[Written by Jen H]
I have been reflecting lately on the incredible scope of students who truly value people. This pondering is relevant as I reflect on the lives of two individuals that our youth community valued. Hear their stories.
I still have memories imprinted in my mind from the San Carlos, Arizona onMission trip back in July 2009. I remember first driving on to the Apache Reservation overwhelmed by the trash and beer bottles strewn throughout the street gutters, parks, and front lawns. I remember the dried salt stains on everyone’s shirts from the sweet as it rose past 100 degrees each day. I remember the sacrifice of the three missionaries living in a small double-wide trailer serving the Apache youth inside that same home. I remember the epic night when we had a mini-revival of sorts honoring the Lord with our humble confessions. I also remember how our students fell in love with a baby boy named Moni.
Moni’s parents had previously asked the missionaries to care for him to focus on their own struggles. As we saw was their nature, the missionaries took him in, traded sleep (and sanity) to care for this boy. I still wonder how they were able to do it. Incredible sacrifice! Our students were constantly in the missionary’s home, affectionally called “The Hub.” Moni was there too. I saw our students ask to hold Moni, feed him, keep him out of the kitchen (“no babies in the kitchen!), and assist with his care so the missionaries could minister to the teens at The Hub too. Our students had no previous connection to this baby and yet they exuded a compassionate love for him. It was beautiful. My favorite memory from San Carlos.
About five years ago a teenager named Ben showed up at our Friday night Coffeehouse. I am almost sure that he came because he was friends with a student connected to our group. One thing I am positive of is that he was immediately loved into the group. When first meeting Ben you might have been a little thrown off on how to connect with him. His clothes were old. He asked very deep, hard questions. He loved to reflect, making the conversation feel less than fluid. He thought differently.
Since the first time I met Ben I continued to see how with high school students and 18.20somethings (later on) cared about Ben. I was impressed with how there always seemed to be a person or two who would spend quality time with Ben, letting him know that he was loved. In talking with his mom recently, she said, “Ben has struggled and struggled with understanding God’s love. But he kept going back to Bloomingdale Church. He always felt loved there.”
On August 27, Ben passed away. He had a long-term battle with mental illness.
On August 30, Moni passed away. He contracted a disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
In the sadness I felt upon the loss of these two incredible people, I was reminded that throughout their lives, people in our community and many other significant people demonstrated deep love and care for them. They were shown God’s love and value for of them in incredible, practical ways.
I had the opportunity to participate in Ben’s memorial service a couple weeks ago. As his friends and parents told his story it was not one of defeat. Rather, the story was of the people who loved Ben. It was a small celebration of sorts in the midst of a sad day.
One of the five core values we have in our youth ministry is that we desire for our students to know that they are valued by God. God has reminded us throughout Scripture that we are cherished by Him. Genesis 1:26 tells us that we are made in His image. Psalm 139:13-14 reminds us that God is pleased with how He made us. Zephaniah 3:17 encourages us that God not only loves us, He likes us too! God never stops loving us. In fact, when we get lost and forget about God, He will do anything to make sure we are found [Lk 13:3-7, Jn 10:7-16]. He never leaves us and is always with us [Deut 31:6, Is 41:10].