Monday, October 22, 2012

Youth trust youth workers that trust them

You're not superman or wonder woman.  At least I'm assuming that to be the case.  Even if you were, I've read enough comic books to know that they have some seriously bad days.  I do to.

Traditionally the early fall is a bit back for us as we slowly get involved in the new pace of life of the students around us.  This year however we have been given so many opportunities that we have hit the ground running at about 350 Miles Per Hour.  They are good things, and I love thinking about all the possibilities, but at the same time - I feel like I can't keep up the pace.  Almost as if my feet are stuck in concrete.

Actually one of the youth work tools we use is called a "gingerbread" man - which helps us use art as a means of getting youth to communicate their emotions.  Here is the one I drew at the beginning of the month.

As you can see my head is spinning from all the ideas that I have.  My hair and my clothes are unkempt as I have had little time to care for myself and I feel like my feel are trapped in concrete.  I simply felt like I couldn't keep up.

For some of us, we are tempted never to tell young people when we are having a rough time, we want to appear professional, or that we have it all together.  We want them to have a good role model after all.

However good our intentions, we may be inadvertently alienating kids who don't have a concept of a life without problems.

We can show our respect for them as well as giving them an example of how to cope with our issues in healthy ways by allowing them an idea of what happens in our own heads.

Kids don't need to know all the details of hardships - some of those things may not be helpful, but they it is better, in my opinion to share something rather than nothing.  You never know, in trusting them with your life they may be more inclined to trust you with theirs.  And they may be just the person to guide you in a hardship right when you need someone.

How thought has the power to save or destroy youth

In a recent discussion with a group of youth we talked to them about the power of thought.  With the 60,000 plus thoughts that we generate each day, the overwhelming majority of them are negative.  Which is not really a surprise to you as you read this.  After all if you started cataloging all of your thoughts you would probably start to feel quite negative about yourself, the list you are writing, the government, the neighbors dog or whatever else bugs you. 

A lot of these thoughts are nearly in-perceivable in our day to day lives. We react emotionally to the thoughts before we even realize that we had the thought.  As teens go through their lives, they are bombarded by their own negative thoughts and many of them struggle with depression, anxiety and anger.

One of the things I talk about a lot with young people is the ability to take the thoughts captive - to grab on to them and filter out the lies from the truth.  For example a young girl may be watching TV when she suddenly feels depressed and makes herself throw up to feel better.  She is externalizing pain from emotion, but emotions cannot happen without guiding thoughts.  The thought could have been triggered from any internal stimulation from events of her day, seeing a unrealistic image of a woman on the TV, or simply just be a random though of disgust about herself.  It happens.

(On a side note: I take this concept of capturing thoughts from the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 10, the writer known simply as Paul, talks about taking our thoughts and making them obedient to following in the pattern of Jesus.  This reinforces the idea that sometimes our thoughts work against us.  If a young person is a follower of Jesus or not they can be taught how to capture thoughts.  The helpful thing in remolding the thoughts towards the person of Jesus is that thoughts are easier to bridle then delete.)

The conversation that we had with these young people progressed into how the thoughts of others can influence us as well. In a world where we are exposed to so much sarcasm and cynicism in our relationships with others it is sometimes difficult to hear positive messages about ourselves even from the people who love and support us the most.  What we end up hearing are all the negative things broadcast by others, some audible - some not.  However they are communicated we perceive the negative very quickly.

One of the young people illustrated this is a piece of art that broke my heart.  Look at it and catch a glimpse of what life is life for this young person every day:

As a youth worker it is critical to help young people learn to think.  One of the most powerful ways is to simply be present in their lives and offer encouragement - encounter the lies they believe about themselves - and to model what it means to have healthy friendships and interactions with others.  That last one can be the hardest, and often times the most important.  Has sarcasm gotten out of control in your own life? 

How to think like a teenager. (not really).

I have spent many years as a youth worker and before that I was a teen myself.  I like to think that I am a relatable guy when it comes to youth issues. 

However, the only real experts are the youth themselves.  To prove this point I recently asked a group of youth workers what the following youth culture slang meant, they didn't get any right.  Lets see how you do:

 Is it a new product from Apple Corporation?  Nope: This phrase indicates the time delay of time from when the light turns green and the movement of the car because someone is looking down while using their phone.

Interestingly enough as our world becomes more digital how certain phrases that we use become out of date.  In this case, if you were having a traditional conversation with someone and they gave you shocking news you might say that you were speechless.  However you can't be speechless where no speech is involved.  Hence in a text message or online conversation you would be "typeless".

If someone takes something of value from a store it is called shoplifting.  However, what is  is called if you leave something of value in a store or a public place?  I guess it is called droplifting.  Apparently some youth use techniques such as this to promote their CD's and art is public places.

To Truthenize someone is to use "truth" to destroy someone's self image.  It is hurtful truth.

This is a phrase I hear way to often.  It is an acronym describing a lifestyle philosophy akin to "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" however this is much less health: SWED stands for smoke weed every day. With the idea that you shouldn't be held down to the ideals of society against weed as a drug.

Yolo is another acronym meaning: You Only Live Once and while it can be used to describe a healthy motivation, it generally is used as a defense for teens risky behavior such as excessive drinking.

For me, I don't generally try to add words like this to my vocabulary, as kids would recognize it as not being genuine, however it is excellent for me to be fluent in their culture and understanding how they speak and how they think.  The best thing to do when they use a phrase you don't know is to ask.  Become an expert by asking the experts.  Teens themselves.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Choice: Hit the snooze or get out of bed!

 A young man questioned me the other day about purpose.

He asked me, "Why do you get up in the morning?"

I think at some point in our life, each of us must come to grips with a question like this.  What is it that we live for?

Life is hard.

Life isn't fair.

And to quote a scene from the TV series House: "Life is pain!"

At some points it is easy to ignore.  At some points you don't care.  And then there are those moments when you can't sleep because the question of "why" plagues your soul. 

What's the point?

Why am I here?

Why do I get up in the morning?

For some it is family, for others, friends.  When this young man asked me I paused and thought of a moment in my life when the question had been most prominently stuck in my mind.

I sat on a dock late one night missing a large portion of skin off of my face, my body stiffened with pain, my mind riddled with regret and loneliness.  I had lost everything I lived for in one fell swoop.  What happened then may make you think I'm crazy, or mentally unstable, or a victim of my own concussion, but I heard God speak to me.

He said: "I will never leave you nor forsake you"  Even though I have left and forsaken him to live my own ways.  From that point my life was forfeit.  I embraced the fact that I should have died but God had allowed me to live.  It took awhile to change me, but eventually I stopped trying to find my purpose in relationships; or ingenuity; or success and instead I tried to live out the words of this quote:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (a)

The miracle of life I received on that day is the reason that I get up in the morning.   To live as Christ.  To live like Jesus.  Something we think we understand, but few of us live up to.  I am the first to admit that I often fail and a struggle to see the world as he did:

To love my enemies even at the sake of my life

To pursuit peace even to the point of persecution

To see that justice is pursued instead of judegement

For as one of the early leaders of the movement to live like Jesus said,

I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (b)
It is not easy.

It is not fair.

It is painful.

It doesn't need to feel good for it to be right.

This was highlighted for me as I heard the words of Toni Minchiello, who coaches Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis.  The words were written for a Poweraid commercial, but they put flesh on the above quote.

Now here's the reality of it.  You don't want to be walking off with any regrets.  Be annoyed.  Go Cry.  You're on the line between breaking point and breaking through.  In struggle you'll find strength.  Now get over that line.  Dig for that extra inch.  Take the best you can do and do better.

Every second is a moment in time, but this second is a moment in history.
Here is the original advertisement, which sends shivers up my spine everytime I hear it:

If I can do anything with my life, I don't just want to tell people around me that it is worth it to keep trying.  I want to show them.  I believe God is using my life to touch people around me who can't see him in the midst of the hard, unfair and painful lives that they live.  So I'll take the best I can do - and do better.  And teach them that, with God's help, they can do the same.

(a) Philippians 1:21
(b) 1 Corinthians 9:27

Friday, July 27, 2012

What to say when you are asked "Where was God?"

One of the most difficult things I have experienced in working with young people is watching them fall.  I can think of one young guy in particular who asked me when he was elementary school how he could be involved in our student leadership team.  After telling him that he wasn't old enough to join that team he walked away disappointed.  Years later I have remained in contact with him, only to have watched him get in trouble with the law, pour himself into drugs and become quite resentful of life.

While I recognize that I am not responsible for the decisions that this young man has made, I do wish that I could have saved him the troubles he has experienced in his life.  The longer I do this type of work the more stories I have like this lining themselves up on the back of my mind.

Because of my role in the community I am known as someone that is somehow a conduit to God, so in some cases I be at the brunt end of angry questions toward God.

Where was God when my mom got sick?

Why doesn't God care?

how can you say God exists when my best friend died last year?

In some cases I wonder the same thing.  Where was God?  What was he doing here?  Why didn't he answer these kids' prayers?

I remember watching the documentary "Expelled" with Ben Stine.  There is a scene where he is interviewing the brilliant minded and well spoken Richard Dawkins who wrote such books as the God Delusion and eventually persuades Dawkins to speak hypothetically about what he would say to God if he found out that he indeed existed.  Dawkins replied: "Why have you gone to such great pains to hide yourself?"

You or I may balk at such an answer and try to defend God's existence or how his ways are above our ways and his hiddenness is simply a matter our our own  misunderstandings of him.  Even if this were an 100% correct answer.  It still doesn't help address the question.

I have come to recognize that the majority of the time when I asked these difficult questions that the people asking aren't actually even looking for answers.  They are expressing emotion. They are grieving whatever they have lost.  I will often say that I don't have an answer that will help and instead I will simply listen to their perspective. 

Still some of these questions bug me because I feel that in many cases God is keeping himself hidden and that has not ever made sense to me until I came across this Proverb (25:2) the other day which said this:

"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
    to search out a matter is the glory of kings."

Suddenly something clicked for me.  God at times hides himself so that people will search for him.  They may not describe it that way.  They may say they are looking for meaning or purpose, They may not say anything of the sort and simply be reacting to their subconscious though or emotions on the matter.  But at Morpheus said in the Matrix: it is the question that drives us.

Even Jesus rarely gave a direct answer, but answered a question with a question. It is frustrating because we just want him to fix our problems, but in many ways he is respecting us in not simply giving us the answers but allowing us to come to our own conclusions: right or wrong as they may be.

That being said, as hard as it is for me to watch a kid fall knowing I had answers (that they didn't want or ask for) that could have prevented their pain, how much more painful is it for God to have billions of such stories.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Help a Youth Worker Out

Some friends that work at a website called Chimp have extended an opportunity to me that I had to share with you. As you may or may not know, all of the youth work I do is funded by people, like you, that believe that young people need someone to walk along side them as they try to figure out life. Just in the past few months here are some examples of the types of situations I have walked in teens in Langley.
  • I spent time in the hospital while a young man underwent surgery for kidney failure
  • I spent time in a restaurant with a teen mom and her baby as she asked my wife and I for parenting advise
  • I spent time in a coffee shop with a young lady who in tears said she just needs a family that loves her
  • I spent time in an art gallery with a group of teens from an art club we run.
  • I spent time in a mall food court with a group of teens who shared some of their life hurts with me.
  • I spent time sitting next to a young kid who's brother had died over Christmas and how much that has effected her
  • I spent time in front of a crowded room of community stake holders and advocated for the high risks teens face in our community.
And there is more. Thank you for your encouragement and support to be there full time for these young people. Here is where it gets exciting. Right Now Chimp has offered a matching fund donation. What that means is if you give $50 and give it toward Greater Vancouver Youth For Christ and make a note that it is for Danny Ferguson - they will in turn give an additional $50. In doing this you can help assure I can be there for more situations like these above. Here is how it can happen.... Right now.
Simply click on this link
Set up a chimp account
Allocate it to Greater Vancouver Youth For Christ
Make a note that it should be directed toward Danny Ferguson
And feel proud to be a part of make a difference.
Thanks for considering this. It means a lot.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exploitation A Reality Of Surburban Youth Work

As a youth worker, my job entails the opportunity to intersect into the lives of young people wherever they happen to be. I spend time on the streets, in the parks, the alleys, the movie theaters, schools and local coffee shops.  

Through this work I have encountered many things that I wish that I could unsee.  This includes but is not limited to drug deals, suicide attempts, violent exchanges and the issue of human trafficking.

So I have made it my responsability to serve as an advocate for the many young people I know personally that have struggled through the terrible realities of being sexually exploited, but have thought it was just a normal part of life.

Exploitation is the stepping stone toward trafficking and it happens all the time.  In doing some research the past few years I have come torecognize that the issue is even more widespread than I once thought.  This isn't just a big city issue either, it is happening in my neighborhood with the kids I work with every day.  This isn't about stats, it is about the faces of the kids I know personally.

I have talked with kids that think it is normal to send a nude picture to a person that says they like you

I have talked with kids that have been date raped

I have talked with kids that been abused 

I have talked with kids who have traded sex for a place to stay or food to eat

I have talked with kids who have had pictures of themselves in compromising situations distributed Round the school

I have talked with kids that have been recruited into the sex trade by someone they thought was their boyfriend.

and on and on it goes...

For this reason I have partnered with Miss Canada 2011, Tara Teng, and a local political activist, Todd Hauptman, to create a community task force taking on this issues.  On the evening that I am writing this we have organized an event called Wake Up. Which is aimed at community stakeholders such as mayors, school board officials, and Member of the province and Federal government.

You can read about the event in from our local news paper here:

I am planning on making bold statements of action at this event and if you are reading this before the event transpires or after the fact, please join me in prayer for the resolve to continue to do what is right.