i just returned from our youth retreat and i am reminded of a couple of things. first, God is surprising and faithful. second, i am not getting any younger. i think i had some kind of weird time-delayed sickness hit me today.

more & more, my ministry has been about following Jesus in the ordinary days. youth (people in general, really) often seek the next mountaintop (or, in the absence of a high, a nice deep valley will do) to sustain their faith. i have been influenced over the last couple of years by the writing of good people like eugene peterson, dallas willard, john ortberg and henri nouwen. i read this great quote the other day about how writers like this speak powerfully not because of their verbal fireworks, but by the gravity of a godly life. as such, i have been moving away from the big and fantastic and more toward the quiet and deep (although i realize these categories are not always mutually exclusive) and emphasizing the importance of walking with God in our everyday lives.

anyhoo, i think it’s safe to say that each of us experienced God’s presence in a very real and powerful way this past weekend. it’s so easy to forget how important it is for our hearts to be broken in God’s presence. many students shared that their favorite memories were not the games (including a very painful round of “mahl-doo-baki” — a game that involves the purposeful inflicting of pain on others’ backs through high-flying aerials) or the activities, but the times of prayer we had.

like a good postmodern youth ministry, we set up a series of prayer stations for our students one night. one of the stations was designed to allow students to pray about their family life. as anyone in asian-american youth ministry knows, this is often a very deep source of pain for as/am students. our youth group is no exception. at this stations, students were supposed to use a scrabble board to share a word they felt describes their family, and then to pray for their families. here is what the scrabble board looked like at the end of the night:

while there are a couple of positive descriptors (hope, heaven, smile, hugs), what stood out to me was the amount of hurt. words like guilty, unfixable, and destroyed practically jumped off the board and slapped me in the face. i’ve only been serving this youth ministry for about three months, but i’ve really come to love these students. this small group of less than twenty is a very sweet, caring bunch. just beneath the surface, however, is so much pain & frustration.

when i first started in ministry, i think i thought ministry was mostly about preaching big messages to big crowds. now that i’m a little bit older, with a family of my own, i’m realizing how important it is to deal with these whole-life issues, especially family.

i’m still wondering, though, how “nee” (“een”?) or “niatrecnurx” relate to what we were doing there.