Go West, Young…Lady

A major part of my last two months have come in ways I could’ve never imagined.  After our teen mission trip to Jamaica had to be canceled because of unrest and violence in the capital city of Kingston, we began praying for God to send us where He wanted.  We believe that our first and foremost mission is serving our local community but there is also a time and place for a mission “trip” to open our eyes and challenge us to think more missionaly at home.   For that “trip” God chose to send us west…way out west…to the wilderness Navajo Reservation in Montezuma Creek, Utah.  And it was no accident that God placed exactly where He did!  Let me explain how this turned into one of best experiences I’ve had in 13 years of youth ministry!

When we crossed the Utah state line, the billboard described Utah as “LIFE ELEVATED.”  Nothing could have been a more perfect description!  During the day our team of teens and adults worked tirelessly in the community and each night we taught the Bible to anywhere from 70-100 children, some of whom we picked up from houses made of nothing more than dirt.  I had the opportunity to teach an adult Bible class to a group of Navajo women who were amazing.  It was so exciting to see their hunger for God’s Word.  Even after two hours of Bible study they would say, “Our time is up already! How can it be?”  I began my time with them by apologizing for what my “white”ancestors had done in history to their people.  I expressed my pain and regret over how they had been driven away from their land and oppressed.  It was as though they so desperately needed to hear those words.  They seemed to have never heard a “white man” acknowledge or verbally state such thoughts.  Immediately barriers were removed and God allowed me to develop a special bond with these ladies and speak into their tender hearts in a way that changed me deeply.  It truly was “LIFE ELEVATED.”

Perhaps the most amazing part of the experience  however actually happened after we arrived home.  This came through one of our absolutely amazing students named Liz Thompson.  Liz did an incredible job while on the trip and deeply connected with the entire experience.  Upon returning home, Liz felt a deep inner calling. She felt somehow that she was supposed to go back to the Navajo Reservation.  She didn’t know how or when but she couldn’t ignore this overwhelming feeling.  Liz had just graduated from high school and was scheduled to go off to Harding University for college.  Originally Liz started thinking maybe she was supposed to go back next summer and do a summer internship working on the Reservation.  But as Liz and I talked and explored God’s call, I strongly sensed God was telling her to go NOW.  When I told Liz what I felt like God was saying, her face lit up with excitement.  “You mean I CAN go now?  HOW is that even possible?” she asked with a mixture of enthusiasm and confusion.  We began to explore the possibilities and with one phone call an amazing opportunity opened for Liz to go to the Reservation immediately and help start a free pre-school for Navajo children!

I must admit that’s it’s a little intimidating to call one of our student’s Moms and tell her that I don’t think her daughter is supposed to go off to college this year as planned.  Especially when she was scheduled to leave for college in a week.  But her Mom was completely open minded to the opportunity.  I am so thankful to Beth Thompson for her courage and open mindedness as a Mom to explore God’s calling for her daughter.  Several of Liz’s closest friends covered the whole opportunity in prayer and we continued to sense that God was telling Liz to “Go west.”   And…that’s just what she has done! Liz made the courageous decision to forgo her freshman year of college to move to the Navajo Reservation and open a free pre-school for Navajo children.  This pre-school has been opened in the existing Navajo church building and Liz is working with the preacher’s wife, who is legally blind, to care for and teach 11 precious Navjo children! She will also be volunteering her time to working at a mentally handicapped center and helping serve in many other ways in the Navajo community.     She is not being paid a dime for her work and has committed the next nine months of her life to serving in a place that most people couldn’t probably handle for more than a week. The Reservation is extremely isolated from most of the luxuries that we typically enjoy.  Liz is nearly two hours from even the closest Wal-mart!  The ONLY place to buy ANYTHING is the town’s gas station convenience store across the street from the church building.  Thats it! And THIS is where Liz has chosen to dedicate the next nine months of her life serving Jesus.  And all of this at the age of 18!  Liz is living out Kingdom life “elevated” as she learns to walk with God in the wilderness.

There is nothing more rewarding as a youth minister than to see your students really get it.  Liz is one of the amazing students who not only “gets it” but is putting it into action.  Equally exciting has been the support our church family has rallied for Liz.  Tusculum has generously helped raise the cost of Liz’s basic living expenses and the cost of pre-school expenses over the next nine months.  We have set up a blog for Liz and I would encourage you to follow her journey and send this extraordinary young lady of faith some words of encouragement.  She’s already begun to blog about some amazing experiences!

This entire experience has truly caused me to rethink our traditional approach to going off to college after high school.  Should we as parents,  youth ministers, and mentors more openly encourage our students to take a year off before college?  Have we simply assumed that college is always the next best step?  Could it be that our students need a year to go out and serve and discover their passions, giftedness, and the plain old value of hard work BEFORE they go off to college and invest thousands of dollars in a degree of which they are uncertain about?   Big questions with no simple answers.  And the truth is, it’s probably different for each individual student.  But maybe we should at least rethink our traditional approach.  More on that in my next update.  Stay tuned…and pray for Liz as she shatters the norm and blazes a new trail!

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