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top ten (re)discoveries of being in youth work.

I spent the last two days on course at SSTI (Social Service Training Institute), the training arm of NCSS (National Council of Social Service). There were many factors that contributed to my thorough enjoyment. It was conducted at their main office at Ulu Pandan Community Club – yes, a three-minute stroll over 200 metres – even nearer than walking to the bus terminal. It was great to network with people in this line of work; I was glad to meet three full-time staff from NCC and I think we connected well. The trainer was a former senior pastor of a local church and he received his postgraduate education from (my dream institution) Fuller Seminary. It was great to meet people from different demographics with a similar heartbeat for youths.

At the risk of sounding cocky (forgive me), I didn’t really learn anything new for there is nothing new under the sun. Most of the findings could be researched online and most of the principles could be self-deducted with common sense. Unfortunately, (the participants and) I do not have the luxury of time to do either, so I was glad that this course helped to piece together the thoughts that were already in my head; I declare it so arrogantly (forgive me again) because a lot of what was taught can actually be found in the 70+ drafts that I’ve written so far, just phrased slightly differently. The presentation may vary, but the train of thought and cognitive motivations are one and the same.

However, this (“Engaging Youths Through Their Culture”) course did affirm my calling, as well as my decision to enter full-time ministry to work with young people at this point of my life. I think it will benefit anyone who has “work with young people” in their job description. Here are the ten things I’ve (re)discovered about myself at the end of the course:

1. I truly am wired for youth ministry. Again, another immodest statement (forgive me, I’m on a roll!) but it is what I honestly believe; I am acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. This course has reinforced the preexisting thoughts and mentalities in my head which I have independently developed over the years. There’s no work I’d rather be doing than this.

2. I truly have the DNA of an evangelist. Within hours, I found myself sharing God’s goodness in my life and my journey to full-time ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike. We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11) and it was almost instinctive that I did what I did – intentionally share the Gospel through my life, by my speech.

3. I truly enjoy meeting new people and I’m not afraid to air my opinions. In other words, I find it exciting to connect with all kinds of people and I’m outspoken, even in a new or unfamiliar environment. It’s been a while since I’ve mingled with non-church people and today I realised that my personality is quite consistent in every arena of my life. I can only be thankful for that.

4. I truly understood why I was a marketing manager in my previous job before I went into full-time ministry. When the trainer gave us insights into the world of media and marketing, I found myself instantly connected to and comprehended what he was sharing. These topics were my professional competencies and rice bowl; it was what I “specialised” in, sort of.

5. I truly am a senior youth after all. Instinctive compulsions are synonymous with youth. I self-declared to be senior because I no longer act crazy out of impulse, but I self-declared to be a youth because I still have these crazy impulses! (And also because I’m within Singapore’s official 15-30 year old age range!) Nonetheless, I thank God for this all-important suppressing ingredient called maturity.

6. I truly relish communicating and expressing myself through words to a different audience. On a daily basis, I work with Christians, be it my colleagues or my youths. Even the couple of at-risk youths I work with are Christians. I must admit that it’s slightly easier to speak to this group of people because we subject ourselves to a greater authority (in the Bible), and often can use phrases like “I’ll pray for you”, or “Have faith”, or “Trust God” as part of our arsenal of advice. I cherished the opportunity to articulate my thoughts with a deliberate reduction of Christian jargon.

7. I truly am able to speak the language of youth. Be it through the mediums of music, media, colloquial expressions or the virtual world, I realised that I could feel what a young person is trying to tell me in their multi-coded and often pseudo-confused state of mind, evidently manifested in their language – both verbal and non-verbal. Simply put, I think I can readily emphathise with a young person and I thank God for it.

8. I truly see myself doing this kind of work should God lead me out of full-time ministry one day. I always tell people that I take working in Grace/R-AGE a year at a time. I’d love to do it for the long run, but if I ever do something else, with the right credentials, this could be the other dream job I’d want to declare as my occupation – studying youths and talking to youths and people who work with youths about youths – what a combination!

9. I truly love young people. We were shown a surfeit of video clips throughout the course and whether I see something spectacular or sorrowful, I’d spontaneously ask two questions – “How can I rejoice with them?” and “How can I reach out to them?”. It could be the celebration of an achievement, the recovery of a failure or the development and fulfilment of potential. I absolutely yearn to be a part of it – whatever it is!

10. I truly am privileged to work with a kaleidoscope of youths. This is the first time I see my clients playing a significant role in my own training and development as a youth professional (if I could lump all of us into one overarching category). Unlike other youth workers in specialised roles (like social workers or psychologists) who attend mainly to one subset of youths, I have the wonderful benefit of meeting all kinds of youths from all kinds of social backgrounds with all kinds of upbringing and all kinds of aspirations.

All right, this post has certainly evolved into a piece longer than I had expected so I shall conclude it here; at the end of the day, this is how I would consider my job, or better phrased, my current phase of life – that it is my absolute dutiful delight and delightful duty to work with young people. And I praise God daily and nightly for putting me where I am. This truly is a reward that the world could never give.

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would you let go of me?

It was my turn to “teach” a lesson from EC’s outstanding handbook, “Mentoring Paradigms”. (Now, I actually don’t quite understand how I was supposed to teach a lesson that is supposed to be self-taught by simply reading the book and reflecting so) I took the liberty to teach outside of the book; after all, the book is supposed to be self-explanatory and the leaders present at the meeting are old enough to digest the wisdom for themselves.

The gist of the paradigm that I taught was on God’s efficacy. (The book is on my office desk, so I’ll update this post again and list the key lessons I’ve learnt from EC’s teaching.) And so I brought everyone’s attention to the three parables placed one after the other in the Gospel of Luke – The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I thought it was appropriate for the leaders to see for themselves God’s efficacy at work in a dynamic manner in these three examples. In my reflection, I think it’s common to hear that nothing is wasted in the economy of God; I’d turn that around and say that in God’s economy, there’s no such thing as nothing!

Observe, for the lost sheep, one in a hundred went missing; for the lost coin, one in ten went missing; and for the lost son, one in two went missing – the stakes are upped dramatically. Observe again, the shepherd left ninety-nine and went out to search for that lost sheep; the owner (went in and) turned his house upside-down to search for that lost coin; and the father could do absolutely nothing when he lost his son. Actually, to better phrase it, it was his son that decided to lose him.

Now, from this juxtaposition, I’ve learnt that the closer the missing subject (a person, usually) is to you, the lesser you can do about it should he or she decide to leave you. There are some people you go out to hunt for, some you turn your ransack your house for, and for some, you are simply powerless to do anything about it – and yes, it is extremely heartbreaking because you can almost see their outcome.

Around three years ago, I experienced that with my beloved sister. I remember the two-hour conversation in the car. It was then that I had to let go of her as my younger sister so that she can become her own woman. Letting go of a younger sibling that you protect is a lot more difficult than letting go of a young person that you shepherd. Without getting into details, I basically realised that I couldn’t and shouldn’t protect her in the same manner anymore, for she was old, mature and experienced enough to make her own decisions, and be responsible for them. (Sometimes, I wonder if it’s painful because I am relinquishing my status in her life – I don’t ever want to be a redundant elder brother.)

I had to learn to trust God for her eventual outcome and while it’s painful for me to let go of my sister because I love her so much, I must remember that God loves her so much more than I do and so surely He will look after her well-being better than I ever can. Hence, I shall have no fear for my Lord is in control of my sister. Either way, God has a plan for her and already knows what He is doing with her, way ahead of me. At the end of the day, I’m actually left with no choice, but learn not just to trust her, but to trust Him, whom I’m entrusting her to.

On that note, I believe that parents put so many restrictions on their children in this generation not because they don’t trust them, but because they don’t trust themselves – they are not confident of their own upbringing of their kids. I’m not yet a father so I write this callously, but I’d like to believe that when it’s time for my children to make their own decisions and account for themselves, I will deliberately and gladly let go of them, so that they can grow in an exponential manner apart from me. I will do this partly because I trust them, but mainly because I trust the good way that I would have brought them up. I guess I’d only be able to put my money where my mouth is when my children reach that age of reckoning.

On a side, random and personal note, I am absolutely and unashamedly confident that I will make an imperiously outstanding father. And just like in RD’s “Danny The Champion of The World”, I will become that father with the sparkle in his eye. Perhaps the absence of it makes me pine for fatherhood so much more, but somehow, I have this unquenchable, untamable conviction that of the many things that I will excel in in life, fatherhood is one that I am most certain of because it is something closest to my heart.

I have no idea how this evolved into a piece on parenting but I’m glad anyway.

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