tradecraft…your voice (part VI)

i spent three years working in youth ministry (christian setting)…

well, what does that mean?  

it means that you work in a youth program at a local church…planning and organizing activities, events, community service projects and opportunities for spiritual growth and development–for elementary, middle school, and high school youth–basically, you try to connect to children and youth in a church setting…

it can be a great job because of the relationships that can develop with youth and families in the church community…you can connect with individuals and families at a level that is just not possible in some settings and that is an amazing thing…but it can also be a challenging job…because most parents and families have really high expectations about what they think you should be doing for their kids (this is especially true in churches with large youth programs)…and it’s been my experience that, while a parent might be hesitant to approach a pastor with a complaint or criticism, they don’t have the same restraint when it comes to you (the youth director) and they’re very likely to let you know what they think of you and your work (sometimes, in some of the most un-christian ways you can imagine–where is the love?!)…i’ve worked in prisons and in churches and the same ‘rule of thumb’ applies to both settings — watch your back...i am certain that there is a sociological dissertation waiting to be written on “life behind the scenes at a local church”…

anyways, we’re movin’ on…

one summer, we (the senior high youth director and i–i was the junior high leader) took a group of 40 high school students and 12 adults to new york city for a week (our church was based in omaha, nebraska)…the week was primarily focused on community service projects…there were also some recreational activities mixed-in during the afternoons and evenings…for fun, we went to central park, times square, the today show, battery park, chinatown, and the statue of liberty…and we also went to ground zero (not for fun, but just to see it…the location where one of the 9/11 attacks happened–it was the kind of thing that knocks you on your ass when you see it, i’ll never forget it)…anyways, our service-partner organization in new york city was called ysop (ysop = youth service opportunities project)…so, while we were in new york city, we stayed at a hostel and each day ysop would send us out in small groups (by way of mass transit) to a different work project in a different borough (the bronx, queens, brooklyn, etc) in new york [their main focus is to send out volunteers to work with the homeless and the hungry–which is what we did!]

quick note: i’ve participated in a lot of service experiences in my life…and this one was, by far, one of the best mission trips i’ve ever been on…ysop runs a highly organized, efficient, and ‘legit’ operation…i would recommend their organization to anyone wanting to bring young people to serve in new york city while fully experiencing the realities of the boroughs…check ysop out at:  http://www.ysop.org/

[i know…there’s a lot of background to this story…but, we’re getting there...to ‘the voice’ part, i promise…hang tough;)]

so, it was wednesday…mid-week in our experience…we had been working hard and playing hard (seeing a lot of sites), and it had been an especially hot and humid week in the city…it was the moment, during these kind of trips, when little ‘flare ups’ start to occur between ‘kids and kids’, ‘kids and adults’, & ‘adults and adults’–it is bound to happen…in this particular case, we were all en route to public transportation (making our way from the hostel to the ysop office) and one of the kids (named aron) in the youth group asked the senior high youth director if she would alter the plan slightly for the evening so we could stay out later in the city…walking en masse, like this, we were quite the sight (moments like these made me feel bad for nyc:) …anyways, aron and the senior high youth director were at the back of the pack and i was at the middle, with some other kids and adults up in front of the herd…as aron and my colleague were talking, the conversation became more and more ‘heated’ (i heard most everything that was said; i think this is due to my bionic ears…but seriously, the tubes i got when i was a kid did something spectacular…could it be that my military doctor who implanted the tubes in my ears was a part of a covert government program to engineer super soldiers?!  we can rebuild you…🙂

basically, aron was asking to alter the plan for the group and my partner said, “no–not happening”…it came out very sharp and i cringed a bit when i heard the tone of her response…in her defense, she was as hot, tired and impatient as everyone else in the group…aron was agitated, too (at his limit)…normally, a great kid–positive, smart and not easily disgruntled…but, in this case, he wouldn’t let it go and huffed up towards the middle of the pack…mumbling his distaste about the decision to some of his peers…

after a few minutes…he must have caught sight of me walking nearby because he was suddenly at my side…and i could see a little bit of fire in his eyes…it was something i had seen before…it was the kind of look you see in a kid when they’re going to openly challenge you, to push your limits

then, he spoke…

aron: can i ask you something?

me: sure.

aron: what would you do if we all took off running in different directions right now?

[at that moment, i stopped walking…then, he stopped walking…and there was a “pause”…warning bells went off in my head…and then, the  little voice in my head said, it’s a trap…don’t take the bait…]

me: well…i’d probably head down to times square and enjoy my free time…

[i held my serious face for as long as i could…which wasn’t long…then, i busted out laughing…he did too…]

after a minute, he spoke again…

aron: that’s probably the best thing i’ve heard this morning…awesome…

then, he sped up to some friends near the front of the pack…

he didn’t take off, neither did any of the other kids…but, it wasn’t really about ‘making a run for it’…he was just testing me… he was looking for a fight, he was looking for a confrontation (with me, the only other ‘official staff member’ on the trip)…in this case, he was looking for a fast ball and i threw him a curve…it helped that i had heard the earlier exchange and some of his grumblings–so, i had a bit of a head start on how to respond to him…what to say and how to say it…to defuse and disarm him...how to use my voice in that way...

it’s something you can learn to do, too… it’s a skill you can develop…

in time…

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