Occasionally things happen in our world that are hard to ignore when we gather for our weekly programme. We know we can't pretend nothing has happened but we're hesitant about focussing on it more than is necessary or are afraid of saying something that might be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
What happened in Christchurch on Friday is one of those occurrences where we are challenged about what to say to our young people. Some of you will have already made decisions around this as you met this past weekend, while others are planning meetings for this week and still wondering how best to handle this.
The “best” approach will depend on what you deem most helpful for your young people. How you handle this with intermediates will be different from what you might say to older teens. Those of you living in or near Christchurch may have young people with a greater sense of fear and outrage than elsewhere.
Let me offer you some suggestions to reflect on. Firstly, do not ignore this and pretend as though nothing has happened. This is too important. You may not feel it’s necessary to devote a whole programme to discuss this but at very least you should pause and spend time in prayer together for those most affected.
Secondly, the event itself is horrific enough, but it also raises issues about loving people who are different from us – people who look different and have different beliefs. These are issues many of our young people face regularly at school and as such are worth discussing. Challenge them about what it means to love people who are different from them. Look at Jesus’ example as He engaged with the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus and the woman caught in adultery. What can we learn from His approach?
Thirdly, get a sense of what questions are likely to be raised in young people’s minds after Friday’s events. How could God have allowed this to happen? What should our attitude be to people who don’t believe what we believe? How can we on the one hand show love and understanding while on the other hand continue to affirm our beliefs are right and theirs are not? These are questions are young people may be wondering about. Perhaps you could even ask them what questions they have and discuss together how you would answer these questions while holding fast to the truth of God's Word.
Fourthly, our young people are all different and will be responding differently. Some will process what happened internally or in their families and will move on. Others will want to talk about it and how it affected them. Some of your young people may have clicked on the link that was circulating on social media and watched the video of the shooting unfold. I pray not, but if that’s the case there may be a particular depth of trauma they are struggling with. Be sensitive to all these factors and offer the opportunity to talk individually or in small groups with you and your leaders if it’s helpful.
Finally, it was encouraging to read this in an email from one of our Christchurch youth pastors this morning: “We have had great opportunities already to come together as a group, as a church and as a city. As well as unprecedented opportunities to connect with and encourage our Muslim neighbours. Our young people are doing so well!! They’ve been supporting each other and shining a light to their friends and family. I am really proud of them, and proud of our city all together. Please keep praying, this horrible tragedy does present opportunities that we need God to help us navigate.”
I’m praying for you all. Please take a moment to pause now and pray for each other, especially those youth leaders in Christchurch.