(It's Sam again). Friends, last night I was invited to speak at a youth group meeting of the Kanin'ga Church. Mid-week services here are never at the church but in homes. And groups are split according to where they live (otherwise, you'd try to cram over 1,000 kids into a home!!!) I went with my 'brother in crime' Bentry Mhango who gets me into all kinds of trouble. We arrived after the city's electricity had already gone out for a few hours, so we met over flickering candles. (Now, here's the part where you start making comparisons with the youth groups we have in the States). When we arrived the students were all arranged, seated in a circle along the wall of the home. They were dead quiet, a sign of respect for both the dark and the arriving guests. After we were settled one of the students arose (understand, there is no adult here to supervise, the kids are running the show themselves) and says" "We would like to welcome you to our meeting tonight. We pray the Lord will speak to us through your message. Let us arise and sing." Perhaps a little too organized for teens (formal) yet it reflects the true nature of Malawian culture - very formal!!!! The students all rose in unison, and, typically, sang together boisterously. They sat and the program was ours. Bentry led our introductions. He asked, "How much time do we have?" The student responded, "Is 45 minutes okay?" As a teacher (and a long-winded one at that) my heart fluttered with excitement. "Forty-five minutes," I shouted internally, "is it possible????" Only in a place where television is not revered as Lord could one even broach such an attention span. Of course, they were still kids as attentions came and went. I shared from Isaiah 6 that the only way we progress in the Christian life is to "get over ourselves." Isaiah seems to be confronted with that reality in the most stark terms, to say the least. Anyway, following the talk, the students took up an offering for charity (Did you hear what I said, the KIDS took up an offering). We were thanked, and allowed to leave after our time. Then outside we met the leader (not a youth director, just an adult assigned to lead this particular youth meeting). He was on his way in to lead discussion of the lesson. So the meeting didn't end: The fellowship time was afterward over a discussion of the lesson.
Mind you, this was all a shock to me. I've been to the adult versions of these meetings before, but this was the first youth meeting. I was blown away by the formality (but that is more cultural than anything). But I am coming from a "youth group culture" (and as a former leader of one) where the highlight is to see if someone will swallow a goldfish, or the kids ask, "Where are we going?" or "What game have you got for us tonight?" But, in spite of the things that please adult eyes in the youth meeting, there of course is one thing that alarmed me. The kids model what they've seen (which of course, can be good) but to a lot of them, it occured to me that this was an expression of faith (which again, it can be). What I mean is there is very much a syllogistic approach to faith (i.e. "If I do A, then B will happen.") Thus, the performance of "religious duty" is not a reaction to the radical love of our Triune God, but a means of getting Him off their backs. I hope Isaiah helped.