Ross Carper, First Presbyterian Church Spokane
I will never forget it, and neither will he. I was an intern in the high school ministry at our church; he was a know-it-all sophomore, getting ready to go on our summer mission trip to a small coastal town. The day came for the trip’s first prep meeting.
Being the stereotypical low-income intern, I was living in a parking lot for a few days, making extra cash hocking 4th of July fireworks for my wife’s uncle. Dirty and tired, I drove to the church. Barrett was there too, and he surprised us by actually listening as my boss Randy kicked off the meeting with a passage from scripture: the one about Jesus letting the little children come to him. Most of our work in Westport would be with young kids, so I figured the talk would just emphasize how much God loves the little children, and then we would move on. That isn’t what happened.
Randy asked, “So what does Jesus mean when he says the Kingdom of God?” (The passage was all about how the kingdom belongs to children, and people are meant to receive it like children.) He let the question hang in the air for what seemed like three full minutes.
Barrett finally piped up. “Heaven.” He sounded like he also wanted to say ‘duh’ to punctuate his one-word answer.
I won’t go into all the details, but what followed was a gentle correction, and an expansive conversation about the Kingdom of God. The conversation actually lasted two months for our high school group—up to, including, and after our mission trip. Barrett and the other students wrestled with questions like: does Jesus’s primary teaching subject only refer to afterlife, or is there actually some before-life available too? Is faith just about making the cut, like a tenth grade basketball tryout, or is the kingdom something Jesus is establishing here and now in addition to being everlasting?
Looking back, both Barrett and I consider that season a sea-change moment in our respective faith journeys. Eight years later, I’m a full-time youth director (no more fireworks) and Barrett is an intern, working with Randy at University Presbyterian Church over in Seattle. For both of us, life is about seeking the kingdom, here and now. It’s about Jesus—the redeeming, liberating King—who is bringing about his Kingdom in the world. This is the lens through which we can view all aspects of life, faith, justice, and relationships. Barrett actually went and got a degree in theology to keep wrestling with the concept, and I am proud to be a friend and mentor to him during his adult life. We get to spend time together on Skype talking about life, careers, relationships, and we also share ideas on how to actively live out the kingdom and invite middle school students into that life as well.
The main thing we talk about these days is 30 Hour Famine, which for my group has really become the centerpiece of our winter season. Thanks to the efforts of devoted volunteer leaders, my predecessor Daryl Geffken, and incredible, super great, rock-star SHIFT_jrhi students, we’ve developed a fundraising effort that gathers about $20,000 a year. The students put in major effort because Famine funds empower our global neighbors to overcome hunger, poverty, and injustice so they can experience the fullness of God’s kingdom life.
Here’s the cool part. A week ago, Barrett led his middle school group in their first-ever 30 Hour Famine at U-Pres. So far, they have raised over $16,500 and are closing in on their goal of $19,000—part of their student-led “stop death for a day” campaign. Their per-student average is higher than our group, and they are nipping at our heels on the national scoreboard. Not that we’re competitive about that sort of thing…
Even though I’m hundreds of miles away, I’m in full-on celebration mode with my friend. Barrett isn’t such a punk anymore. He’s too busy making an impact on students in his community and children around the world.
If you’re doing the Famine this year as a leader, look around you. As you fast, serve, pray, have fun, and ask big questions together, you might be looking at some students who are wrestling with far bigger things than a growling stomach. God might just be shaping them into world-changing, kingdom leaders.