The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these
By Fred Comella
Over the years I’ve written much about what I feel are the problems and solutions. Some of those pages have been fruitful, some problematic. It goes with the territory when you’re confident in your position and the reader knows it. Now whether that reader agrees with my assertions or not is a discussion for another article. But as I’ve come to understand at least some of God’s plan for my writing, I find myself more and more oriented toward just the solutions. You see, I can argue all day with misguided folks whose minds I know will never be changed, about this or that, where the nation and the world are going, and how much better things would be if they believed as I do. Trust me, my readers on the other side of the argument flood my inbox’s daily with what they think about that proposition. But for all the argumentative effort, I can find no greater joy in my writing except for when I’m writing for Him and about “solutions”. Of the ever growing body of work I can attribute and give glory to Him, it is when I write about our children and how if we fail them all else is a simple exercise in futility, that I feel an endless aching in my heart for our, no (their) future.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to work in the emergency services and have had contact with thousands of young people in a variety of life situations. It has been a double-edged sword to be sure, as there were both good and bad times, great joy and great sorrow. The most difficult times I recall came as I watched children struggle through no fault of their own but for their individual circumstances. I look back now and wonder if there was more I could’ve (should’ve) done in my capacity as an official person. I also watched folks very close to me who could’ve (should’ve) been better parents, and I swore that if I ever became a parent, I would understand with cause in my heart, that there is no greater responsibly on His earth than that entrusted by God to a parent. I believe I’ve lived up to the expectation I set for myself back then, and in Christ I’m thankful every day for the son He gave me.
So, getting back to solutions, let’s face it people, whether we want to admit it or not, this life and this world are for us to pass on to our children, and we’re living our latter days to facilitate that promise. Now I know there is a lot that comes in the middle, but in the end, OUR children, ALL of our children, are the future of God’s earth and the continuance of His greater plan for all of us. What does that mean to a child or young person disillusioned and cynical, as their eyes see more than they should? What does it mean to the child or young person who just wants a warm place to sleep and comforting voice in the night? What does it mean to a child or young person who just wants to go to school with the other kids and experience the very basics of childhood, so many take for granted? And what does it mean to a child or young person, made in the image of God, who longs to know the truth of His love amidst a world of human chaos and sin? I’ll tell you what it means. It means we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’d better get busy. From the time they are created they are a gift, a promise of the future. They are His beloved posterity and we mustn’t fail them.
To that end, and with the truth of Matthew 19:13-14: Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Let me tell you another story about some folks who understand the task at hand. Let me tell you about solutions and not endless ideological posturing that glorifies man and not God. Let me tell you about those who are moved by the Holy Spirit to “walk in the rubble of this life” and gather unto them, the children whom they refuse to let go astray. These are very special people indeed, and they know the value of every young soul. They understand there is no tomorrow without them, and that the Kingdom of Heaven truly does belong to them…
Corenna Boucher Hoyt is the State Director for “Young Life Rhode Island” (YLRI), an outreach organization which promotes “the power of presence” philosophy, that being, kid’s lives are dramatically impacted when caring adults come alongside them, sharing God’s love with them. I tracked down a very busy Corenna and spoke with her by phone recently so I might get to know more about YLRI and their efforts on behalf of His children.
Like me, Corenna will be happily married 20 years this fall and is the mother of a 9 year-old and 14 year-old herself, so she’s no stranger to the challenges of raising children in difficult times. I asked her how she came to YLRI and she told of a difficult time in her own life when she was very young, and how the example of her Christian parents, when they struggled through their own tough times, inspired her to fight through hers. She explained that it was at that time in her life she realized the value of her relationship with Christ, and that she would always be more comfortable sharing her love for Him with like-minded friends and those seeking the truth. But Corenna also knew that she belonged in the trenches if you will, fighting the good fight for God and for the kids she knew needed her. She would go on to join Young Life in high school and marveled at how it literally transformed the lives of her friends and ultimately, of her entire graduating class.
Corenna taught emotionally challenged children early in her professional career, further preparing her for the work God was putting on her heart, “every child, everywhere” no exceptions. She explained to me that her life experience made seeing the mission of Young Life easier for her as she understood herself the importance of having caring adults “come alongside you”, not necessarily to push or prod, but to help you know Christ is with you and that you are loved. She explained that it was this type of self-worth and security many struggling young people needed more than anything else, and that the foundation must first be laid so a wrestling young heart might not be defensive or frightened off.
She told me, initially, “It’s because kids don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care”. Corenna also told me of the many and obvious difficulties she and her staff face every day with adolescents having a plethora of problems and proverbial mountains to climb, and that success in this type of outreach is often measured in the smallest progress first, with the end game being a well-adjusted young person who understands their place in the world according to the one who made them. She told me she liked to impress upon the kids, that loving one another as Jesus loves can often smooth a road of the anxiousness and adversity they may feel because of their personal situations, and that they needn’t change their relationship with Christ so much as that relationship would ultimately change them.
We talked a while about the challenges of the 21st Century and how much more difficult those challenges must appear through the eyes of a young person from a broken home and those of limited means or worse. We also talked of what young people today are no longer hearing, like God in the town hall, the schools and at the dinner table, and how filling that societal void with the Holy Spirit is a big part of the work YLRI must do.
So who is welcome at YLRI? Who is Young Life for?
“Every kid, everywhere!” as Corenna told me several times. (From the YLRI website), Their programs are custom made for kids throughout their adolescent years. Young Life is the name of the organization and also the term they use for their program with high school students. They also have a middle school program called WyldLife and in my opinion, a sorely needed initiative for college and university students called Young Life College.
Young Life’s multicultural ministry, focused on kids in diverse cultural communities and those in economically-depressed areas, is arguably the largest of its kind in the United States. They also have ministries for kids with disabilities called Capernaum, as well as one for teen moms known as YoungLives. In a partnership with Military Community Youth Ministries, Young Life reaches military teens through a program called “Club Beyond” with the “Small Towns initiative” bringing Young Life to communities of fewer than 25,000 people.
A Time-Tested Approach, Young Life began with a few simple ideas about sharing the truth of God’s love with adolescents. Those simple ideas have become time-tested methods for reaching out to middle school, high school and college students in friendship and hope.
So, as you can see, this is no small venture. Corenna and I eventually came to the discussion of how it all happens, and as with most ministries and outreach programs such as these, the task is monumental. Corenna mentioned a couple of things that were on her heart. First and foremost she is praying for a 2nd staff person to help her with the incredible logistics of a five ministry operation and ever-growing platform. We then talked about how the “Kids consistently tell the staff that the “Young Life Camp” program is the best week of their young lives. Well how else would you describe a week where deep relationships are forged in the midst of mind-boggling fun and where you experience and listen to what we believe is the greatest love story ever told”?
It was at this point in our closing interview where He got hold of my heart as he always does. Corenna told me of the often creative ways the kids come up with to scrounge every dime of the $100.00 deposit they needed for camp. My heart sank as I envisioned a child so desperate and longing for an experience that I could send my son on without batting an eyelash. And that’s when it all came home for me…
For every smile you bring, for every heart you touch, for every soul you embrace, for every bit of salvation you promote to a young heart that will change them forever, and for every young child of God who has a better chance because of your efforts, Thank you Corenna and YLRI! You are doing His work… Thank you!
If you are so inclined, please reach out to this invaluable ministry by way of a donation or volunteering, change a child’s life today, and change the world.
Learn more about Young Life at ri.younglife.org or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address is Young Life Rhode Island, | PO Box 131, Manville, RI 02838-0131 or call Phone: (401) 829-2603.