Affirming God’s greatness in youth
By Sherry Blackman | Presbyterians Today
God-given greatness isn’t something one achieves; it is something inherent to being human. This is the core message that the leaders at Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey, are instilling in their youth. These mentors hold fast to the belief that if a person is to be successful in the Christ-abundant life, he or she must take complete responsibility for that greatness and protect it.
Out of this conviction the church began offering a monthly Positive Affirmation workshop in October. The workshop grew out of a Sunday school series highlighting the biblical stance that God has given each person a purpose, and fulfilling that purpose means living into the Christian’s call and influence in the world. The workshop was the brainchild of Dora Mighty, a teacher and church youth leader who wanted to continue focusing on these values.
“Children often sacrifice their God-given greatness when confronted with peer pressure, poverty, prejudice and insecurities, along with other struggles growing up in an urban environment,” said Mighty.
The workshop meets on Saturday mornings for students in the East Orange community who are of elementary through high school age. Elmwood United Presbyterian provides transportation for those who would not be able to attend otherwise. About 20 to 30 youngsters and teens attend the 90-minute workshops.
“It’s a way to reinforce that they have a voice for themselves, that they can make the right choices, that it only takes one turn to lead them into a world of trouble, sorrow and despair,” said Janel Bell, another youth leader at the church.
Lifting up one’s God-given greatness was central to a recent workshop where participants created T-shirts bearing strong action words that they chose. Each action word, Mighty and Bell explained, allowed a child to affirm himself or herself. For example, if a child needed to believe in himself or herself, the T-shirt might have the word “believe” on it. If another child needed to hold on to his or her confidence, the child might choose “confidence.” Needed to feel beautiful? Then “beautiful” might be written across the T-shirt.
“Despite what the world tells our children, it’s crucial they hold on to the truth that God is the light in each one of us,” said Mighty.
Mighty also said that such a message is especially important with the increase in preteen and teen suicide and with many youth believing they are less than they are.
“These are make or break years, when our children need to have discernment. The workshop is a way we are equipping the saints to stay faithful to God in a world that can be harsh and difficult,” she said.
Youth leader Jerome Lane adds that it’s critical that teens have mentors who have walked in their shoes, been where they’ve been and encountered the same peer pressure.These leaders hope to write this message into the heart of every child who attends: Be still and reflect on the choices you will make. Learn to lean on God for answers; discern the way God wants to lead you. Ask God: What do you have for me? What future do you hold for me?
Children and youth attending the monthly Positive Affirmation workshop are encouraged to keep a journal to reflect on what is happening in their lives and their reactions to those happenings. Plans also are in the works for a “vision board” activity that will enable participants to create a visual tool to keep them focused on what they want for their lives.
“We inspire them to take action every day, wherever God is tugging at their hearts, even as God moves them out of their comfort zones. We encourage them to commit acts of love, to build up the community, not to be afraid to step out of the norm and do something that others may not consider ‘cool,’ such as acting respectfully toward an adult, or standing up for someone who is being bullied. We want them to be role models and to model God’s love in all places, at all times,” Mighty said.
Sherry Blackman is the pastor of Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.
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