So yesterday was a full 8 hours spent shivering in cloudy, temperamental Northeast Ohio weather to…get wet. With around 25 middle schoolers and 3 other brave adults – we ventured to the defunct SeaWorld turned Wildwater Kingdom water park in Aurora, OH. And more than just a bunch of water slides, wave pools, and beach chairs – it was a huge opportunity with these students.
I know some guys who frown upon going to amusement parks or water parks – and I say why would you pass out hours of standing in line with students – where you have no choice but to be together, talk together, and then finally – have an amazing shared experience together.
I went on this giant ride I term “the toilet bowl” a grand total of way too many times. It was a hit – but it was an amazing shared experience – and broke down barriers in our relationships as a community of middle schoolers striving to follow (or curious about) Jesus. I got to be there as students faced their fear of heights – being a comforter and mirroring God as comforter of us, experience little moments of fun – reminding students that sometimes God gives us those moments where we withdraw from the craziness of our homes and our lives to be with others and enjoy who He made us to be.
I got to float in a lazy river as rain drizzled down and make a student understand I wanted to know who he was – I asked questions about him, what he enjoyed, what his family was like, what he was excited about, what his experience in church was like. Through it all it wasn’t about any agenda but that he felt known and that he mattered. Mirroring the truth of God – that we are known by our Lord and Savior and that Jesus died to bring us back to relationship with Him.
I came home exhausted, worn out, and with a bit too much water in my lungs. But what a day – a day spent with students where we could laugh together, we could face fears together, and that they feel as though they are known.
Middle schoolers need these basic truths modeled – it opens the door for conversations, for more shared experience, and to process what it looks like for us to follow Jesus together. At some point we may have a deep theological discussion – but middle schoolers are in such a weird place. Their minds and bodies are still developing. Its ok to just have fun – to have opportunities to model basic truths so that when they are in a place to understand them – you have a relationship to build on. This doesn’t mean I don’t talk about Jesus – but it is a journey. It may take three years of fun before that life change moment. And that is ok. Its not about a quick turnover prayer – its about an eternal decision of life change – which sometimes takes a bit of fun, fear…and water slides.