Each week this year we focus on our theme “The People.” Today we explore…
“The People who keep us sane”
While a Missouri-native, Abby Pratt currently lives in Richmond, VA where she serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Mission at Central Baptist Church. Abby graduated from Wake Forest University School of Divinity in 2014 and was ordained by Peace Haven Baptist Church (also in Winston-Salem, NC). With roots in Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, Abby is a fan of KU Basketball, the Kansas City Royals, CookOut Milkshakes, and tacky Christmas lights.
As youth ministers, many, if not all of us have experienced moments when we remove ourselves from the group and find the nearest bathroom stall, closet, or wooded area to hide out and regain our composure because if we don’t, we are going to completely lose it. We are not necessarily proud of these times but alas whether it is summer camp, fall retreat, fundraisers, or lock-ins, working with teenagers can be trying and treacherous. This blog is not “Youth Minister Meltdowns for Dummies” or “How to Work with Difficult Teenagers” but simply a thank you to the individuals who have stepped in when we needed them the most and kept us sane.
My first youth trip with a large group was a learning experience for all those involved. Just minutes after getting on the interstate we were greeted by torrential rains. After the clouds had cleared I was showered with questions, complaints, and bickering from the backseats. Upon arriving at our hotel, my students immediately ran in all different directions thus terrorizing the other guests. In an attempt to remind myself of my calling and love for youth, all I could think was, “Get me out of here!” The weekend proceeded with good and could-have-been-better experiences including intra-youth group hook-ups, questionable sidewalk chalk art, and a lost toe-nail. On the last morning as we were leaving the hotel and heading to closing worship, we stopped to get gas and (much needed) Starbucks. As I turned to fill the vehicle with gas, my students hopped out of the vans and went into the gas station to get Slurpees (I had just asked them not to do so). Tired and worn ever too thin, I watched the minutes tick away as we waited for them to pay for their already-filled cups. Before I completely fell apart another chaperone grabbed the kids he could, loaded up, and made a special trip to Starbucks. While coffee is a small thing, it warmed my heart and gave me the energy I needed to finish the weekend and comfort the Slurpee-filled kid who was about to throw up in the sanctuary.
A few months later and with improved skills in staying calm, going with the flow, and expecting the unexpected I found myself stuck in an elevator between the third and second floors of our camp dorm. The other adult who had a cell phone and was near by was also in the elevator with me. A large storm had knocked out the power in our building and most of the city. With no way to contact my kids and no idea where they were, if they were safe, or if they would find us, I started to panic. Before the campus security or camp staff got to us, my phone started ringing with an unknown caller. Much to my surprise Amy, one of the natural leaders in my youth group was on the other end. The girls had come looking for us when the power went out and through process of elimination had figured out we were stuck in the elevator. Amy had then found an adult, asked to use her phone, and called her mom to get my phone number. Amy asked if we were okay and how she could help. Feeling helpless, she gathered the younger youth in the dark and played games with them to keep them calm and distracted. I am thankful and beyond impressed by how Amy took charge and ministered to her leaders and peers.
Thank you to coffee-bearing chaperones and youth who step up and lead when I cannot. Thank you to parents who express their gratitude along with their love and concern for me as they send their children off on various youth trips. Thank you to church members who re-arrange work schedules to travel, stay up all night, and guarantee that teenagers experience the love and support of their church. Thank you to fellow youth ministers who are willing to share knowledge, lunch, earplugs, warm jackets, and support when I find myself lacking one or all of the above. Thank you to senior pastors and fellow associates who cover on-call shifts, office responsibilities, and Sunday School classes when I am away for youth events. And thank you to family members and close friends who offer sound advice and comic relief through phone calls and text messages, transform into taxi drivers, food deliverers, information banks, a shoulder to cry on, and whatever I may need in times of crisis (fun and/or life-threatening).