For Derrick, every day at school is torture.
He walks in and heads straight to his locker without so much as a glance from anyone. As he’s getting everything he needs for his first class, no one says a word to him. Even though he is surrounded by countless students in the hallway, he doesn’t get so much as a “Hello.” The bell rings and he finds his spot in the back of the classroom where he knows he can fade away and not be forced into that awkward conversation with somebody who doesn’t know his name. He repeats this process of locker visits and hiding in his classrooms until lunch, which is for him the most glaring daily reminder of his non-existence. He doesn’t have to worry about finding a seat for lunch every day. He knows it is always going to be at the empty table. After lunch, he repeats the whole painful process until it’s finally time to escape to the sanctity of his own home.
As you know, Derrick is not the only one. The same story plays out every day in every corner of the world. This exclusion phenomenon isn’t relegated to our schools. It permeates our churches, as well.
We’ve all had the one kid who just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the group. Every Wednesday night, he or she is the one sitting on the otherwise empty row alone. If he or she is brave enough to go on trips with us, this student is always the one left without a roommate at the hotel or a partner for kitchen duty. If we’re honest, it’s the youth with whom we most struggle to talk or interact. We all see it; and to some extent, we all have participated in the exclusion. Some of us have even been that non-existent kid ourselves.
People talk about changing the world, but I have a simple and radical question. What if in the simple act of saying “Hello,” a miracle is taking place?
Make a Change
The Great Commission makes it pretty clear that the goal of the Christian faith is nothing less than changing the world. So how do we do that?
As youth pastors leading students who take this call seriously, we want to help them achieve that goal; but often we’re not sure what direction to point them. The passion is there from the students and us; but more often than not, we don’t have the slightest idea how we are supposed to go about this business of world changing. There are so many problems out there. Where do we start? Poverty? Homelessness? Malnutrition? Malaria? Even if we do find our starting point, how are we supposed to tackle such monumental issues?
Maybe the real problem is that we’re going about this world-changing business the wrong way. What if the solution to the great problems of the world didn’t begin with an international, multi-faceted mission project, but with the simple act of saying, “Hello”?
If we are to answer Jesus’ Great Commission and continue the work He began, it only makes sense and can only happen if we do what He did.
Does this mean we need to break out the fish and loaves or put on our water shoes for a nice walk across the lake? No, but it does mean we need to look at how Jesus went about the business of changing the world.
When we do, we find that while He certainly did some miraculous things, they all were accomplished by the simplest acts. Jesus had one method He used for miracle working more than any other. In fact, with few exceptions it was the only way He ever performed miracles. He talked to people. That’s it. Except for making mud balls and praying over lunch, He never had any special technique, magic potion or complicated ritual that had to be employed in order for the miracle to work. He talked to people, and that simple act of love became miraculous.
And God Said
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jesus accomplished miracles merely by speaking. At creation, God gave life simply by speaking it into existence. If we are to be imitators of Christ, then we must learn we are called to do the same.
Clearly, this doesn’t mean we need to go out on the front lawn, start talking to a patch of dirt and expect people suddenly to start sprouting up everywhere. What it does mean is that speaking to people is a holy, life-giving act.
Who we are as people is defined by our relationships with God and others. We are brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters because of our relationships. I know I am loved because my wife tells me every day. Just in case I forget, my dog is there with a nice wag of her tail to remind me. Going home for the holidays, sitting around the table, catching up with everyone reminds me that I belong to a family. Even a frantic phone call from a student who can’t remember when or where we’re meeting for a trip reminds me that I’m needed.
Everyone needs to be loved. It is this sense of belonging and attachment that causes us to care about those around us. As Christians, we are compelled to share the love of the One who first loved us. When we do that, love compels those we share it with to go and do likewise, connecting us all together and creating a ripple effect of love that can, quite literally, change the world.
As important as the annual summer mission trip is (and it is!), maybe we need to recognize it’s the everyday, ordinary moments at school, home or talking on Facebook that allow us to have the biggest impact on the world around us.
As our students engage and build relationships with people they otherwise may ignore, they bring the life-giving love of Jesus to people who often need it the most. In simply talking to them, they affirm their relationship to the rest of the world by letting them know they are loved and not alone.
It was this necessity for love, affirmation and belonging that Jesus recognized in those in need. He wasn’t simply healing their diseases. He was speaking new life into them. He was giving them a reason to be and calling them to go and do likewise. In the same way, when our students engage the hurt, lost and dying around them, they bring new life to a lost and dying world.
We need to get our students and ourselves to begin reimagining this business of changing the world, not by ignoring the major problems of the world, but by recognizing the solution to many of these problems may begin with saying “Hello.”