The Source for Youth Ministry
Jonathan's Resource Ezine

Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Wednesday, June 27, 2001

In This Issue

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YOUTH GROUPS REACHING THE "UNCHURCHED" Feeling Compassion for the First Time

By Jonathan McKee
June 27, 2001

Amber never realized the effect she had on another's life.? For her is was just a typical Tuesday evening youth group.? Amber was an 8th grader in this small Illinois town and had gone to the same church all of her life.? She was pretty accustomed to the Tuesday night youth group routine by now.? She would wait out front for her friend Lindsey to show up in a minivan full of friends.? They would all burst out of the car and greet each other with the normal squeaks, squeals and ritualistic half hugs.? Then the small circle would form in order to get caught up in the latest gossip of who's dating who, who broke up with who, who hates who, etc. etc.? Slowly the group would instinctively drift toward the youth group room across the church grounds.

The routine was halted abruptly this week when Amber noticed a small orange light in the shadows over by the pay phone on the youth room outside wall.? Everyone silenced as they stared at the boy leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette.? He was dressed in baggy pants, the end of his belt hanging down, black shirt, sunglasses, several piercings in various locations and a haircut to match.? The awkward pause seemed like minutes and not even the sound of the rustling trees could break the dead silence that hung there like a thick fog.? Amber broke the silence by scurrying for the door and slipping inside with her friends half a step behind.? Minutes later they were back to their routine, circled up, giggling at some of the boys across the room, forgetting about the individual who had just entered their lives.

The Youth leader started playing his guitar and called them all together.? "You all know this one."? They all gathered to the stage area and started singing.? It was then that Amber saw him again.? From the corner of her eye she saw him walk in the back of the room and sit against the back wall.? Why was he here?? Why is he in the back of the room?? Does he think he's too good for us?

After several songs Amber glanced over again.? The boy wasn't singing.? He was just sitting there with an unchanging expression.? The singing, clapping and hand motions continued and Amber participated outwardly while she kept an eye on the lone figure in the back of the room.? Why wasn't he singing?? Does he think he's too cool?

The youth leader finished the familiar songs and announced that Lindsey would be giving her testimony.? Cheers and whistles brought Lindsey up.? Blushing and rocking back and forth from her left to right foot, Lindsey began her canned presentation:
"I grew up in a Christian home with two loving parents.? I've always tried to be a good Christian although sometimes it's been tough.? I accepted Jesus in my heart when I was five in V.B.S.? I've always tried to persevere and keeps my eyes on Him . . ."

Amber notice that the boy was staring at Lindsey with a callus look on his face.? Was he giving her dirty looks?? Who does he think he is coming in here, smelling like smoke, thinking he's too good for all of us and giving hard looks?!

Lindsey finished and the youth pastor gave his talk.? Near the end of the talk the boy slipped out the side door and Amber never saw him again . . . except his picture two weeks later.? It was a Sunday Morning and Amber was eating a muffin at the kitchen table when she heard her mom gasp.? "Did you know this boy?"? Amber's mom turned the newspaper around and slid it across the table.? Amber saw the face that she had almost forgotten underneath the headline: Billy Blankman Takes Own Life With Dad's 38.? Amber didn't say anything.? A weird thing happened.? She almost felt a sense of de ja vu as the silence hung in the room for a few seconds and the sound of rustling trees infiltrated the room through the open window.

Amber put the muffin down, grabbed the newspaper and ran into her bedroom.? As Amber read the article, she began to feel nauseous.? The nausea struck because of the number of emotions that were piercing her.? She was angry when she read about the tough life a young boy had endured.? Guilt struck her at the same time, which was quickly thwarted by confusion and excuses- I didn't know.? That was the bottom line.? She didn't know.? She didn't know what it was like to be Billy.

Billy had only showed up at church because of a promise to his dying Grandfather.? His grandfather had proven to be the only caring person in Billy's life.? Billy never knew his mom.? She was a drug addict so "the system" wisely awarded his father custody.? So Billy was raised by his alcoholic father and whatever girlfriend his father had that particular week.

Billy had only heard the words I love you once- from his grandpa when he was 10 years old.? Throughout all his years, the one family member he could stand was his grandpa.? They wouldn't talk much . . .but they would fish, and Billy loved it.? His grandfather taught him when he was six years old and they would go fishing almost every weekend.? It was one of those weekends when they had a particularly good laugh about a fish that hopped completely out of the boat after lying there for over five minutes.? They both leapt for it and Billy actually got a finger or two on it, but it slipped over the side of the boat and with a thrust of its tail, was gone.? They both looked at each other dumbfounded for a second before finally bursting into laughter.? Laughter turned into giggles and finally a deep sigh.? Billy's grandfather looked Billy in the eyes and said, "Billy . . . you know I love you- don't you boy?"? Billy looked down at his shoes and nodded.? They didn't have to talk usually.? That's one thing fishing had taught them, non-verbal communication.? They could just look at each other, sometimes point to something or somewhere and they knew exactly what the other was communicating.? Billy always liked those moments when they were both just sitting in the boat, when there was nothing to say or do, and his grandfather would give him "the look."? His eyes would look over at Billy and then his face would relax, as if it approved of what it saw.? And then the left corner of his mouth would lift up and turn into a smile.? Billy got to know this "look" and would smile back.? Neither of them messed up the moment with words. They would just turn back to their fishing and go on, knowing that everything was okay.

Those times seemed like a dream world to him every time he walked into the reality of his house.? Billy would try to scurry by the TV, hoping to not draw too much attention from his father's form, lying in the recliner.

Billy started smoking at age 11.? His dad would kick him out when his dad's girlfriend came over after work at 10:00 at night.? This girlfriend didn't like Billy and had convinced his dad to make him go outside and play until they went to bed, usually at 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning.? Billy started running around with an older group of kids that cruised around the neighborhoods at night.? They all smoked and Billy quickly learned to fit in. They would frequent the corner 7 Eleven and Billy was the best at "theiven," as they called it.

Billy only had been in a church twice.? Once when his baby cousin got water sprinkled on him in that big white church downtown and once when his grandpa died.? This was just a couple weeks before Billy took his own life.? Billy and his grandpa's fishing trips had dissipated to every other month or so as Billy got more involved with his friends.? One day when Billy got home his dad wasn't there.? The current girlfriend told him that his dad was in the hospital visiting his father, Billy's grandpa . . . he was dying.

When Billy got to the hospital his dad had already left.? His grandpa was awake and had tubes and wires hooked all over his body.? When his grandpa saw him, his eyes lit up.? Billy went to his side and sat down.? Billy looked at his grandfather, as if to ask if everything was alright.? His grandfather looked back, his expression saying "no."? Billy sunk lower in his chair and they sat in silence, wishing they were on the old 16 foot boat. Finally, his grandfather broke the silence.? "Billy, I want you to do something for me."


"I want you to go to my church."

Billy's face told his grandpa exactly how he felt about it.? His Grandpa responded.? "I know what you might think, but that young man who leads the youth group is a nice . . ."

"Grandpa . . . please, I know your church thing was important to you . . . I just . . ."

"Billy."? His grandfather looked into Billy's eyes.? His expression relaxed then the corner of his mouth raised just a little and started to smile.

Billy felt his own body getting tight, his shoulders rising.? His face muscles clenched and tears started to form in the corners of his eyes.? "Alright grampa."

Billy sat there for another hour and a half.? They didn't say another word.? They just sat there together comfortably, sharing their last moment the way they always had, as Billy's grandpa slowly slipped away.

Billy noticed a poster in the back of the church on the way out of his grandfather's funeral.? The poster said something about a jr. high group on Tuesday nights.? Billy remembered the information he needed to remember and left the building.

Tuesday night came and Billy set out to keep his promise.? When he got to the church he went to what the map on the poster described as the "youth room."? He saw a couple kids inside and was a little early so he did what he always did- propped up against an inconspicuous wall and lit up a cigarette.

Five girls approached, laughing and giggling, at least until one of them caught sight of Billy.? Billy kept his eyes on the girls, reading every one of their faces as they stood there in silence.? Finally one girl led them to safety inside the room, leaving Billy to finish his cigarette.? Billy finished his cigarette and decided he had better keep his promise.? He hoped there wasn't something he was suppose to do at this place.? Do I need a school ID?? What if I'm not supposed to be here?? Are they going to ask me if I'm their religion?? When he walked in, cruel eyes examined him, wondering why he was there, why he wasn't with anyone and who had invited him.

Some guy with a guitar said, "You all know this one" and started singing a song that Billy didn't know.? Everybody knew where to go and what to do . . . except Billy.? Billy kicked it there in the back with a hard look on his face like he and his friends did at school.? It was what he knew, and what he had done every night to survive.

Billy found the greatest rejection he had ever felt.? Everyone kept looking at him.? They talked with words he didn't understand.? They constantly used the word "Christian" which confused Billy because his dad always told him they were Christians by birth. Billy remembers every Christmas season walking by the Santa ringing the bell in front of the stores.? His dad would always slip a dollar in the little red pot and tell Billy, "It's the Christian thing to do."

Billy finally had enough.? He left just before it was over wondering what his grandpa could have ever wanted him to find in that place.? He missed his grandpa.? He wished they could go fishing just one more time.? He longed to see "the look" again.

Two weeks later, late Friday night Billy felt emptier than he had ever before coming home from a party absolutely wasted.? Sometimes drinking made his problems go away . . . but they always came back.? He didn't see an end in sight so he created one.? He knew where his father's revolver was and an end meant "peace."? Billy wanted peace- unfortunately Billy never found it.

Amber never knew what it was like to be Billy.? It never entered her mind.? Amber, like many of us, lived in her own world and only saw through Amber's eyes . . . until one day they were opened.? Amber put herself in Billy's shoes and felt Billy's pain.? She felt it so strongly that she got sick to her stomach.? For the first time in her life, she was looking at someone different than herself and felt compassion.

There are plenty of Billy's out there.? They might have not been dealt such a bad hand, but they are different than us and we don't understand them.? "Sharing our Faith" starts with compassion.

Jonathan uses this story in his training and development with student leaders and staff. This story is now part of his new book on reaching out to the unchurched, DO THEY RUN WHEN THEY SEE YOU COMING? (Zondervan)


AL MENCONI SPEAKS ON DISCERNMENT: Al's Response to a Letter Criticizing Jonathan's April 18th Newsletter about R-rated Movies

When Josh McDowell used to get letters of criticism about touring with Petra (wow, that brings back memories), Josh let Al handle the replies.

Al runs Al Menconi Ministries (, helping parents communicate values to their children. Al and I have got to know each other in this last year. I appreciate his ministry, he personally challenges and encourages me, and I'm even bringing him out to Sacramento as one of the keynotes for an event Youth for Christ is doing next spring.

Next week, read Al's reply to a letter I received criticizing my April 18th newsletter on R-rated movies:

Here's a peek at Al's response

"This guy makes some good points. The point I disagree is where he arbitrarily states R rated movies are evil and then states that we shouldn't have anything to do with evil. While I agree that we shouldn't have anything to do with evil, where does Scripture say ""Saving Private Ryan"" is evil?"

Catch the full article next week!

If you have any other youth ministry ideas you want to share, please email me

God Bless!

Jonathan R. McKee

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