Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Lesson In Community

This past weekend, I, along with several other adults (including Carol, my wife) had the distinct privlege of chaperoning our annual Youth Beach Retreat at Laguna Beach near Panama City, Florida. This is the second consecutive year that I've made this trip and, each time I've been moved by watching our teens.

There are a number of memories I carry with me from this trip: a foot washing ceremony that left me in tears; powerful lessons from Dub Hall, our talented Youth Minister; a meditation room developed by Wendy Hall that plunged me into God's presence; moshing with the kids to the song "Life is good; Eternal Life is Better;" and many others. However, there is one memory that stands out in bold relief--it was a demonstration of community.

We had gathered around 11:00 p.m. on the beach to praise God, honor the seniors who will be transitioning into their college experience, and to hear testimonies from them. While we were singing, I noticed that a lone figure passed near our group. Though shrouded in darkness, I could tell that he was listening to us. He slowly moved on, continuing to turn his head in our direction. After a couple more songs, this same guy came near and sat on the periphery of our group. He simply hung his head and listened.

Dan Baxter, one of our shepherds and very dear friend, noticed this visitor near us. He walked over, sat down and began to talk with him. Two of our teenagers moved near him and I walked over and kneeled down as well. I didn't know what was happening. Was he simply curious? Had he stopped to mock us? Was he simply amused by the whole thing? What were his intentions?

As I knelt, Dan, who speaks a little Spanish, said: "This is Nelson. He's from Honduras where his family lives. He's all alone. He told me that he has made many mistakes and that he heard our singing and was drawn to it. He doesn't speak any English, but the music spoke to him. He wants to know if he's welcome to stay." The only thing I could think of at that moment was one of very few Spanish words that I know: "Bienvenidos, Nelson," I said with a pat on his shoulder. He smiled and nodded his head.

At that point, the youth group began to sing Our God is an Awesome God, complete with vocal percussion. As it was starting to really get going, one of the seniors stopped everyone. She said, "We have a visitor among us. His name is Nelson; let's all welcome him." At that moment all of the kids surrounded him, knelt down and spoke warm words of acceptance to him. After Dan told the group about Nelson's struggles, we all surrounded him, laid our hands on him, and Dan led us in prayer.

I don't think he understood what was said, but Nelson seemed to understand our intentions--we wanted to bless this welcome stranger among us. Though separated by geography and language, God communicated to us all that night. I sense that we experience Christ in one of the least of these--and our kids sensed it as well. One of the girls began to cry. Others immediately embraced her--I really didn't know what was wrong. Afterward she told me. "Do you know whay I was crying?" she asked. "I wasn't crying because I was sad. I was crying because I had never blessed anyone like that before, and it make my heart so full, I had to cry."

Such is the effect when we encounter Jesus...among the least of these.

Thanks to the CBYG for demonstrating true community to one who has attempted to preach this concept for years!