Experience is a great teacher. I try to implement that often in our youth group. Don’t just tell them–show them. Let them sweat and get their hands dirty; let them look into the faces and eyes of real people.
This pursuit of experience found us gathering in the church parking lot on a hot summer morning a few weeks ago. My purse was stuffed with envelopes containing crumpled bills and dirty coins–the profits of our church bake sale. The youth group had organized, made signs, frosted and baked, and their efforts paid off. The envelopes totaled $450. Now we were going to put the profits to good use–supporting a local charity that provides food for people in need. Wanting the teens to have the full experience, I packed seventeen of them into a 15 passenger van, and we headed to the grocery store to purchase food. It was about as chaotic as you would imagine a large group of teenagers descending on a quiet grocery store would be. At first they milled about, not really knowing what to do, but we quickly organized them into groups and sent them off. Soon the first group was ready, so we pushed the cart to the refrigerator downstairs. This charity provides refrigerators around town which are filled by volunteers, and anyone in need is free to take from the food inside. I stood back watching as they stocked the shelves with bread, yogurt, juice, and fruit. When they were finished, the fridge was only half full.
“Let’s go back for more,” I said.
They looked at me a bit confused. “What else are we supposed to get?”
“Well, let’s imagine you didn’t have enough food at home,” I proposed. “What would you want to eat?”
Suddenly it clicked, and the kids went back inside and eagerly began tossing biscuits, chips, instant noodles, granola bars, and chocolate milk into the cart.
As we pushed the cart back to the fridge, we suddenly stopped short. The fridge was nearly empty. We couldn’t have been gone for more than twenty minutes, but the food was now almost gone.
The kids turned toward me in confused shock, almost on the verge of anger. “What happened to all the food? It’s gone!” they nearly shouted. “Who took it?”
“They came,” I said quietly. “Laborers, workers, people in need. There are people in this country who don’t have enough food. Let’s fill up the fridge as much as we can. People here are hungry.”
As the kids began restocking the fridge, I remembered a command: Feed my sheep. It makes sense. How can we expect people to hear the words of the Gospel over the sound of their growling stomachs?