Change in Hi-C
As we get older, when we ask each other what’s been up, it becomes more and more like, “ahh same old, same old.” But for teens, change is perhaps the only constant thing in their life. And this was the theme of our Hi-C youth group retreat that we just had this past week. It was an unprecedented five days and four nights. And yes, it was tiring. So much so that when I noticed people continuing to nod off during my sermons, we decided to adapt to what my son Nathan does in daycare, have a group communal nap time. Led by none other than our own Hi-C whisper, pastor Dave who is now known to everyone as pastor Despacito. I had to do that. The weather really held up too. I was kinda nervous about that cause the forecast was very gloomy. It said 80% chance of rain, 70 to 80 percent. But you know what, it only rained that first night. So the weather was beautiful. So we’re really thankful for that because what’s a summer retreat without outdoor stuff? Right? So they got to go to the water and all that stuff. So change, just physically, there’s so much going on. I look at the pictures from one Hi-C retreat to the next year, and the amount of change is startling. Emotionally and socially too, so many changes going on. You know, we have Jacqueline and Evelyn getting baptized here and Caitlyn, their eldest. You know, as a child, your family is the center of the universe, right? And parents are the anchor that a child will look to keep them safe. And I see that in my own kids too. I mean, just today, Nathan just wouldn’t let go of me.
The Real Me
But teens, they’re now discovering a larger world beyond their family. They’re trying to see where they fit in this larger world. The desire to belong somewhere becomes so strong. I mean so many things are changing within them and around them. They’re seeking a solid anchor by belonging and being accepted somewhere where their peers are at. People will do what they need to do to fit in and be accepted. For little kids, you know, children, they present who they really are to the world, right? Without any inhibition. But once you become a teenager, you start realizing that maybe this is not gonna get me accepted. And so they start presenting maybe different selves, it can be a false self or an altered self. So much so that one’s identity starts to become blurred. You know, where does the real me end and the false self begin? What is the real me?
During these teen years, especially the early and middle ones, this overriding desire to be accepted, I think it’ll take over the search and cultivation of one’s own authentic identity. So one can easily develop a distorted identity. And so this was the first focus of my first Hi-C retreat two years ago and I’ve come back to this theme many times because it is such an essential part of life during these years. And there’s something I’ve realized after a few years of ministry now with youth and young people, the mission of the churches when it comes to young people? The mission of the church with youth, I think, is to create a safe space where people can feel welcomed and accepted for who you are and where you can feel safe to explore your developing identity. There’s nothing more fundamental than that in my mind, for the mission of a church with young people. And indeed this has been I think the focus of the highest seat for the past two years, to build a community built on love and acceptance.
The love and acceptance that God has shown us. You know, one challenge initially was integrating the KSM Hi-C with the ESM Hi-C, that was under pastor Dave’s leadership and last summer at the retreat that really happened and it came together. I think the Hi-C had a breakthrough in forming a community where they really bonded with love and acceptance and felt like they can just let down their guard and be themselves. Through these bonds, memories were forged and connections were deepened and we had a kind of stable year without too much change. This allowed the bonds to settle and deepen.
But as this summer retreat approached, however many changes were coming, our beloved grade twelves, a big group. There are eight of them at the retreat, they’d be leaving the Hi-C after this retreat. And we also had a record number of new people coming. So there were eight grade twelves who were going to leave and eight new kids who came to the retreat. Kind of a funny coincidence. In a way, I felt like this was God kind of saying, okay, now we’re ready and here are our new brothers and sisters and it’s an opportunity to test whether we really were a welcoming community. Then we prepared leading up to the retreat by kind of studying a few passages from Ephesians, talking about one body in Christ and breaking down dividing walls. We reflected on the tendency, when you have a group of friends and that friendship over time, you start also forming your own kind of social norms language and stuff and whatnot. It’s that history when you go through experiences together. For some of the guys that became kind of like slapping each other’s butts, the social norms, right? That kind of indicates I belong to this group. Sometimes when that bond gets so tight, that bond becomes a wall for those who are new or coming from the outside, that’s the natural human tendency, right? But we study that Christ came down to break down these dividing walls so that in place of two groups, there is now one new humanity. That’s the whole message, right? Reconciliation, the dividing walls. So could we be a community where there is no outsider or insider difference, but we are all one body in Christ. And in this aspect, I’m just so proud of the Hi-C, I believe they’ve passed this test with flying colours. I think everyone, all the new eight kids, they felt so welcomed and embraced for who they are. They shone through during games and activities and everyone was having such a good time. It was so good to see. I attribute a lot of this social cohesion and the welcoming community as a legacy of our dearly departing grade twelves, their leadership and their nurturing spirit really forged this culture rooted in love and they lead by example with their love.
But as the retreat went along, for some reason, I kind of felt a little block during games and recreation, they’re having a fun time, but during group discussions, it seemed kind of flat and on the surface level. I wasn’t sure what it was. I mean the group leaders who are our grade eleven’s going to great twelves, they’re doing a fabulous job trying to work hard and trying to get everyone to participate and whatnot. But then on the second last night, it kind of hit me. So I was having a debriefing, a meeting with the executives late at night to plan the next day. I know they are physically tired, but I don’t know, something felt a little heavy. So I asked them, what’s on your heart guys? And that’s when one by one, they began to kind of pour out what’s in their hearts. They poured out the burdens that were weighing heavy on their hearts. You know, leaving home, maybe unresolved issues that remain in their families, fears of their own inadequacy. It’s such an honest sharing of the burdens. We had a wonderful time of sharing, crying, praying, but that’s when it really became clear to me that all of us, we all carry burdens in our hearts. Burden. It’s a heavy load.
For teens, I think their emotions are just rawer and a lot more heightened. They can feel the burdens more deeply. Often they don’t know how to articulate it, but they feel it. And the other thing is, (and this is what really gets to me often with children but also youth,) is often the burdens that they carry are not ones of their own making. The heaviest burdens in the hearts of young people come from within the family. Experiences they’ve had, concerns for loved ones, circumstances that have just been thrust upon them. Because they haven’t had a say in their situation, often they’re confused, they feel helpless or sometimes maybe they even blame themselves. I mean the specific burdens that they bear, they’re as unique as their own personalities and life experiences. Everyone’s been through and has their own story, so the burdens are very unique too. But what have I started to realize is that our youth is a time where they’re beginning to bear the burdens of a broken world that includes all of us as broken people. What’s also common is that often these burdens remained buried inside of us beneath the surface. I mean, they remain buried because it’s too painful to deal with them. They remain buried because we haven’t learned how to deal with them. They remained buried because we then just get used to keeping them buried and moving on with daily life. Right? So what do we do? I mean, we escape from our burdens by trying to think of other things or we numb ourselves so that we can’t feel them anymore.
As I was reflecting, I realized, I think that’s what many adults of our generation and above have done. Our burdens were too painful. Maybe the loss and tragedy of war were too much to deal with, immigrant life was so harsh and painful, or maybe feeling like a stranger and foreigner was too hurtful. So maybe we focused solely on surviving in the hopes that the next generation wouldn’t face such burdens. I realized, burdens that are buried, they don’t go away. They are like a heavyweight that keeps you down. It weighs you down and allows only a diminished version of yourself to surface. Or it can emerge just as kind of a lifeless or smaller you and the other thing I realized is that we deceive ourselves in thinking that they go away by burying them.
Burdens Pass On
So what I realized is that burdens that are not dealt with, they get passed on. I often used to scratch my head, working with our youth on the surface, many of them lacked for nothing. I mean they should feel free and confident to explore and discover the world but there was something that I felt kind of weighing them down a bit. And at the retreat, I think it started to become a little more clear. You know, many of our kids are carrying the burdens that they’ve inherited.
I mean, it’s a lot more muted because on the surface things are not bad. What do we really have to complain about circumstantially? Right? But it is there. The Christian life is one of freedom from the burdens that weigh us down. That is what Saint Paul meant in today’s passage when he proclaimed that anyone in Christ is a new creation. The old things that used to weigh us down, have passed away and everything now is new. That’s the gospel! This was not just a theory for him, on the road to Damascus, Jesus encountered and met Paul and said, “Paul, Paul, why are you persecuting me? Why are you hurting all these people?” I believe that it was at that moment that Paul came face to face with the burdens that were weighing him down. I mean, I don’t know exactly what they were. What we do know is that he was blind for three days and he neither ate nor drank. In the Bible, the three is often used for kind of an extensive period. So in other words, Paul really suffered and went through the pain of dealing with his burden. It’s not easy to deal with them. But at the end of that process, when the scales fell from his eyes and he could see, Paul was now free to discover his true identity and calling in life. When we truly encounter God or when God truly encounters us, I believe that God reveals the burdens buried deep inside of us. The Christian life is a journey and process of finding freedom from the weight of these burdens. No healing and change. They take a long time and Paul addresses that. But I believe that this is where true change starts with the recognition of the things deep inside of us.
Jesus said this in Matthew, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” He said that for a reason. Here’s the other thing, I realized what a true Christian community is. Saint Paul said it so precisely in Galatians: “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It’s okay Jaclyn, we’re burying your burden. Whatever is bothering you. Bear one another’s burdens. We don’t bear our burdens alone. Nor is it just between even just me and God, but the law of Christ, the very will of God is that we bear one another’s burdens. We first have to realize what they are and become willing and courageous enough to address them, but then we find a community of faith that can bear these burdens with us. That is why we have the gift of the church. I really believe that this community of bearing one another’s burdens is the most powerful vehicle for healing and change that we can ever experience. A community that bears one another’s burdens.
I’ve seen this with our youth group. For example, last summer, the Hi-C retreat was very emotional, but it was like a raw and kind of passionate emotion. And I think that came from the joy of finding love, acceptance and belonging in a community of peers. It was really the joy of discovering this bond, it was very raw emotion. That kind of acceptance became the hallmark of the Hi-C this past year that led into this retreat too. I believe that our calling by God now is to go further and become a community that really bears one another’s burdens. So the last night of this passage, it was very emotional as well. But what I sensed was rather than a hot, raw emotion, I sensed the much deeper and rooted emotion. One that sprung forth from deep within as they started sharing and bearing one another’s burdens. It was such a beautiful thing to see. I really believe in an intergenerational church and intergenerational ministry, from babies that we have baptizing them into the community of faith all the way up to when we send off our elders into the next life. There’s so much that we can all learn from one another and my hope for our youths is that they can cultivate relationships with other generations to appreciate the richness of the Christian community. I also think we adults can learn so much from our young people and their openness to searching. They’re yearning for meaning and connection and their eagerness to learn, connect and love. I could not have been more blessed to begin my ministry with this group of people. I’ve learned so much from them, they’ve been such rich, fertile soil and it really shows that when you give love, they blossom and transform.
I think I have a glimpse now of what it’s like to be a parent who learns to watch their children grow up. My kids are still so young, right? I haven’t been through it, but speaking with a few parents I can sense the kind of grieving process. But I think I got a taste of that now watching these great twelves depart, thinking of them and writing the sermon. I’ve never cried so much for preparing a sermon before, I’ll miss them. I’ll miss them in our weekly discipleship sessions. I think it’ll really hit us when we have our resume our Hi-C worship next week. We’ll just miss their loving presence that brought that energy of love to us. You know, I’ll miss, how they’re trying to round up Hi-C, Sarah Choe’s “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-CCCCCCCCCCCCC”, followed up by Jocelyn’s, “Yo, listen up!” I think we’ll have to settle with Taebin’s, “Hi-C-!” I couldn’t resist that, sorry. I enjoyed this past weekend, pastor Despacito and I was just roasting on the executives in the Hi-C you know?
We’ve been through grief, mourning, but also thanksgiving and celebration for who they are and what they’ve meant for us. What a blessing it is for all of us in Hi-C to go through this fullness of life. We’ve experienced all the emotions, right? May our youth be a blessing and inspiration to the rest of the community. May we too be open and courageous for God to reveal, allow God to reveal the burdens that had been buried within us. May we be a community that bears one another’s burdens. May God lead all of us into life as a new creation.