Memories are formative. One may remember the first week of their child’s life, and it forms the foundation of the parenting. Another may remember their first day in school, and the friends they made that helped them along the way. And still another may remember their first love, and the way it formed how they considered love for the rest of their lives.
Now, when I think of youth ministry, I consider it mainly a ministry of memory.
For instance, I can recall quite vividly my youth leaders showing up to almost all of my high school football games. I can remember like it was yesterday the time I was taken rock climbing in Joshua Tree. I can remember the times going out for tacos with my youth pastor and talking about a future in pastoral ministry.
Of all my memories throughout youth ministry, I can remember most waking early one morning up on top of a houseboat floating on the Sacramento River Delta. The air was still cool, as the sun had not yet broken the horizon. I leaned up out of my sleeping bag and searched for the handful of others with whom I had made the decision to jump in the water at the break of dawn to wake ourselves and begin the day. I saw some heads slowly rise from their sleeping daze, and we all rose like zombies and made our way to the boat’s edge. We stripped to our swimsuits and grabbed each other’s hands; hands that trembled with anticipation of the cold water that awaited our arrival. We laughed, and counted down from 3 … 2 … 1 …
The water’s temperature that morning was staggeringly frigid, and no sooner were we out of the water than when we first jumped in to grab our towels, our sweatpants, and sweatshirts and huddle up to get warm.
This memory from nearly fifteen years ago is a special one for me as I think about our upcoming trip to the same camp at the same river delta. From a youth pastor’s perspective, I feel bogged down by administrative and planning tasks as we inch closer and closer to our departure on July 5th. But, in the midst of all of these tasks, I have an increasing joy in my own heart as I consider the memories that will be made by the students attending this year.
Perhaps they too will look back fifteen years from now and recall their first trip to the Shepherd’s Grove Student Ministry annual houseboat trip. Perhaps they will reminisce upon the water skiing, and how proud they might have felt when they finally succeeded in standing up for the first time on a wakeboard. Perhaps they will remember the stars in the sky as they drifted on to sleep under the clear Delta sky. Perhaps they will remember the nightly worship on top of the houseboat, silhouetted against the unmatched sunsets of the Sacramento River Delta. And, perhaps, they too will remember the time they jumped off the houseboat at 6:00 in the morning … the chill of the water and the howl of joy that echoes even to today.
Jon Frey is youth pastor for Shepherd’s Grove for students between 6th and 12th grades. The Grove Student Ministries meets Sundays, 9:30 & 11:15 am and also on Thursdays, 6:30-8:30 pm. If you would like more information on The Grove Student Ministries, please visit their webpage.