We were told to expect thirty middle and high schoolers for our youth retreat. Most of the time there were five.
I think guys are pre-wired to play sports. It's an unfair advantage they have for a bonding activity. Our guys jumped right in with their guys and commence the weekend-long Knock-Out tournament. We ladies had a bit of a more difficult time.
I was God-placed in the right place at the right time. When two sisters walked in, I happened to be near the gym door.
The younger, a very thin middle school student with hair just past her ears, was less than thrilled about playing basketball. She picked up the volleyball and tossed it to herself. I asked if I could join. She nodded yes.
I'm not any better at volleyball than I am at basketball. But, it's easier to play one-on-one than eight-on-one. We bumped the ball back and forth. I was kind of impressed with myself for knowing how to hold my hands, to get under the ball, and for not getting hit in the face. There still might have been more running than bumping.
By dinner time, my arms were bright red. They hurt. Hers matched.
In that volleyball time, she became my buddy. For the next two days, she clinged to me.
We sat together at meals and played volleyball during free times. Since there were five youth and eight college students, I could focus my attention on her. And sometimes she needed all of my attention.
The lively girl I saw when we were playing ping pong and listening to the same two Skillet songs on repeat was not the same girl who slowly scooted her chair next to mine during Bible lessons.
The only time she actually opened her Bible all weekend was during the lesson I taught. She was not interested in playing group games and much preferred to organize the preschool Sunday School room all day Saturday rather than participate in our planned activities.
I prayed a lot for God to show me how to reach her. None of my tricks of the trade seemed successful, so I did the same thing I did with the Nicaraguan niños, I loved her. I made a point to always know where she was. I offered to help her organize and when she declined, it I sat with her while she worked. I put my arm around her when she rested my head on her shoulder. I told her I loved her with my words and my actions.
As seems typical, we had to leave before I could see what God was doing in that girl. But I saw Him work in me.
Our theme of the weekend was: Live to Worship.
One thing God taught me was that even though the middle schooler and I didn't have any deep conversations, my time spent with her was still worship.
I'll be honest, it felt a bit more like babysitting than it did a youth retreat. But it mattered. It was the ministry of presence.
On Saturday night she gave me a piece of construction paper with my name written on it and decorated with glitter. I hung it in my dorm room as a reminder of our weekend and to pray for her regularly. It's a reminder that sometimes even what feels different than we expected can be worship, can be a ministry, can make a difference.
How have you worshipped today?