Preparing Our Youth for College Life

 

“Six or seven out of ten young people will leave the church in college and never return.”

 

This quote, or others like it, has been used by anxious youth workers and campus ministers for at least the past decade. For parents who want their kids to stay connected to the Church, this sounds terrifying, and it is. But there is a caveat.

 

In a 2011 report, the Barna Group--who conducted the original research to which people are usually referring--clarified a few things. Perhaps most surprisingly was this observation:

 

College experiences are generally not the main reason young people disengage from church life or lose their faith.

 

David Kinnaman, the director of research for the Barna study, says that it is not the experiences of anti-Christian academic courses, Saturday night parties, or even the casual hook-up culture alone that draw students away from the Church. Rather, the bigger issue is their lack of preparedness to face such obstacles and turn to Christ and His Church when college life gets difficult.

 

“’The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group.’ Kinnaman pointed to research findings showing that ‘only a small minority of young Christians has been taught to think about matters of faith, calling, and culture. Fewer than one out of five have any idea how the Bible ought to inform their scholastic and professional interests. And most lack adult mentors or meaningful friendships with older Christians who can guide them through the inevitable questions that arise during the course of their studies. In other words, the university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples [emphasis added].’’

 

The Barna Group further points out that many young people feel “emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.” This changes the conversation about preparing our young people for college entirely. Instead of putting our primary emphasis on teaching high schoolers how to stay out of trouble or how to intellectually assent to a set of Orthodox tenets, our emphasis has to be on forming whole persons who have internalized God’s love and His commandments and who know where to turn when they face the world’s challenges.

 

So here’s our challenge to parents, youth workers, catechetical school teachers, and parish priests:

 

Before you send your kids off to college and to OCF, give them a lifetime of love, knowledge, and faith. What you do in the parish and the home the first eighteen years of their lives will impact their college careers far more than anything campus ministry can provide them in four short years. Specifically, here are three things they need to face the challenges of college life:

They need to know they are loved.

This may sound obvious, but one of the points the Barna research brings to light is the need for faithful, unwavering Christian mentors and peers for our youth. Our kids need to know that our love--and by extension, the Church’s love--for them is unconditional. They need to know this through our actions and not only our words.

 

Children should know that their parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, priests--the whole Church community--cares for them and can be relied upon in good times and in bad. This means giving them space for mistakes, showing them the path of repentance, and offering them true forgiveness when they fall. More than perfect children, we should pray for and raise repentant children who know not only God’s expectations for life but His mercy and love.

 

More specifically, our children should have connections with individuals in the parish wrought in this kind of love. Long before the Barna group pointed out that young Christians need people of strong faith to be their mentors, the Church offered each and every Christian this very relationship in their godparents. And even if godparents don’t live nearby, our youth should have opportunities to spend time with adults of all ages to witness their faith in action and be loved unconditionally outside of the home.

They need to know how to think and do for themselves.

Starting in middle school, the goal of our catechetical programs must be to teach our children how to ask and answer the right questions. In their school classrooms, they are being taught to think critically, analyze, research, and draw conclusions on their own on all sorts of topics, but too often, we aren’t doing the same in Sunday School and GOYA.

 

This means we need to create a space to hear their questions, their doubts, and their personal opinions even if they are not fully in line with the Church’s teaching. While remaining unwavering in our own devotion to the teachings of Christ in His Church, we need to be prepared to let our young people disagree with us, challenge us, and come to terms with the Church’s teaching in their own way. We do not need to be afraid of doubt. Doubt is a catalyst for deeper faith when we view it as a calling to know Christ more intimately rather than as a challenge to an ethical or institutional expectation.

 

We want our kids to ask the tough questions (and find the answers to them) in the context of our unconditional love with peers and mentors that pray for them and desire that they come to know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That way, they are prepared to face the challenges and questions which they will inevitably face on campus when the context is less than supportive and the questions are not posed to sharpen their faith but to tear it down.

They need to know Christ.

As Kinnaman points out, the real problem with our young people is not that college life turned them from faith to unbelief, but that their faith was weak when they arrived on campus. Like the seed that falls on stony ground and is easily uprooted in the parable of the sower, the faith of too many of our young people is not deeply rooted in their hearts.

 

It is our responsibility as parents and teachers to make sure that our kids don’t just know about Jesus, as if He were a character in a novel or a subject to be studied in a textbook, but know Him personally in prayer and worship. Bring them to liturgy. Say morning and evening prayers as a family. Pray at the table. Read Scripture. Introduce your children to the saints who love Christ with all their being. Turn to God in prayer in times of distress and in times of thanksgiving. When they are raised in an environment where Christ is always at the center, our children will come to know Him and rely upon Him truly, and they will not be swayed by the world when its temptations combat them.

 

Our children will face all sorts of challenges--both expected and unexpected--when they leave our homes and go out on their own. It’s inevitable. But these challenges need not be feared. If our children are raised with love and forgiveness, given the chance to ask tough questions, and have met Christ themselves, the trials of college will be the fire in which their faith becomes purified like gold in a furnace rather than the place where it is burned up like chaff.

 

May it be so, and may God bless you and your children as they enter college life.

 

Photo credits:

 

College: Depositphotos

 

Love: Depositphotos

 

Thinking: Depositphotos

 

Jesus: Depositphotos

Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) is the campus ministry agency of the Assembly of Bishops. To make sure your students are connected to an OCF chapter this fall, visit our website at www.ocf.net/firstfortydays to submit their contact information.

 

Christina Andresen serves as the Manager of Chapter Relations for OCF. She loves working with students to help them grow in faith as leaders on campus, in the Church, and in the world. She currently lives in Dallas, TX with her OCF sweetheart Daniel (they met on Real Break) and their daughters.

 

Escaping Hubris Through Failure - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

I have the best wife ever. For my 31st birthday, she planned a trip for a handful of friends and me to go to an escape room, which is basically a live-version video game.

Eight of us were told that we were FBI agents whose colleague had been killed while trying to rescue a kidnapped young girl, Judy Bates. The kidnappers, alarmed by the FBI’s presence, escaped with the girl and strapped a bomb to her chest, setting the timer for one hour. We, the remaining agents, had the hour to decipher a set of clues strewn about the room in order to discover the girl’s whereabouts, disarm the bomb, and rescue her.

We failed. And it sucked.

Don’t get me wrong. I had fun and all - hanging with friends, solving puzzles, feeling super smart when we figured out all the clues to unlock the door. But failing to save Judy was a major disappointment and somewhat of an embarrassment.

Mind you, this particular mission has only a 5% success rate, so it wasn’t too surprising that we didn’t finish, but part of the reason I chose this mission was because of the 5% success rate. I wanted to be exceptional. And we weren’t.

We were like 95% of people: failures.

At least it was hard not to feel that way. After all: it was just a game.

I don’t know if I’m the only one who struggles with hubris, but I tell you, losing this game became a very quick ego-check for me. And you know what? I’m grateful. I’m grateful for this failure.

Last week, I wrote about how watching scary things in movies can actually be practice for being brave. This week, I’m thinking that losing in games is actually practice for humility.

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the reality that one day I’m going to die. There’s no escaping it. And this scares me.

In part, it scares me because I don’t like the idea of being reduced to nothing. I don’t like the idea of not being able to talk. I don’t like the idea of not being able to eat. I don’t like the idea of not being able to do anything except to wait and hope that God will raise me up.

But that day is coming.

I run around my life so preoccupied with making myself look good, so worried about someone knowing when I’ve done something brilliant or accomplished something difficult, but the reality is that there is a day coming when I will no longer be able to boast in accomplishing anything. I’ll experience in my bones the reality that it is God Who is going to have to work in me. I have no life in and from myself.

Losing at the escape room gave me a taste of that reality. It helped me practice humility, admitting that there are some things I just cannot do.

I am not God.

Shocker. I know.

But still, these defeats are painful because I walk around in my life with such a falsely inflated sense of self, believing that I am (or at least that I ought to be) capable of doing all things. It is difficult to stand at the end of oneself and to admit defeat, to say, “God, I can’t. You can. Help.”

In a sense, my failures are the very things that save me, because only when I am weak, can I truly receive God’s grace.

To quote St. Paul, “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). It is truly only to the extent that I am willing to see my own weakness, to see my own frailty and failure that I am able to comprehend the height of God’s power and the depth of God’s love.

Therefore, I will see such failures, such frustrating losses as gains in the knowledge of God and the experience of God’s love, teaching me to wait patiently on Him who can do all things, including raise the dead.

He is my only hope; I cannot hope in myself, and I would be a fool to do so. And it was the escape room that taught me I can only escape my hubris by being willing to fail.

Photo Credit:

Man Falling: Despositphotos

Man with Computer: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

______________

Why Long Distance Relationships Fail

Nearly all of my friends are or have been in long distance relationships, especially my Orthodox friends. But even besides romance, my generation knows well the pain of seeing friends move across the country or even abroad. We have all sorts of technology to keep us connected, but it can still be hard to keep our relationships as strong as they were before.

We might look back at the days when we could just spend hours together: talking, hanging out, going through the routine of life together. But now, we’re so far apart that we have to schedule small windows of time to even catch up. And once we get time together, we wish we never had to part again.

Isn’t this how we feel with God, too? When we go through a period where we aren’t as prayerful as we’d like, we feel relief and comfort when we return to regular prayer. After all, our relationship with Christ isn’t completely different from these other relationships in our lives.

Scripture and the Tradition of the Church compare our relationship with God to a marriage. The Old Testament book Song of Songs is a love story about King Solomon and his Shulamite bride, but the Church lifts it up as a symbol of Jesus Christ and the Church (or even our own soul). When the Israelites would rebel against God and turn to other gods, He would compare it to adultery because they turned to another love. Even the word the Church Fathers use to discuss our love for God is the same word used for romantic love: eros. This shows us that our relationship with Christ is one which requires us to give of ourselves, and one which also takes sacrifice and intimacy. We can’t let our love for Christ stay a long distance relationship.

So let’s look at some reasons many long distance relationships fail, and see how we can apply the same logic to our relationship with Christ.

1. We let communication become a burden

Without the regularity of seeing one another on a daily basis, communication between two people often has to be scheduled out. Though a schedule isn’t a bad thing, it has the temptation of eventually making communication a chore or a ritual that turns a relationship into a burden.

If we aren’t spending time with Christ in church on a regular basis, eventually church will feel like a chore when we actually do go. If we aren’t praying daily, prayer will begin to feel like a burden. Saint Porphyrios reminds us of the real aim of the Christian life even when prayer begins to feel like this. “The point is not to observe all the outward forms. The essence of the matter is for us to be with Christ; for our soul to wake up and love Christ and become holy. To abandon herself to divine eros.” (Wounded by Love, p.96) Sometimes we get stuck on the outward form of prayer, simply scheduling in time for a required conversation, and we forget that our aim is to spend time with a Person, Jesus Christ.

So how do we keep any relationship from becoming a burden? We need to seek out as many opportunities to spend time with one another face-to-face. When we are together, we need to be fully present with the other and see it as an opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship. So when we go to church, we shouldn’t see it as a thing to check off of our to do list. Church is an opportunity to experience the love of Christ. And our relationship with Christ can’t be contained only to a few hours scheduled out once a week. We need to call upon Him and thank Him throughout the day in little ways so that we can always be near to Him.

2. We don’t sacrifice for each other

Every relationship requires mutual sacrifice. This might mean a sacrifice of time or comfort in order to spend time with each other. Or, we sacrifice our “right” to always be right and to admit that we’re (even if only sometimes) wrong. And it’s the same with our relationship with Christ.

The beauty of the Gospel is that God has always been sacrificing Himself to be closer to us. He was never content with a long distance relationship with you or with me. He took on humanity and died on the cross and rose from the dead just so He could be with us, forever. He doesn’t need an equal sacrifice from us – this is the gift of grace – but there are things we can do to offer ourselves back to Him.

Sleep on Sunday morning might be a sacrifice. We all need sleep, and most of us don’t get enough of it. Sunday might be your only day to sleep in, so maybe your sacrifice in this relationship is waking up early to go to Liturgy. When we make sacrifices for the One we love, however small, we aren’t just giving up something, we are gaining the gift of the Other, we are sharing our life with the Other.

3. We turn the person into an idea

The longer I’m apart from people, the more I can’t quite remember what they look like. I mean sure, I would know them if I saw them, but I can’t say I could actually describe them. And then there’s the problem where we either remember only the good times or only the bad times. We begin to paint the other as either an ideal human being, or we turn them into a person we can justify stepping away from.

If I’m not spending time with God in prayer, if I’m not spending time with Christ in the Liturgy, I’m going to come up with my own ideas of Him. If I’m not getting to know God as He is, I’m going to create Him after my own ego, after my own image. So I’ll either paint a god who condemns my enemies and justifies my sins, or I’ll make a god whose image I can justify defacing in favor of the knowledge of the world.

The problem with turning a person into an idea is that it’s just not reality. I cannot be known in hypotheticals or by someone remembering me as I was in the past. I have to be encountered as I am today. So if I want to know and encounter God, I have to meet Him where He is; I have to meet Him in the chalice.

*****

No one is saying a long distance relationship cannot work. We just know it will take determination and the confidence that the relationship at hand actually matters. And it’s the same with our relationship with God. Either we put the time into the relationship, or we don’t. Either we spend time with God in prayer and in the Liturgy, or we don’t. May we be watchful that prayer does not become a burden, aware of the need to offer ourselves to God, and mindful of the temptation to turn God into just another idea. So reach out to Christ! Don’t let your relationship with Him stay long distance.

Have you found yourself being distant from God recently? How can you grow closer to Christ today?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

______________

Why I Let My Daughter Be Scared - Pop Culture Espresso Shots

Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

– G.K. Chesteron

On Father’s Day, my five-year-old daughter and I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens together. Admittedly, there are some incredibly dark and frightening aspects to the movie, but she was doing fine until Kylo Ren killed his own father, Han Solo. Then, all manner of craziness broke out in our home.

Distraught by Kylo’s patricide, she ran to her mother, who comforted her with reassuring hugs and affirmation of her feelings: “That is sad! I don’t like that part either!” After calming down, my little one came back to the living room and wanted to finish the movie. She was reassured by the end of it all when Luke and Rey finally meet.

Not two days later, my darling little girl was asking to watch the movie again but stated that she wanted to fast forward through the scary part where Kylo Ren kills his daddy.

This also happened as we were watching Beauty and the Beast just last week. She got scared at several parts and also started crying with ear-shattering volume, “I don’t want to watch this! I don’t like it; fast forward!”

I have to admit that I’m torn about whether or not fast-forwarding through the scary parts is the best idea.

Now before you go thinking that I like subjecting my children to terrifying images or that I’m advocating anyone else do likewise, I’m not. All I’m saying is that perhaps by giving into fear and fast-forwarding through the scary parts of movies and stories, we are actually simply serving and reinforcing fear. I wonder if I’m missing out on an opportunity to walk through fear with my daughter and to show her that we can emerge on the other side.

The reality of life is that the world is scary. It seems like it’s almost every other day that we get news of another mass shooting or suicide bombing. As a parent and a traveling dad, I must admit that I’m nervous any time anyone in my family (my girls or myself) leaves the house. I hate that I can’t go to a movie theater or a crowded place without wondering, “Is this the day I die?”

Sadly. This is the world now. And I have two options: face it or hide from it. Unfortunately, I’m learning that no matter what, I can’t hide from it; I can’t just fast forward through the scary parts.

I have to learn to sit in the tension of not knowing whether or not I’ll see my family after my next flight. And then I still have to go to the airport. I have to go through the scary parts.

The older my daughter gets, the more I want to teach her that fear is nothing to be afraid of. It is just an emotion, a powerful one, but an emotion nonetheless. It comes and goes, and ultimately, it is simply false because as I’ve said before: Jesus wins.

Even though Kylo Ren kills his father, I’m strongly confident that by the end of the Star Wars saga, we will see the Light Side of the Force prevail.

Even though Beauty and the Beast is full of terrifying parts (even as an adult), the movie ends as love defeats death and gives a beast his humanity.

These stories are powerful because they teach us that evil will lose, and therefore we need not be afraid. And as a husband and a father who knows he cannot completely protect the ones he loves, this is a lesson I need to practice over and over again, and it is a lesson I need to instill in the hearts of my girls.

We need to know that dragons can be beaten.

We need to know that dragons will be beaten.

So maybe I’m not so torn about this whole fast-forwarding thing anymore; maybe it’s just best to let these stories work on our hearts, to learn the hard lesson over and over again that the bad guys simply cannot win, no matter how scary it gets.

We just have to hang in there and see it through, all the way to the end.

Photo Credit:

Kylo Ren: botisaurusrex via Compfight cc

Dragon: Depositphotos

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

Reflections on a Modern Saint

We all need heroes. We all look to someone in the hope that even we, too, might do something great one day. Characters like Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and even Cinderella point to our fascination with the seemingly normal person doing extraordinary things. We watch TV and are captivated by the stories of the “average Joe” making something of himself or rising to athletic stardom.

But what about the spiritual life? Who can we look to if we want to see lives well-lived? So often, we turn living a spiritual life into an impossible task; so impossible that really only Jesus could do it. We forget that after His ascension, Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and the grace to live lives dedicated to Him. He gave us the Church so that we could live out community as His Body.

But what does a holy life look like in the twenty-first century? We tell ourselves, “Sure, people could live holy lives in the fourth century…there was no TV, internet, or any of the other temptations of our day!” We doubt there are any saints who could have understood the struggles that we face.

When I became Orthodox as a teen, I was relieved that I no longer had to be in this fight alone. I was joining a team of Orthodox Christians from all over the world striving to know Christ and to live the Christian life. And not only that, I was joining a community that stretches past the grave to embrace all those who came before us, all the saints who are part of this same Body of Christ.

So I’ve made a point to get to know the saints, especially saints whose lives resembled my own or who faced similar concerns, temptations, or circumstances as I have. Particularly important to me are modern saints (those who were alive in the last century) like St. Arsenios of Cappadocia +1924, St. Nektarios of Aegina +1920, St. George Karslidis of Drama +1959, St. Maria Skobtsova of Paris +1945, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr +1918, and St. Philoumenos of Jacob’s Well +1979. And then there’s even more recent saints like St. Porphyrios +1991 and St. Paisios +1994 (both of Mount Athos).

Since we remembered St. Paisios of Mount Athos on July 12, let’s take a look at his teachings on prayer and what they can tell us about living Orthodox Christian lives today.

St. Paisios was devoted to a life of prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. He knew that he could be of no help to others if he didn’t have that strong connection to Jesus first. It was only after being filled with the fruits that come from that relationship with Christ that he was able to give back to those who came to him for guidance. So he turned first to scripture and to the saints to help him. He recommended that people read scripture or a saint’s teachings before rising for prayer. This is especially helpful for those of us who struggle with wandering thoughts during prayer.

One of my favorite things about the modern elders like St. Paisios and St. Porphyrios is that they were constantly telling stories from their own lives that helped make sense of spiritual teachings. And they knew what it was like to live in our modern world; they too struggled to live Orthodox Christian lives and even lived into the 1990s.

One time when St. Paisios was discussing the importance of prayer, he told a story from his time in the army.

When I was in the army, during the war, I was a radio operator. I noticed that we felt secure only when we communicated with the Army Division on an hourly basis. When our communication was limited to every two hours, we felt a little bit insecure; sometimes, when we could only be in touch with them twice a day, we felt uncomfortable, lonely and lost. The same thing applies to our prayer. The more we pray, the more secure we feel, on a spiritual basis, of course.

Can you remember the last time you had to go without your cell phone? What about a time you drove through an area without any cell service? In moments like this, it’s so easy to find ourselves worrying about what calls or text messages we might miss or all the other what-ifs of not having a phone when you need one. But as soon as we’re back with service and have a phone in hand, we go right back to our endless scrolling of social media. And back to our desire to stay connected. St. Paisios knew that desire for staying connected too, but he brings our attention to the one and only source that will never disappoint: Christ.

If I want to feel safe and secure, I need to stay connected to Christ. Only in Him do I find true life and peace. Only in Christ do I find what I’m actually looking for when I’m seeking validation and connection all around me. So I need to stay in constant contact with Him, especially living in our world that is so full of distractions and temptations to follow after other things.

And don’t forget, St. Paisios is one of the saints who inspired the Be the Bee series! He said that Orthodox Christians ought to be like the bee (looking for the sweet things) instead of like the fly (landing on and focusing on the bad) as we maneuver through our modern world. So if you’ve benefitted from Be the Bee, give thanks to God for His guidance through the life and teachings of St. Paisios.  

*****

In my summer after seminary, I was able to visit the grave of St. Paisios with my classmates. Visiting him was so special for me it was like going up to my grandfather and receiving his loving embrace. And even now, being able to venerate a bit of soil from his grave brings me closer to him as he pulls me into the embrace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that you too will get to know St. Paisios for yourself, and that you will read his teachings as well. Remember, we are all called to be saints. Even and especially today.

Have you gotten to know some of our modern Orthodox saints? What saint’s life reminds you the most of your own?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

______________

Christian Gonzalez
Posts: 58
Stars: 8
Date: 7/27/16
Sam Williams
Posts: 32
Stars: 0
Date: 7/20/16
Family Care
Posts: 4
Stars: 0
Date: 7/1/16
Maria Pappas
Posts: 7
Stars: 0
Date: 7/1/16
Melissa Tsongranis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 5/15/16
Stavroula Savelidis
Posts: 1
Stars: 0
Date: 5/13/16
Steven Christoforou
Posts: 22
Stars: 0
Date: 4/25/16
Fr. Nathanael Symeonides
Posts: 14
Stars: 1
Date: 4/15/16
Jamil Samara
Posts: 12
Stars: 0
Date: 3/23/16
Dr. Tony Vrame
Posts: 20
Stars: 1
Date: 3/19/16