

Other staff members asked the question: “Mr. Wolfe, subbing already?” Yes, in fact, out of 13 August school days I’m scheduled to sub 10 of them for 7 different teachers. 

I often have people ask me why I substitute teach? Am I a masochist? Is it the appropriate level for how mature I act? Will no one else hire me? Am I reliving my junior high days?

Truthfully, I substitute teach because I enjoy it! I’m serious! One of the best months of my life was when I was asked to do a long-term 7th Grade Social Studies teaching position. I had to work like crazy that month preparing for each day of instruction and interaction, but I was a bit sad when the new teacher was hired. She’s a great teacher (who I have subbed for several times since!), but I missed the kids who I was privileged enough to teach, challenge, and converse with each day. 

That experience has probably influenced my feelings on substitute teaching more than anything else. It imparted confidence in me and brought me to the point where each school day was seen as being an opportunity to influence and educate, as opposed to enduring and dreading.

I don’t substitute teach because we need the income. We’re okay regardless of whether I decide to take the month off or appear in a classroom every school day of that month. The pay, in my mind, is simply a side benefit for doing something I enjoy doing. 

I substitute teach because of the relationships with staff, parents, and students. A few of my best friends are now teachers, who are on staff at Timberview. One of them has been on two mission trips with me. I officiated at the funeral service for another teacher friend who succumbed to cancer two years ago. 

I substitute teach at middle school because it’s an impressionable time for the children who enter there and three years later exit as teenagers. It’s an uncertain and confusing part of their life journeys. I remember my junior high days. They were not that pleasant. I was the smallest kid in my whole class. Other boys in my eighth grade class were beginning to sport facial hair and armpit hair that was dense and long enough to take a weed whacker to. I didn’t even have peach fuzz! I was still like a facial hair desert, void of signs of adolescence!

As a sub I have the opportunity to give a word of encouragement, bring a class to laughter, and grace students with nicknames. I have the opportunity to make a school day more than just books and study sheets. I’m able to make it an experience.

It’s a bit flattering to hear good things being said about me. I’m scheduled to teach 8th Grade social studies for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November. The teacher came up to me on Thursday and told me she had shared with her classes that I’d be subbing for her during that time. 

“They were so excited!”

Wow! Putting the pressure on me! But, you know something? I’m also excited! I am a blessed man!

Adventures in Substitute Teaching: The Hot Sauce

April 29, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 29, 2017

                           

The students slowly entered the classroom, uninspired examples of adolescence. It was Wednesday…”hump day”, as they say, and they resembled marathon runners who have already run thirteen miles, but realize they have another thirteen to go. Weariness was setting in.

The lesson plan had them listening to a chapter of the book they were running through as they followed along page by page. I took attendance and started getting my bearings. It’s always interesting to me that I can figure out who the “suspects” are in the first five minutes of class even before we begin studying the material for the day. After all, they are thirteen year old adolescents who are prone to test the limits and explore the dangers, like a kid who has just learned to swim and is standing at the deep end of the pool…considering!

“Mr. Wolfe, can I go fill my water bottle?” asks a young lady who looks like she is wilting.

“Sure!”

Water bottles are part of the middle school student essentials now. Companies realize that and have made them stylish. When I was growing up our water bottle was a thermos with that cup on top that you unscrewed, poured the beverage into, and then sipped from. I don’t remember ever carrying a thermos of water with me, but most students lug their water bottles around all day…because it’s cool! They are the name brand jeans of the water world!

“Mr. Wolfe!” The voice comes from my right and I look around to see one of my basketball players standing there with tears streaming down his face.

“You all right?”

“Yes,  but could I go get a drink of water?”

“Sure!”

I notice a couple of students snickering, a sure sign that some non-curriculum activity is developing. Students don’t snicker at novels! Snickering is a reaction to their actions. It’s a hypothesis that has been proven!

Two minutes later two other students ask to be allowed to hydrate. I recognize that some of these students have just come from physical education class, but since I’ve subbed in that class I’m familiar with the physical inactivity that is prevalent.

When student #5 and #6 ask for water relief I decide to investigate a bit more as soon as we get done reading the chapter in the novel.

“Hey! Before we go on, who has the Flaming Hot Cheetos?” All eyes zoom in on one young man. He plays “the innocent card!”

“Where’s the Cheetos?” He gives me the shoulder shrug, but I watched a lot of Perry Mason episodes in my younger days and I recognize that look. He’s still proclaiming his innocence when the Assistant Principal walks in and puts the heat on! The pressure gets to him and the bag of Cheetos emerges from his backpack. Not a snack size bag, mind you, but the family size bag, or in this case the school size bag. He’s reluctant to part ways with them and his heightened sense of ownership results in him having to follow the Assistant Principal back to the office. The last words of the condemned are a lamentation of injustice. “I’m going to get in trouble because of Cheetos!” he wails as his classmates suppress their laughter.

“So…tell me the rest of the story here. Why didn’t he want to give up his bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos?” I’m looking at the class, inviting them to fill in the gaps for me.

One young lady’s hand goes up.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Wolfe, it wasn’t just Flaming Hot Cheetos. He had doused them with “Devil’s Blood.”

“Devil’s Blood?” I ask cluelessly.

“Yes, it’s an extremely hot hot sauce.”

I turn to my basketball player whose eyes are still steamy. “And you ate them?” I look at the whole class. “Why would you eat something like that?” The shoulder shrugs pop up around the room. The answer is clear! They would eat something like that because they are kids who have just recently arrived at being teenagers…and if Flaming Hot Cheetos were around when I was growing up I probably would have done the same thing…and cried like a baby!

What Do You Say To High School Students Who May Have Heard It All?

June 24, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                             June 24, 2015

       

In about ten days I’ll head to camp…church camp, that is! Church camp for about six and a half days with high school students. High school students, many of whom have heard it all…or believe they have!

So what do I say to them that won’t cause a rolling of eyes or the closing of eyelids? What do I say to them that is truth without the hint of parental guilt? What do I say to them that will encourage them to the futures and purposes that God has for their lives?

I’ve been pondering and praying these questions for a while, but even more since a young lady I had coached passed away about three weeks ago. Just two years out of high school she lost some of her sense of purpose. Her death has caused me to ponder a tremendous amount each day.

So I’ve tried to come up with things that need to be said to a young man or woman who has sixty to seventy years of life ahead of them. Here’s what I’ve got so far…and I would love to get your ideas and suggestions!

    1) Know that the world is broken…and so are you! We live in the midst of fallenness. Remember that when people, systems, and mindsets try to convince you of their perfection. Part of maturing is coming to grips with the fact that you will never have it all together. Don’t use that as an excuse, but rather as a clarifier of your environment and your life. Wholeness can come only after there is an admission that a person has some cracks in their life.

2) Accept forgiveness and be forgiving! Know that everyone makes mistakes…and you will too! Be willing to let it go- your mistakes and the errors of others that affect you- and move on!

3) Embrace your purpose! Discover it and pursue it with passion because it is this purpose that God will use to bring glory to him and some form of healing to the world. Your purpose doesn’t have to be something that is headline-grabbing, although it may be noticed when you least expect it!

4) Identify who it is who will “go to the wall” for you! “Go to the wall” means they would be willing to lay down their life for you. Know that your list will be very short, but also take note of who you wouldn’t put on that list. Who are the people who would jump on a plane and fly across the country at a moment’s notice because you need them? Would you be on their list?

5) Seek joy more than the pursuit of happiness! Joy doesn’t leave; happiness is a temporary feeling. Put another way…happiness is a seasonal visitor, but joy is a resident. Incorporate practices in your life that keep you in the stream of joy.

6) Know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves you unconditionally! Most of what happens in our lives is conditional, but nothing you do or don’t do will negate the love that God has for you. The doubts you experience in regards to that are simply deceiver-driven or self-imposed.

7) Embrace a Community of Faith! A church or gathering of Christ-followers needs to be intimately connected to your life. They need you and you need them! Don’t try to go on a spiritual journey by yourself. You’ll fall and there will be no one to pick you back up! Going to church camp one week a year is not a fulfillment of your spiritual nutrition and need!

8) Identify a mentor and walk with him/her! Joshua had Moses, Timothy had Paul. Who is it in your life that already has the wisdom and experience with the potholes of the journey? Who can steer you in the right direction, but will also be there to encourage you after you’ve screwed up?

9) Just because everybody is doing it doesn’t make it right! As my grandfather used to say, “If everybody else jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump off, also?” Sometimes my answer was yes…and I fell hard! Don’t buy into everything that our culture says is the way or the truth, or where life is! If you do you’ll end up either disillusioned or dysfunctional!

I’ll stop at 9! Perhaps I’ll add to the list later…maybe you’ll help me! But make it fast! Camp starts in ten days!

Oh…I’ll add this one for the parents! 10) Clean your room!