I want to tell you a story about vandalism, online comments and art. At its essence, this is a story about love.
Over the summer there were some instances of vandalism in my town. It was anything from leaving piles of garbage in public areas, to continually tipping over the port-a-potty at the local park to break the play equipment and pooping on the slide. Yes. Pooping on the slide. Wild, right? It was a pretty fair guess these were youth, and our town’s social media groups were filling up with photos and complaints.
Now, I was as annoyed as the next person. I actually live less than a block from the park that saw the worst of it, and my kid loves going there. Part of me absolutely understood how my neighbours were feeling but there was also this non-too-subtle tone to this conversation that had me deeply worried. There was a violence to the language of comments, and I felt as though our town was saying, quite loudly might I add, that we cared more about the park than these youth.
I’m sure all of you out there in ministry know how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been on our youth. It was brought instability and isolation into a situation that is already challenging. Being a teenager is tough, navigating bodily changes, peer dynamics and all the rest of stuff that might go on at home is nothing to laugh at.
Now, I’m going to tell you that what happened next was the most spirit moved thing I have done since March 2020. I felt a pressure building in my chest that told me something had to happen.
First, I wrote a newspaper article to the adults in our town, which you can read here. I urged them to think how we could respond with love to our youth who were hurting.
Next, I called my buddy. The local Pentecostal pastor and I are an ecumenical association of two in a town of just over 3,000. I told him I wanted to do something, something in the evenings at the park to tell the youth that we see them, and we love them, and we love our park too. He said he’d bring the freezies.
So, for four evenings before the start of school we hosted Art in the Park. It was only an hour long. We set up on the grass, gave out free freezies and I planned an activity for each evening. (Shall we use the buzzword: pop-up ministry!?)
We did beading, made cardboard and yarn ornament, created comic books from scratch, and made cardboard looms.
Some kids asked: “Are we doing this because someone pooped on the slide?”
My answer? “Sort of. Mostly we’re doing this because we know you guys are bored and we care about you.”
We had anywhere from 10-15 kids each evening–and truly the crowd was older children and tweens. But they had a blast making and talking. Parents brought their kids and friends invited one another. We had lots of repeats too.
I know it was a success because when they said, “What are we doing next week?” and I tried to explain we weren’t meeting next week they ignored me and replied, “Yeah, but what are we doing next week!?”
Look, this was not reinventing the wheel. I’m sure many of you have done something similar before. Planning wise the whole thing didn’t take much to put together, and, as I kept telling the volunteers, the activity was really just an excuse to get together.
These kids just wanted to be seen, to be heard. We wrote dumb stories, told silly jokes, and mostly made happy messes. The cardboard loom evening even devolved into a nerf gun war the likes of which I have never seen before…. (I blame it all on the Pentecostal pastor!) It was the best ministry I’d done since COVID began and it fed my soul to connect and talk about life with these young folks and their families.
It is a reminder that the best ministry is responsive and relational. It doesn’t need to be big and fancy. If there is love at the heart of it, if it sees a need and responds faithfully, then it’s absolutely worth doing.