After some updates from YS on convention opportunities in the future, the Skit Guys came out and shared their usual brand of humor. This round it was a parody of Adam and Eve, involving a bad wig and hilarious lady-isms via Tommy's satire of humanity's first woman. What's amazing is how as a team they not only get the audience laughing, but they get people laughing so hard that they ends up laughing at themselves laughing.
The "message" tonight was innovative - a dramatic monologue written by Lanny Donohoe that encompassed many true stories he's encountered over the years, acted out by Lisa Arrindell Anderson. Her "African accent" was so spot on that it was easy to get lost in her story as if she was a true missionary.
Lisa's character spoke as a teacher who was being interviewed by a student for a sociological experiment. As she shared about her life growing up in an African village, she illustrated how a Compassion International sponsorship affected not only her family, but her entire village. Eventually she placed her faith in Jesus, especially after witnessing the care that her sick mother received from the church.
The dramatization was underscored with real life pictures of Compassion kids. Given the tremendous partnership YS has with global ministry, the photos really glued the drama together and brought it home for the audience. It is a powerful thing to realize that someone in one country can impact someone in another country in ways they may never realize this side of heaven.
As the punchline of this interconnected story hung in the air, we were ushered into a time of worship through interconnected music that again was shared by all the leaders on stage. A chorus of Amazing Grace... a verse of Come Thou Fount... the ending of Shout to the Lord... the start of Forever... bursts of Blessed Be Your Name, Majesty, and How Great Is Our God.
And I have to wonder - does YS plan this kind of thematic baton passing, from one speaker, artist, and element to another? Or is God so involved with what is happening that not until a session is over does everyone realize how much He has blessed what's happened?
With hearts tender to God, another rapid fire of interconnected speakers came up.
- Duffy Robbins: Sharing a humorous and highly relatable story of a kid who stole a toilet for... unique reasons... he revealed it was a story about himself and his youth pastor who came alongside of him. "He loved me, believed in me, and trusted me, and that's why I'm here."
- Candi Pearson: This lead worshipper offered a heartbreaking account of her brother getting sick and the intense journey her family went on to understand God in all of it. It was the community that gathered around them that spoke to her in ways she didn't expect. "Sometimes we need tangible arms and audible words - flesh - Jesus with skin on... when you're sitting in a hospital by yourself in your aloneness." The people of God helped His presence become tangible in many ways - from an apartment complex near the hospital offered for free to the furniture and food cards that were offered, the Church helped create normalcy in the midst of chaos. "September 9th, 2005, my brother stepped into eternity - but we could have not felt more cared for and encouraged and hopeful because of people like you who let us know they were following our story and praying for us... When God is not doing when we thought He should, people living this kind of stuff out reveals the Glory of God."
- Shaun King: "I remember when a girl named Shawna came up to me and asked if I was 'mixed'... I had no idea what that was." Growing up in Kentucky, Shaun began to realize the challenge of people wanting him to decide if he was black OR white. In high school he was bullied on a regular basis, and then one day was beat up by an angry mob of his peers. It took three surgeries to repair his physical brokenness, but he was broken inside, too. "I didn't grow up in the church - I was the kid all the other kids invited to VBS - it didn't work. I drank the Kool-Aid but didn't want Jesus... I was suicidal... Then -my best friends' dad came to visit me and didn't really do anything that was overtly religious... I remember how much it meant to me. And the second time he came back he prayed with me and it meant the world for me, and I made it up in my mind that when I recovered I would go wherever he was at." Soon Shaun had given his life to Jesus and began to minister in His Name at even a young age... all because of that investment.
- Lisa Arrindell Anderson: "I always knew I wanted to be a performer." Her parent's divorce at age 9 hit her hard... "All I wanted was for my mom to stop crying." In junior high a teacher invited her to audition for his drama club, and even though she felt she did a horrible job she was invited into it. "One day this man turned to me and said, 'You have to take yourself seriously.' And he challenged me to audition for the college of performing arts." This spoke to her spiritually, too. "I knew about Jesus and believed in Him, but didn't know Him. But I believe he put that teacher into my lfie to look me square in the eye." When she finally got to Broadway at age 29, she invited her teacher and personally thanked him for his investment. "I'm here because a teacher saw a gift inside of me and didn't stand in my but cut a path for me to walk down."
- Doug Fields: Doug spoke about his history as a youth worker of almost 30 years and how his favorite age group to work with - freshman guys - reminds him of his own journey into the church. "As a 14 year old I wanted to be liked, and I wanted to have fun... I played sports, had terrible acne, and the truth was I was a follower and longing for an invitation." A friend invited him to church, but once there left to talk to his friends. As Doug stared at the pictures on the wall, an "old guy" in his late twenties approached him and struck up a friendship. "And I came back the next week, and the old bald nice guy remembered my name. He found out I was an athlete and came to my game." Soon Doug was active in the youth group, from taking part in skits to hanging out in a mentoring relationship with his youth worker Jim. His eyes communicated genuine care and interest, and finally Jim asked, "What do you think about all this Jesus stuff?" Doug thought, "If you're into Jesus, and Jesus will make me like you, then maybe I'm into Jesus." Jim gave Doug a Bible, and that week he began a journey of following Jesus Christ. "He taught me that a follower can be a leader, and as I followed Jesus Christ, I became a leader... he saw something in me that I didn't see in myself... it's because of Jim, my youth pastor, that I'm here today."
- Jared Herd: The son of a youth pastor, Jared was continually in awe of the people who would thank his dad for the investment he was making into kids' lives. "Then one day the phone rang... and I heard 'I'm the woman your father has been having an affar with.' In a moment, my life and my image of my hero was completely shattered." High school was a completely awkward time; picking up the pieces of his life. He pursued all kinds of pathways of destruction trying to recover, and fortunately God knew that there would be people who could step into his story and speak into his life. "My freshman year of high school I completely walked away from the church... and someone came into my life and said, 'I know you've counted yourself out, but I want you to know God hasn't given up on you.' This trend continued with other voices in his life, and then his senior year of high school he started to walk back toward Jesus.
The band closed out with the Matt Redman tune, "You Never Let Go." Given the great Story we're all a part of, illustrated through the various slices shared tonight, that truth couldn't be any clearer. Every person is connected to one another because God never lets go of us personally and communally. What an encouragement to youth workers!