Pitch and Praise – It’s For Grandpa’s Too!

by contributing writer Brian Austin

How does a grandpa like me give a fair evaluation of a weekend with 1,500 youth? How do I measure the energy in that huge tent full of youth singing, clapping, and many of them dancing as they praise God? When the beat of the drums has my chest feeling like someone is doing CPR, how does an old guy like me still enter into the spirit of praise?

*

I love youth, but like many of my generation, I love them in small doses. I confess to a bit of trepidation in committing myself to this weekend. I enjoy the passion and energy of their music, but I long for some of the old hymns in the mix. I rarely give much thought to the bit of hair I have left, but I’d have gladly had enough to cover my ears so I could discretely wear ear plugs. I’m not a guy to dance and wave my arms, but there is something contagious about that many youth more focused on God than on what this old grandpa might think.

 Old school as I am, I’m uncomfortable when guys wear hats in church, especially during prayer. But there was no disrespect in the prayer times when hats were totally forgotten by everybody but me.

One of our own youth has this crazy talent for be-bopping. (Is there a right way to spell that?) He made it to the finals in the “Pitch Has Talent” competition with a huge fan club cheering him on. The laughter and cheering brought a wonderful and needed break from the sometimes intense soul-searching. I’d have arranged things a bit differently, especially giving a longer transition time between those soul-searching moments and the celebration – party-atmosphere times that followed so closely. Yet I find no room for criticism. I saw God touching lives. I heard God speaking into my own life.

It was no great sacrifice for me to go. Our youth are great kids and are worth it. I thought I was going primarily for them and was content with that. But it wasn’t just for them.

Little (perhaps not so little) things stood out. The weather threatened as we packed up to leave Friday afternoon. We drove through rain much of the way. But it was dry as we set up tents, and we had only one light shower during one of the main sessions. Nights were chilly but not freezing. We had times of brilliant sunshine followed shortly by light clouds. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ask for in May when sunburn and frostbite in any 24 hours are very possible. Dynamic speakers gave powerful challenges to these youth, yet still spoke strongly to this grandpa. Words of healing and worth were spoken to the broken and wounded.  “Power in the Blood,” one of those old hymns I love, boomed through the tent and beyond with passion I’ve never heard in those words before. I attended one workshop on prayer and found it rich and rewarding, especially as youth crammed into that room when there were a dozen other planned events they could be doing at the same time.

I came home exhausted, but full of hope for our youth and our world – and challenged in my own spirit to give of myself more fully in reckless abandon to God.

Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.  [Articles by Brian]



*photo courtesy of @pitchpraise on twitter

Snow Camp 2015

Over the last few years there has been a great push towards strengthening relationships between various age groups – a lot of focus on mixing generations and age demographics in an effort to solidify the Biblical call for us to be one body in Christ.

“so in Christ we, though many, form one body,
and each member belongs to all the others.”

Romans 12:5

In keeping with this focus, for the first time ever, the Junior Youth Group was invited to join the Senior Youth Group for our traditional HMC Snow Camp weekend retreat.  “Doing something new often causes apprehension,” says Karen Krotz, coordinator of the Senior Youth program at HMC. “It raises questions like Why am I doing this?  Why change things when it has worked perfectly fine the same way for many years?  What happens if it doesn’t go well?”  The questions really could go on and on.

The age range between a seventh grader and twelve grader is huge.  The shift in dynamics had to be considered during planning and changes had to be made to accommodate a wider age range but, much to the delight of Karen and the other leaders, “our younger youth joined in all the activities – including the talent night…and our senior youth welcomed them into what used to be ‘their’ weekend with open arms.”

hanover missionary church snow camp group photo

“What a great bunch of kids,” reported Jason McDougall, who helps his wife, Melissa, with coordinating the Junior bunch.  “I bunked with the junior high boys and LOVED it.  Stayed up late, told stories, laughed, and learned as much from them as they did from me.”

The weekend was a time of getting to know the kids better through play, learning, and relaxing together and it was all possible because of the great team of volunteers that were there. From the
leaders to the volunteers in the kitchen to all the incredible prayer support and encouragement from the church family.

“God is good,” Jason shared. “It was a privilege to watch the kids grow as a group – to learn, and laugh, and play.  I enjoyed my weekend with them and the other leaders… and we are all looking forward to doing it over again next year.”

“Was it a success?” Karen asks.  “Are we glad we tried it?  Do we do this again next year?” 

And her answer to these questions is a resounding, “YES!”

Watch the Snow Camp video on YouTube

See the full photo gallery on Facebook

Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she’s trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.

Senior Youth Snow Camp

Guest Post by Brian Austin (youth leader)

More than once, Snow-Camp has been celebrated in half-frozen mud, but this year it fully lived up to its name. We rolled into Riverview Bible Camp near Scone at about 5:30 P.M. on Friday. Minus the bus, every vehicle was packed with bags and bodies, kids wound up and raring to go. The more “mature” types were also pretty keyed up, although many of us had already put in a long day. We’d made an earlier trip with sound equipment, cardboard and carpeting to help keep feet dry. – And food! Do you know how much it takes to feed a bunch of teens for a weekend? Everyone got somewhat settled, then we headed to the gym.
We started with a few announcements followed by a surprise Birthday Party for someone reaching that magic age when the government offers an early pension. I did say “Senior” Youth, didn’t I? But these teens are a wonderful bunch and I’d be a proud Grandpa to any or all of them.
Jasmine Koch and her team led us in worship at each session. For our first session Mike Krotz read scripture passages and the limited background information the Bible gives about Barabbas (the murderer released during Jesus’ trial when Jesus was sent to the Cross). Then Barabbas himself, somehow bridging 2000 years, shared his view of events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. Special speakers, Yorge & Melissa Von Hatten Baer shared with openness and vulnerability before we broke into smaller groups for more in-depth discussion.
Saturday and Sunday mornings saw leaders crowding around the coffee pot before an early meeting and prayer time, then youth devouring pancakes, toast and cereal. Basketballs threatened tables of food in the gym, as well as heads and chairs. Rousing games of Dutch Blitz had hands slapping and voices shouting. The wildest game, exhausting in knee-deep snow had two teams defending snow towers. Even our senior Pastor got into the fray. One of our younger youth seemed to find sitting on Pastor Jason warmer than sitting in the snow itself, and took great pride in his achievement. The old guy of the weekend isn’t sure he wants to be remembered for repeatedly attacking his Pastor, dragging him off the tower and throwing him into a snow-bank. He is also pretty sure that some games weren’t meant for Grandpas.
Rebecca Grierson braved nasty road conditions to bring our Saturday night banquet, made even more delicious with the appetites our romp in the snow created. Semi-Formal attire did not dampen enthusiasm for wild and crazy pictures, the portrait studio presided over by Heather Winkels and Kristina Dyck.
Yorge & Melissa shared twice on Saturday and again Sunday morning. We had great fun and a wonderful spirit prevailed with an openness, honesty and vulnerability that enriched youth and leaders alike. It’s not always that fun and spiritual richness happen together, so we are truly thanking God.  Our final session included a quiet reflective time, with six stations youth and leaders could visit as they chose. These included: “Give it to God,” “Cross Training,” “A Word of Encouragement,” “Prayer Requests,” “Items of Praise,” and “Communion.” Tears could be seen in youth and adult eyes a number of times.

Thank You. . .

  • to Mike and Karen Krotz for leadership. It takes a team to make a retreat like this work, but every team needs leadership. Yours is guided by a love for God and a love for every one of these kids.
  • to all volunteers, those who stayed for the full weekend and those who came in to help with one or more meals.
  • to those who prayed for us.
  • to Allan and Marie Edgcumbe for providing and maintaining a wonderful facility where God’s presence is always invited.
  • to each teen. It really is great fun being with you. We learn so much from you any time we let ourselves.
  • Most of all, Thank You to God, for meeting with us, for safety and protection, for touching hearts and minds.  

{stay tuned for photos and a video from the event}

The Joys & Tears of Youth Ministry

I remember it like a grainy film – that first night – like some tragic drama playing in painful slow motion.  Me, glued to the back floor of that room that helped to shape me through those years of molding up into the adult I’d become, eyes wide and terror gripped tight against my chest at the sight of all those crazy kids.  I was only a few years older but I felt our differences like a violent culture shock that spun me in a dizzying jet-lag and I knew I couldn’t do it.  I knew I couldn’t relate.  I knew I couldn’t make a difference.

I wanted to sink.  I didn’t know how to be relevant.  I didn’t understand how my presence could minister.  I felt angry with the youth pastor who had approached me – a young, brand new mom – and tricked me into agreeing to this nightmare.  I felt stupid and uncomfortable and peripheral.

I went home that night and cried, giant tears of ‘not good enough’ and ‘I have nothing to give’.  I wanted to quit.

“You’re not a quitter!” my husband reminded me.  And I wasn’t.  But I had this idea that I needed to be exactly what my old youth leader had been: loud, charismatic, bubbling up with scriptures appropriate to every single situation that presented itself.  That wasn’t who I was nor could I ever force myself to be that.  What then, was my calling?

And then, as I battened down the hatches of my self-deprecation it occurred to me in some obscure light-bulb kind of moment:  I didn’t have to be relevant.  I only had to be real.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Isaiah 40:29

I faced my second Friday night with lighter shoulders and a determination that helped me find my footing on the slippery slope of teenager chaos.  And I found myself smiling.  I realized there was joy in letting go of my own fears.  It become startlingly clear that all I needed to do was LOVE.  And by loving on these kids I was ministering into their lives in ways much deeper than I ever could with words.

And then, as weeks turned into months turned into years, something incredible happened – I was the one being blessed.  These kids had turned my ministry of love back on me and I soaked it up like a thirsty sponge.

This is the reason behind it all: to see the love of Christ reflected in the eyes and hearts of kids once thought too broken or worldly to change.  To see that love reaching out into a community darkened by a fallen world.  To watch your own heart soften to their hardness.  To watch that hardness dissolve.  To claim victory when a soul is won.  To celebrate together.  To cry together.  To see God’s hand in the little things.  What could ever be more rewarding?

There have been many favorite moments – memories that capture the essence of what this ministry means – but there is one, for me, that is set apart.  So simple, yet so drenched in the selfless purpose of what it all boils down to…

T-shirts are thrown from the main stage to promote the merchandise tent.  There’s a dive for it – like single girls going after a wedding bouquet.  Five guys and a boy about eight. The little boy gets knocked around and one of our youth wins the fight over the shirt. The boy goes back to his mother, crying, hurt and disappointed.  He sits in his chair, tears on his cheek, arms crossed, shoulders shaking.  When our guys realize he’s hurt they take the t-shirt and give it to the little boy.  He refuses to look at them, taking the shirt without raising his eyes, his mother saying thank you for him.  The shake of his shoulders stills. He unfolds the shirt carefully, checking out his prize, tracing the design with a finger.  A small smile starts to spread across his face.  He hugs his mother.  And I’m fighting back tears like a blubbering idiot and am so ridiculously proud of our guys that I want to hug them…for giving up the shirt they got grass-stains on their own by fighting over.

                                                                                                                           

(This story was first shared here.)

There are moments that stretch you beyond what you thought you could bear.  There are days that leave you feeling breathless – like you could never go on.  There are words spoken that break you.  But never has there been a moment when I felt regret for the time I gave to this ministry.  Never (since that first night) did I think it was all for not.  It has made me better.  It has taught me patience, faith, grace.  It has taught me to love without limits.  How could you not want a piece of that?

And now there is a call.  Will you step beyond your boundaries?  Immerse yourself in something that, like it did me, scares you to death?  Will you give of yourself – even if it hurts?  Will you be Jesus to a youth?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

  Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she’s trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.