Personal testimonies are a central component, resulting in a Spirit-breathed worship context, that Paradise Bound Ministries builds into their village ministry. By contrast, in the states, this is not something we place a high emphasis upon, and in fact, many Western believers are not even confident they have a testimony. Yet, every believer in Christ is on a faith journey, and that faith journey creates a storyline, and within that story is a narrative that points to the continued work of Christ in our lives.
As mission teams serve Guatemalan villages, testimony through praise and worship sets the stage for a Gospel presentation. Building on previous occasions where the team has shared in a sense of community, team members now confidently embrace the communal value of sharing transparently. And so, following worship songs, sung in English but interpreted in Spanish, PBM Founder and Director Dan Smith encourage team members to share their personal testimonies. Such testimonies are not rehearsed and therefore are raw and unpolished, yet full of Spirit and flow uninhibited often from the depths of despair and brokenness.
On this particular village experience, a few adults chose to share, however, it was the testimonies of the youth that caught my attention. Several shared, all arriving in Guatemala from different backgrounds and experiences, yet connected by common themes. My first observation was the depth of hurt and pain that many have felt or are currently feeling. This hurt likely has its root in various sources, however, the brokenness of families seemed a contributing factor. Each young adult described making life-altering choices as the result of hurt and pain connected to challenging family dynamics.
As a father of three young adults in their twenties, such an observation pointed not only to the depravity of my generation, and the lack of genuine spiritual leadership in our homes but also to my own shortcomings. I thank God daily for the spiritual journey’s that my three children are navigating, but I know it was God working through others that have shaped them, perhaps more than my own spiritual leadership. That stings a bit, especially given that a large portion of my life has involved youth ministry.
If granted permission to speak honestly, I believe we have failed this generation. This has resulted in a downward spiral for many youths, beginning with choices involving friends, rooted in a quest for belonging and acceptance. Most teens and young adults feel they are “not enough” and as a result they sacrifice their own sense of identity and integrity to gain such acceptance, only to realize that such a path leads to a dead end.
My generation (the forties and fifties) must ask some tough questions. Why are the depression and suicide rate among teens higher than previous generations? Why does this youth generation feel deep loneliness despite having the world at their fingertips through cell phones? Why are so many lost in a sea of faces, seeking desperately to discover their worth? On the one hand, we could say that the answer is likely complex, yet I believe it boils down to one reality, and it is this. The largest contributing factor to the depth of hurt faced by today’s youth generation is inevitably connected to the absence of spiritual leadership in our homes. And Scripture is clear that the primary responsibility for spiritual leadership at home lies with our fathers. Although many of us are still physically present, we are largely “missing in action” when it comes to spiritual leadership. In our culturally-warped perspective on protecting and providing for our families, we have missed the boat on the one thing that matters most – be a spiritual mentor for our kids.
Provide a safe, positive context for today’s teens to share, and they will spew deep hurt and pain. It’s not always pretty what they have to say, but we need to pay attention. They are crying out for acceptance, a meaningful purpose, and for dads and moms who will not only stay together but build homes on authentic faith. More than beautiful houses, a myriad of material possessions, or lawnmower parents the mow down every obstacle, our kids need the real love a father, a father willing to set aside what the world says is important, and to love his kids through sustained spiritual nurture and encouragement.