Monday, March 16, 2015

Visits with old youth group students -- Shaina and Stefan

Shaina Meier happens to be my archnemesis. A few years ago we both decided we were lacking an archnemesis in our lives. My problem, though, is that she is a perfectly delightful person. I enjoyed her presence at youth group and events when I was doing youth ministry at Healdsburg Community Church, and she also did wonderful work in the church nursery and on the worship team. A reasonable assessment of Shaina's character would more likely rank her as a hero, perhaps a Super Hero; which would make me a Super Villain. But I try not to think about it.

Stefan Masselink also attended Healdsburg Community Church. For the last couple of his high school years, Stefan and I got together on an irregular basis for Bible study or just to talk. Mindy taught both Shaina and Stefan for awhile, during their younger years, in Sunday School.
Both Stefan and Shaina are attending U. C. Berkeley, and both were willing to get together with us for lunch to discuss their church experiences. Afterwards, we went to church together at Livingwater Church in Berkeley.

Shaina's first church memories were from attending services with her father and brother at a Seventh Day Adventist Church. She remembers potlucks and being rather disappointed with vegetarian hot dogs. But she appreciated the people, and many of the folks from that church are still family friends.

Shaina and her family moved to Healdsburg Community Church when she was eight or nine, and at the new church she also appreciated the people. There were plenty of older people who took grandparent duty, and since she had no grandparents living close by this was appreciated.

Stefan also said he appreciated the older folks who loved the kids in the church and remembered him week to week. His other memory of a church from childhood was the house church his family attended in Italy when they would go for long summer visits. The sermons there, he said, were a little long and dry for a kid, but he appreciated and continues to appreciate the people.

Shaina was quite enthusiastic when she discussed her love of Vacation Bible School at Healdsburg Community Church, both as an attendee and a leader. As a kid she thought the VBS decorations were magical, and as she grew older she felt no reason to change her opinion. She attributes those VBS experiences to contributing to her continuing love for working with children.

Shaina just began at Berkeley in January and hasn't yet found a church home there.

Stefan has been attending Livingwater, the church we attended together, for four months. Prior to that, in his freshman year and the first half of his sophomore year, he had a rather challenging church experience. At that church, he initially found the teaching spoke to his heart. It was a new experience worshiping with students his age, many already his friends. People in the church were divided into small groups who met several times a week for several hours for Bible study, worship and social times. After awhile, though, he began to feel at odds with teaching in the church. They told him it wasn't Biblical to be a romantic relationship. Their teaching about selfishness was that you shouldn't have fancy possessions like a smart phone or a vehicle that couldn't be used for ministry (like a van that could be used to take people to church).

The most challenging teaching about ministry, for Stefan, was that it was selfish to use time studying for classes that could be used for, say, evangelism. Perhaps it would even be best to quit school to concentrate on ministry for the church. This was at odds with Stefan's desire to excel in his school work in pre-med.* Though Stefan still respects many people in that church, he knew it wasn't God's place for him.

Students who have grown up going to their family's church face a challenge when they move off to college. It's easy to neglect church altogether. There are some unhealthy churches that will take in students that are looking for the comfort of a caring church home. But I'm confident that God will continue to work in the already impressive lives of Shaina and Stefan and will continue to use them in His Church.
-- Dean

*Not part of our conversation, but what Stefan said about the church encouraging neglect of studies reminded me of a story Billy Graham used to tell. A seminarian asked him if he should be wasting time in studies when he could be out serving people. Graham told him that if there were many trees to chop down in the forest, it was worth taking time to sharpen an axe.