"Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God." (Mark 10:14)
I went in search of a memorable past-time. My first stop was in the year 1994 and the event was 'Spiritual Re-Armament', a Weekend [Youth] Retreat in Jamaica. This weekend was sponsored by the Jamaica Baptist Union's Youth Department, and I was blessed to have had the opportunity to attend. But how did it come to pass that I was at Youth Retreat that year?
It all started at Sligoville Baptist Church in the early 1970s. My Grandparents, being my care-givers, wanted to bring me up the right way and so Sunday school was one of the highlights of my week. I would always look forward to Sunday school, whatever the weather. Well, we didn't have a choice. Granny wouldn't have it any other way. Then the Youth age dawned upon us and we were 'in control', or so we thought. While we were 'being in control' there were people in the church who were making sure we were kept on the right path.
As young people in the church, we were encouraged to participate in various activities such as bible quiz, Sunday school exams, concerts and simply studying passages of the bible we would read in church. They did invest in us as young people and such investment is what guides my daily walk today.
For me, getting the opportunity to attend youth camp that year was one of the best investments in my youthful days. I was to be transformed in such a way even I couldn't comprehend. The work taking place in my life today is a result of what started more than a decade ago, at youth camp in Duncans, Trelawny, Jamaica.
From the theme of the weekend: DARE to be DIFFERENT to individuals who were placed in my path that weekend, God made it clear that He had a plan for my life. He knew what was awaiting me in the future and so that weekend was to prepare me for what was to come, and to start the process of making me into the vessel He so desired of me. Today I look back in gratitude and daily give God thanks for loving me enough, to put a rescue plan in place ahead of the time I would need it.
In 1994, I was living in the UK with my mother. Mum was not a regular attendee at any church and so my 'church life' gradually decreased, and soon my Christian life became stagnant. I was longing for some soul food, so when I decided to visit my grandparents in Jamaica in the Summer of '94, Duncan's was very high on my agenda. I went to church and from the reading of the notices I got the information on youth camp.
That weekend, we shared a coach with Gregory Park Baptist church youth who were accompanied by Sis. Bobsie [one of the people God chose to minister to my heart that weekend]. And our team from Sligoville Baptist Church was accompanied by Sis. Gloria Brown, Sis. Lorna Roach, Bro. Sylvester Montaque and Bro. Herman Edwards. We sung many choruses on the long journey from St. Catherine to Trelawny: making stops at the jerk centre to get our fill of jerk chicken, roast corn, dumpling, bread, fish and festivals. We ate our fill then washed it down with coconut water and 'sky juice'. We repeated this process on the return journey. What fun it was!
I made some friends over that weekend who left positive prints on my heart. One in particular remains a positive influence in my life, whose friendship God used to reveal Himself through, as I went through some of my darkest moments. He is a dear friend who I can turn to for guidance today, just as I did at youth camp. I value his advice and can always turn to him for counsel; knowing that God speaks through him. I respect him as a man of God and can still look forward to a good 'ole laugh when we chat. I haven't seen him since youth camp '94 but that's ok, I give God thanks for telecommunication and modern technology as it continues to keep us connected.
But as much as the socialising aspect of youth camp was fun, it was the activities that took place over the weekend that touched me the most. Everything we did was focused on the theme: 'Dare to be different'. Through these activities, the sermons and exhortations came to life for me and prepared me for future obstacles that were waiting just around the corner. I don't remember being as attentive to any sermons I've heard prior to this weekend. The weekend was packed with workshops and activities such as sports, cooking, a trip to the beach, a banquet, all geared towards preparing us for our journey into adulthood.
Over this weekend I also confronted some of my 'shyness' fears and participated in drama, singing, sports and other events. It was fun! And I remembered the chorus of a particular song [Tears are a language] which helped me as I was going through my struggles, as an adult.
"Dare to be different": That was the order of the weekend. And after the weekend, I felt spiritually re-armed, for whatever was out there awaiting me. The trials and tribulations did come, but I was armed. I had learnt dependency on Jesus. This one weekend in 1994, empowered me to deal with some of the issues below:
Dare to be different in company
I dared to be different and lost fiends: I refused to join the gossiping club and dress in a manner which I thought was degrading. For this, I was labelled 'miss goodie goodie' and other such names. I had no desire to go clubbing or to try smoking, so I was 'no fun to be around' or I was termed as: 'boring'. And wanting to keep myself pure in all areas of my life, won me top prize as 'miss unpopular'. Eventually the majority of 'friends' became acquaintances. But still I dared to be different.
The determination I had to walk the straight and narrow path found me somewhat isolated, and the journey getting lonelier as I travelled along. I was in a new environment; having to adapt to a different culture. I missed being around the people I grew up with, and I was longing to be among my church family. I had no parents to run to [my mother was still living out her youthful years and my dad was never part of my life]. I was also separated from my siblings and other relatives. So, the road for me was lonely, and I would often 'wallow' in self-pity.
In September of the same year that I returned from camp, I began my university degree. It was a struggle financially, with no other source of income but that of my part-time administrative role, at my community youth project. I would often go without lunch, and then I would head straight for work after lectures. I soon found out that hunger, exhaustion and a heavy workload [course works and exams to prepare for along with putting in the hours for my part-time job] was a major component in the make-up of a depressive state of mind. I was often feeling quite low, and several times it seemed like I wouldn't make it through university, due to my circumstances. I was offered a contract for a music career. I guess that could have solved my finance problem but I still had my education to consider and furthermore, the music I was required to produce was not in line with my passion for Christ. But instead of becoming a statistic, I dared to be different. I pressed on with a little encouragement from friends, relatives and my church family. I still struggle financially but I don't worry about seeing my past on tv reflecting a worldly picture while I try to live a life that is pleasing to God.
I was constantly witnessing my mother being verbally abused and hearing screams from my neighbour as she was being physically abused. I would often shed tears for these women. It greatly affected my studies. Study time in my room would find me thinking about what these women must be going through and also fearfully anticipating my step-father's return home, after a night in the pub. This new development of abuse at close-range, brought back the memory of what I used to witness as a child, when I used to hear or see women being abused by their partners, in my hometown. I started to feel sad for these women and helpless. I hadn't yet developed as a Christian and so I wasn't aware of the weapons that were available to me, in helping these women. But thankfully, today I now understand that even when it seems a helpless case, I can intercede on behalf of these women. Today, God is using my writing as a point of contact, to minister to the hearts of many who have been abused as children, some of whom continues to be abused even in their adult years. That's the result of a process which started at youth camp in 1994.
On The Move
A year later, I came back from holiday to find that my mother and her husband had separated. I was taken from the airport to my grandaunt and granduncle's property. There the news was broken. Mum wasn't handling things so well so I had to keep the ball rolling. We went back to the property to gather some of our stuff, then moved to a one bedroom property on a temporary basis. Shortly after the move my granddad died. Things deteriorated somewhat for my mum, though she carried on as normal, going to work each day and doing the normal stuff but I had to assume the responsible adult role. All this was affecting my studies.
I hadn't yet come to terms with the loss of my granddad and now I was dealing with the after effects of the breakdown of the family network. I watched depression hover over my mum (not knowing what was wrong or if anything was indeed wrong with her). Moving from point 'A' to Point 'B' and again to point 'C' when we finally got an apartment from the council, did not help this process. Then mum saved the best until last, my little sister was soon to be born. It was chaos in the house trying to adjust to all that was taking place and focus on my studies. My teenage brain was screaming for a get-out-clause. But I wasn't to be a drop-out from university or a disrespectful child. God had people waiting to help me up each time I got too weak and I would limp until I could walk again; daring to be different in my conduct.
I did lose focus along the way (got confused and frustrated, slipped a couple of times but I had a firm foundation which found me balancing on both feet again). But even through the chaos, God sent people in my life to encourage me and I realised then that 'friends are God's way of taking care of us'. I faced some harsh realities and was so burdened, that I didn't want to go on with the struggles I faced in this new place I called home [England]. I wanted to go back home; back to familiar places and faces. I had no determination to go to church either, everything was so different. Then I found myself on the borderline.
On the borderline
There was no one to be accountable to, for the way my Christian life was developing or not developing as the case was. And while I was sitting on the borderline, I had no insight and so I was easily deceived. The lies were sugar-coated with half truths, I bought it and had my heart broken many times over. One such situation involved a young man I was engaged to:
He came to me with a bible in his hand. That was a gift to cheer me up then sweeten his way to my heart. We developed a friendship and within six months we were engaged. However, he had no intention of marrying me, it was a trick. Still, I wore his ring with pride and waited patiently for the day of the wedding to be planned. It never happened! What happened was disrespect to the maximum level (physical and verbal abuse; the very thing I ran from all my life. I even prayed a special prayer against this very situation, asking God to provide for me 'a husband who would treat me like a queen.' I didn't want to have to endure anything like I saw my mother and other women endured) but I was a 'Christian girl' I would say to myself 'I must forgive.'
I dared to be different. I didn't want to run at the first sign of trouble, so I forgave him and he had very many 'second chances'. But he would step up the disrespect, until eventually a child was involved by his ex-girlfriend. At that time I was to learn the harsh truth that I was being punished for wanting to do the right thing. I was wearing his ring while he was enjoying marital activities elsewhere. I fell for his lies and forgave over and over again, because I just wanted to be loved. But I was looking for love in all the wrong places. That was the last time I was going to have my heart broken and I was ready to join the convent.
At this point I still hadn't grieved the death of my grandfather nor had I dealt with the issues at home, I had course work and honours project to do and dissertation to prepare for. Plus I never had to deal with any of these issues before, so I didn't know what was normal or abnormal. Nor did I have anyone to talk to about the things that were happening to me. So I started to develop resentment in my heart and I became a hard shell, in the attempt to protect against future hurt. No one was going to hurt me again! But being a hard shell was not my nature, so guilt took over and soon tears became my language.
I remember rehearsing a song called 'Tears are a Language' at youth camp, that year, and in the song there was a line that says 'Tears are a language, God understands'. At this point in my Christian growth, my prayer life was restricted to bedtime and when I rise in the morning. There was no meaning, just a repeat of the 'Our father prayer' and requests like 'Please let me pass my exams' etc. No one would see me cry, but I would go to my classes for lecture, go to the library to study or research, go to work or home, then when I go home I would go straight to my room and there I spoke to God with tears.
I hadn't yet discovered putting my thoughts in writing, so being in such a confused state of mind, I would find comfort and some form of release through those tears I cried. Still I dared to be different in conduct by not being a disrespectful child and instead of showing that resentment to my mother [when I felt she wasn't there for me as a mother; putting her friends ahead of her parental responsibilities] I would let it out in tears. I felt neglected and very much like an orphan. I felt that she went all out to please others and never took the time to discover the person I was; finding out what I would like to achieve in life, then helping me to achieve those goals. One particular evening I went home really hungry, having had no food all day at university. There was an individual around the dinner table having a meal, I said good evening and made my way to the kitchen to dish some dinner and I was told that what was left in the pot was for this individual to take to work so I would have to prepare something for myself. Suddenly I no longer felt hungry, as anger had replaced that space for food [It was not the first time this individual had been taken the place of priority and I guess at this point it happened once too many]. So I went back outdoors and jumped on the first bus that approached. I went driving all over South London, just to avoid being in the house while angry in the event that I was tempted to disrespect my mother. Daring to be 'different in conduct'. For similar reasons I would dread going home sometimes, and so I would sit in the park, avoiding what I would face if I go home. Then I started to slowly find my way back home. I learned that 'a saint is just a sinner who fell down and got up again.' So I did just that. Then I started to pray for my mother to return to Christ because I realised then, that she was blinded to the truth and could not see the pain she was inflicting on me. And unless she rededicates her life to Christ and allow Him to open her eyes she would continue to hurt the ones dearest to her and embrace those who really don’t care for her.
I didn't understand the depth of the message that weekend in the Summer of 1994. But what I understood, I made notes of. And now, more than a decade later, I find value from these notes which made me realise where I had gone wrong and how to get back on track.
There were also encouragements found in my ‘autograph book’ which helped me to see my way clear when the clouds came.
I dared to be different and it was often a lonely journey. It was hard work daring to be different, as a teenager, but it was good practice for my adult years. As a wife I dared to be different and now I am reaping the rewards where my marriage is concerned: After God, my husband is priority, not my friends, the community projects I am involved in or church events, he came before all that. Then when I became a mother I continued on the same path, for the innocent helpless child that we were blessed with was dependent on me. And so I had to put him before all the invitations I received which would keep me away from him in those tender years of his life. It took awhile to understand the order in which my priorities should be, but I got there eventually. It didn't make me popular but it was part of my training, in being obedient to the word of God. Today, it's a natural part of my daily walk. I have benefited greatly by seeing the blessings God has been pouring into my life, and I continue to give God the praise and thank Him for the blessing of the people who took the time to invest in us as youth.
I will encourage our leaders to actively invest in the youth; investing in a continuous and integrated youth ministry. Youth ministries should develop in a way that it will continue to grow, beyond the years of the current youth and their leaders.
Encouragement to Leaders:
I've learnt over the years that to dare to be different simply means to be obedient. So if leaders in the church are obedient to the word of God, and teach those in their care to do the same, then we'll all be true disciples for Christ. And all seated in the pews will benefit greatly and grow spiritually. We will find that less of our youth will go in search of love out in the world and instead, seek to have a personal relationship with Christ; becoming more rounded, confident and Christ-like individuals. Then they will find true love and not fall for the fake 'love' they're offered in material things and sexual pleasure.
I encourage you to be true examples of Christ, so that the youth who come in contact with you and your ministry, will have something positive to take with them through life. Allow them to see Jesus' character displayed in you [words and deeds]. Let the light of Christ shine through you, so that these young people can have the opportunity to get to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour and not just see Him as a character in a bible story. God is real and our youth need to experience that reality through a personal relationship with His son, Jesus Christ.
The youth of today are tomorrow's leaders and we will only get a result, based on what we put in today. So invest wisely. They are crying out for leadership from true leaders. Ones they can look to as role-models. It is our duty to expose them to Christ.
In the body of this article I have given little insights where my relationship with my mother caused great hurt. I’ve done this for two reasons:
1. So that as parents if you recognise any of the signs I displayed as a child you can check yourself and see if you are indeed contributing to your child’s misery.
2. As a youth you can consider the motives behind your parent’s behaviour and see if you can identify depression as the reason and help them to understand that it is causing you pain and that they need to deal with it so life can be a little easier for all concerned. Life is short and we are not promised a tomorrow, so make the best of today and live life in abundance.
If you are a youth leader, I give God thanks for you today and encourage you to keep faith and continue to help the youth to grow. It is hard work but God promises to give you the strength you need to do His work. He will bless you accordingly.
Janice, a freelance writer, lives in the UK and enjoys spending time with her husband, Vince and their son, Javin. She uses her gift to encourage others towards a deeper relationship with God, through her inspirational pieces while her travel articles provide general advice for the holiday-maker.