February is here, and we are well into our yearly theme. This year’s theme is “The Story/The Stories.” Each week our blog will focus on a story from a youth minister. We hope these stories help inspire you in the great work you are doing, as well as let you know you aren’t alone in the crazy, sweet, often hard to fathom world of youth ministry. This week we are hearing……
The Story of the Last Time I Played Capture The Flag in the Woods At Night…
William serves as Minister of Youth and Young Adults at Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religion Degree from Samford University, and Master of Divinity at The McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University; but the greatest thing he did while at McAfee was to convince a wildly beautiful fellow seminarian to marry him and to journey with him as a partner in ministry and life. The Deals welcomed their twin daughters, Adeline and Dorothy, into the world on January 3, 2015.
Things William loves: Mary Kate; Adeline and Dorothy; their dogs, Boomer and Jasper; the Atlanta Braves and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide; cooking, eating, and laughing. He can solve a rubix cube in less than 90 seconds (not world-record speed, but still faster than you!) and is featured on a rap album under the pseudonym “Suga Free.”
The youth talked about it for weeks leading up to our retreat at “Grandma’s House” at the lake. Teams were selected in advance, and team-colored bandanas and flags were acquired. I held them off as long as I could, but after supper and Bible Study, the youth were gearing up for battle. Camo pants and shirts were the uniform of choice. Each team found their own “situation room,” and began planning their offensive and defensive strategies.
The physical boundaries were set. The rules were understood.
Within a matter of seconds the youth took off in various directions. Some of the over-zealous middle school boys sprinted into enemy territory armed with minimal deodorant, but with enough adrenaline and energy to lose all sense of fear. Some moved like they were on a covert mission, while others yelled commands to their teammates, deciding that the strategy of loud and clear communication was better than moving in stealthy silence.
Round 1 finished as the Blue Team sprinted back to their base with the Red Team’s flag, barely escaping the chase of the defenders of the red flag.
Blue Team 1
Red Team 0
The teams returned to their respective bases to regroup and adjust their strategies accordingly. Round 2 begin with the same intensity. Most of the adults were already worn out from just watching the intense capture the flag battle, and many went inside to get a snack and a drink. I joined in for a snack break. As we were laughing about how serious the youth were taking this and admiring how well each team was working together, one of youth ran into the house. I tried to rush her back outside, reminding her that the interior of the house was off-limits. Before I could utter a sound she frantically blurted out, “HURRY! KYLE IS SCREAMING! HE’S HURT! I THINK IT’S BAD.”
(This is every Youth Minister’s worst nightmare. Their parents have entrusted you with their kids. They expect spiritual growth and fun stories upon return. They do not expect late night phone calls. They do not expect serious injuries.)
I tried to remain calm. I grabbed a flashlight and planned to call a timeout. By the time I made it outside to find Kyle, the youth had all stopped. Some were crying because they were scared. Some were in shock. Others were holding Kyle to help keep him calm.
After trudging into the woods, I found him with tears streaming down his face, and sheer pain in the whimper of his voice. “How bad is it, William? It hurts. Am I going to be ok? … Mom and Dad are going to be so mad at me…”
Kyle’s plan was to sneak up the side of the property line and enter into enemy territory quickly and quietly to steal the flag. Kyle’s plan was thwarted when a member of the other team discovered him and began to chase him.
Kyle sprinted. He jumped over branches and rocks to find a solid path again. His pace picked up even faster – so fast that he didn’t see the jagged rock sticking up from the side of a small embankment. He didn’t see it until he was stopped abruptly by jagged rock piercing into his leg, right above his kneecap.
I have never seen so many youth mature so quickly. The wiped the fearful tears from their eyes so that they could assure Kyle, and his brother and sister that everything was going to be ok. One youth hurriedly brought a bottle of water and a towel to help clean off the dirt from Kyle’s back, legs, and arms from falling into mud.
We called 911 and an ambulance arrived within a few minutes. Kyle’s parents were called and were already in their car to begin the two-hour trek to comfort their son and take the next steps toward healing. Kyle’s older sister rode in the back of the ambulance with him to the local hospital. Another adult and I followed behind the flashing lights and screaming siren. The emergency room nurses and doctor took great care of him, but his pain was intense.
The doctor came out to the waiting area to fill us in. “Kyle’s Quadricep Tendon has been severed three-quarters of the way through. This is going to require several layers of stitches. He is going to be in some pretty intense pain.”
(The Quadricep Tendon connects the quadricep muscle to the knee and is absolutely vital from movement of the leg).
The severity of the tear was so bad that they had to stitch the tendon back together, and stick part of the tendon back to the muscle.
Kyle was very brave and courageous. His siblings were amazing caregivers and comforters. The youth that remained at the lake house quit playing Capture the Flag, and completely unprovoked by the adults, circled up, held hands and voiced prayers for their friend, their brother, Kyle.
Kyle returned to the lake house several hours later after pleading with his parents that he wanted to finish the retreat. Two of the older youth stayed up all night to make sure that he was comfortable and did whatever they could to help ease the pain. The next day each youth took turns helping bring him food and helped him walk up and down the stairs so that he could take part in the rest of the activities.
After some time of healing and physical therapy Kyle returned to his athletic form.
The intensity and competitiveness of Capture the Flag was nothing compared to the Spirit-filled compassion they lived out as they prayed and as they cared for Kyle and for each other.
Needless to say, that is the last time I ever play Capture the Flag in the woods at night!