In August, we wrapped up our Living Youth Program summer camps in the Northern Hemisphere. Soon, others will commence in the Southern Hemisphere. I had the privilege of visiting our North Carolina preteen camp for a day, and Carol and I were at the Texas teen camp for its entire duration, two full weeks, only taking two days off for Tomorrow’s World Presentations in Dallas and Big Sandy.
Many of our old-timers know that I have been heavily involved in our summer camps in the Worldwide, Global, and now Living Church of God. I helped to start our very first Global Church of God camp in Missouri, started the preteen camp in Missouri, directed our Living Youth Camp in Michigan for ten years, and oversaw our 2009 canoe adventure in Minnesota, before officially retiring. I also directed our European camp in Belgium for one year. I mention these things because I want everyone to understand that I deeply love and care for our young people, as I know many of you also do.
Have you ever considered why we, as adults, enjoy working with young people so much? This may sound like a simple, unnecessary question, but think about it: Why do you enjoy being around young adults, teens, and preteens? Not everyone does, but I believe most of us do.
Some might point out that young people are fun to be around, and I would agree. Many enjoy their energy, enthusiastic smiles, and laughter—things we often lose as our adult lives become more serious and complicated.
We had a terrific obstacle course at our teen camp near Siler City, North Carolina in 1996 and '97, and I enjoyed watching our teens negotiate it. We gave them a five-gallon bucket full of water to take along as they traversed the obstacles. Teamwork was essential. Timing and spilled water affected each dorm's score. At the end of camp, we had four girls and four boys take on the challenge of demonstrating to everyone how it could be done. The difference between the boys and the girls was interesting and instructive. The girls worked together as a team to hoist each other and the heavy bucket up and over an eight-foot wall, whereas the boys used their greater physical strength to leap and haul themselves over the obstacles. It was fun to watch and see how each team used their skills and strengths to get the job done. As Mr. Herbert Armstrong would say, "They mutually excelled one another."
So, what are the most relevant reasons why we enjoy working with our youth? May I suggest two that we might not immediately verbalize, but which are likely buried in our minds? The more obvious of the two is that we rejoice in their triumphs. The Apostle Paul encourages us, "Rejoice with those who rejoice" (Romans 12:15), and later admonishes us that "if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). This rejoicing is easy when spending time with youths! We love to see them succeed!
We are forced to overcome obstacles from the time we are born. We learn to crawl, then to walk, and finally to run. Each step along the way has its bumps and bruises, but parents thrill at seeing their children take that first step without holding onto the chair. We thrill at seeing a young person hit or kick the ball for the first time, score that first basket, or beautifully play a piece for a piano recital. We love to see someone achieve a difficult goal, and young people do that at every turn, often picking themselves up from falls along the way. It seems that every day there is something new set before them, new challenges and opportunities for success.
The second reason that we may not verbalize is the hope that we have for them. As adults, we have made plenty of mistakes. Oh, yes, young people make their share, but for many of them, the mistakes are small, and the recovery short and complete. It is not always so with those of us who have lived a bit longer. Our sins have taken a toll on us. However, we see children and teens with the opportunity to "do it right." They do not have to damage their lives with drugs or illicit sex, do not have to squander their precious years of preparation for later life. They look ahead to see the highway through the windshield. We see it through the rearview mirror.
We all hope that they avoid the mistakes we made, or the mistakes we saw our friends and others make. We have a perspective gained from having lived longer and seen the consequences of some actions that looked attractive for a moment, but which ultimately brought pain (Hebrews 11:25). In young people, we see what can be, rather than what could have been.
Perhaps those of us not blessed with our own children have a special appreciation for the triumphs of other people's children. We love it when they succeed in school, and later, in the job world. We love to see boy meet girl. We love to see them date responsibly—though in all honesty, we cannot always know if that is the case. It is mostly when they do not that we take full notice, because of the evident negative consequences. One of the great joys of the Millennium I look forward to is seeing young people meet, fall in love, marry, have children, and live long, loving, productive lives together. We see that today among many of our children, but not to the degree that we anticipate in the future.
Solomon wrote the Proverbs hoping that his son would learn from and avoid his mistakes. "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent" (Proverbs 1:8–10). He wrote Ecclesiastes to tell us that he had "tried it all," and that it had left him unfulfilled in the end. How can any of us compete with him? He had the proverbial "wine, women, and song" to a degree that none of us can match, yet none of that brought happiness. Did he have "fun"? No doubt! But he was left feeling empty!
By reading Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and even the Song of Solomon, one can understand that Solomon desired to pass along lessons to a younger generation (Proverbs 2:1–5; Ecclesiastes 11:9–10; 12:1–14; Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). He clearly had hope for young people and rejoiced to see them succeed where he, and others he observed, failed.
I often say that young people are here to disappoint us. That is because we so often see a young person with great potential "blow it," when we have so desperately hoped for him or her to succeed. Such an individual will get up and go on, but sometimes the scars are deep, and broken spiritual bones do not heal quickly.
Personally, I am ever the optimist, because many young people do listen. They listen, and for the most part, do it right. Many become more successful than their parents, which is every normal parent's dream. It is exciting to see parents today bring up children who are even more balanced, talented, and successful than they were. We can imagine what families will be like during the Millennium, but we surely have a foretaste of that when we look around God's Church. To every family who is working hard and striving in the right direction: Thank you for your hard work and sacrifice in showing the way!