"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."Mother Teresa
A constant challenge in youth ministry is finding the "right" leaders. We struggle many times to recruit new ministry leaders and retain the current ones. The challenge persists for many reasons but the one I think that doesn't get enough conversation is the fact that many young people and adults don't believe they have anything to offer.
Many people (young and old) have bought into a lie that they're not good at anything or anything worth sharing. Young people may have an interest in taking photos, using the computer, writing poetry and struggle to find just how these passions and strengths can be used within a parish community or make a difference. I know a particular story that shares just how.
In 2013, the youth ministry office of the Diocese of Brownsville was hosting a local multimedia contest in collaboration with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Small groups of middle school and high school teams submitted wonderful and creative artwork that explore the complex themes of poverty and social justice. Models, sculptures, paintings, poetry, and short videos were submitted and judged. Local awards and recognitions were held over the next couple of weeks. It was an exciting and humbling experience to see the thoughtfulness and creativity represented in each project. There was an obvious commitment and dedication to learning and representing a Christian response to social issues and concerns. While the art projects were evidence of growth and transformation, there was much that was still happening among the middle school group from the small Texas town of Raymondville.
Their video art project ('I Am Raymondville') won at the local diocesan judging and eventually won second place at the national judging. But it was shortly after the local judging, the young team from Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Raymondville learned that a homeless man, Gregory, they interviewed had passed away and was to be buried in a 'pauper's' grave. This deeply disturbed the young team as they had learned he was a veteran. The young people worked together with their adult leaders to advocate for Gregory and share what they had learned about him just a short time before his death. Working with the Justice of the Peace, they began an inquest and determined that the homeless man was really Kent Karl Kauten and had been honorably discharged as a US Navy Veteran from the Vietnam War. Working together with the city and the parish, Kent Karl Kauten had a Christian ceremony and military burial. The young people were present and participated at the burial ceremony.
This profound event and serendipitous series of events greatly impacted this small town and especially these young people. Recognizing that 'Gregory' was not the only homeless person in their community, they worked together to brainstorm creative responses to the tackle homelessness (including a homeless shelter named 'Gregory's Place').
While it seems like this can only happen in the movies, it didn't. It happened in a small town where young people were given an opportunity to share their passions in a creative way that led them in an unexpected journey. I believe this story gives powerful witness to the potential that we all possess if we can be bold and creative in our evangelization and pastoral work. As many biblical figures have done, we offer the small and seemingly inadequate things that we have to God and allow them to become powerful forces that shape the world.