Remembering our past

In South Africa, June 16 is Youth Day. It is a day where we honour and remember the hundreds of young people who lost their lives during the devastating events in Soweto on 16 June 1976. These young people were slaughtered for revolting against cruel apartheid education policies that were unjustly affecting poor, black students from rural communities.

While we mourn the sacred lives that were lost, we remember their courage to stand up and fight against the injustices they were facing at the time. Their actions ultimately led to changes being implemented in the Education Act that young South Africans are still benefiting from today.

Living in the present

As we remember the heartbreaking stories of our past, we consider the many struggles that young people are facing today. The hashtags #MeToo, #FeesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter and #MenAreTrash are all too familiar to us. These topics elicit all sorts of responses, but the hurt that young people are experiencing is undeniable.

It is appropriate also to mention that the world is celebrating Pride Month in June. Many young LGBTIQ+ people still do not feel comfortable sharing their story with others, particularly with people that they should be able to trust like their teachers, parents and pastors. Regardless of your views on this issue, it is affecting millions of young people all around the world. If we are not earnestly listening to their struggles, we risk pushing them away and losing any chance of ministering to them in the future.

In an age where depression, anxiety, sexual abuse and bullying are at their peak, young people need to be loved, honoured and heard in their journey through the roller coaster that is life. What better opportunity, as Christ followers, could we hope for than to introduce the young people of South Africa to the God who loves, honours and hears their cries?

You can make a difference

Our God is compassionate and assists us in grieving with those who are hurting. One of the most effective ways that we can honour the youth of today is with our ears. In his book, Compassionate Caring, South African Minister and author Trevor Hudson identifies three key ingredients that we can utilize to support those struggling in situations of turmoil.

Learning to be present

“In our distracted, frantic and hurried lifestyles we are often not truly present to those around us.”

It is important to be physically present to those who need us. However, while we are often physically present, our minds are elsewhere.

In Mark 14, we encounter a story where Jesus’ disciples are not truly present when their Lord needs them. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he retreats with his friends to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks his companions to keep him company, to sit with him and stay awake. Unfortunately, the disciples let Jesus down three times by drowsing off and not being present where they are.

Being truly present involves letting go of our constant preoccupations, immersing ourselves in the here and now and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to what is at hand. When with those in need, it means engaging with him or her with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. This requires much patience, time and effort, but is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to those around us.

Learning to listen

“If we intend to put our lives alongside those who suffer and reflect to them the compassion of Christ, our presence must always be a listening one.”

It is nearly impossible to show real compassion unless we first take time to listen. Even though our intentions might be good, when we do not listen well, others feel isolated, unaccepted and unloved. As James declares, we should be “slow to speak and quick to listen” (James 1:19).

While some people seem naturally gifted as listeners, most of us need to develop this vital gateway to compassion. Learning to listen involves practice. It involves less talking, more silent listening; less judging, more understanding.

“The most healing gift you can give to someone in pain is the awareness that you are honestly trying to understand what they are going through, even if you get it wrong.”

Learning to notice

“Christ-followers live in the faith that the Divine Presence inter-penetrates all of our lives.”

God’s grace is working all around us – in nature, in our lives, in the lives of our youth. It is one of our greatest joys as Christ-followers to notice God’s grace and assist others to do the same.

While God is all around, we meet God particularly in our interactions with those who suffer. We learn this from Jesus himself who, as God in flesh, identifies deeply with suffering men and women. He touches the leper, befriends the outcast, delivers the oppressed, welcomes the sinner and forgives the guilty. On the cross, he becomes one with all who feel devastated or abandoned. In his resurrection, he invites all of us to join him in being vessels of God’s compassion and love to those who are hurting today.

In what ways can we better show the love and compassion of Christ to our young people in a world that is extremely daunting and often overwhelming at times?