Youth Ministry Heroes

Olivia Bartel is director of Camp Mennoscah in Murdock, Kansas.
Olivia Bartel is director of Camp Mennoscah in Murdock, Kansas.

By Olivia Bartel

Folks in youth ministry, paid or laypeople, are amazing. They are stalwart and prayerful, passionate and mischievous, generous and caring. They are the people who mentor the youth in our churches.  They tend to work many more hours than they are paid and volunteer endlessly.  Some have large youth groups and some have very small groups. All of them are striving to grow the youth of the church into committed and faithful adults and leaders.

I first became friends with some of my favorite people four years ago. These friends are part of the Youth Ministry Council. The group changes from year to year, though there are some long-time attendees.  We spend two full days (plus a smidgen of two more days) discussing, debating, struggling, and rejoicing in the work that we do in youth ministry. I’m there to represent the Mennonite and Anabaptist camps as a member of the Mennonite Camping Association board.

The Youth Ministry Council attendees come from across the United States. May 12 – 15 there were friends from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, a sizeable group from Kansas, Arizona, and from any number of other states. We came as youth pastors, agency representatives, conference pastors, and simply those interested or involved in faith formation for children and youth.

We are all different.  We live in different areas.  We do youth ministry in different ways.  We look at faith from different perspectives.   But we are all absolutely certain in one thing, that children and youth are worth the effort and heartbreak and worry and celebration that it takes to share our faith and church community.

I am privileged to know people I would never meet otherwise, if for no other reason than they live far away. Curt shared a bite of his pumpkin scone with me.  Jon, Carrie, and I ran in the mornings.  Jesse, Cedric, Rachel, and a whole horde of other folks walked the streets of Kansas City in search of barbeque with me.  I listened to their stories, some of which are so much like camp stories and some which are nothing like any experience I’ve had. They listened to mine.

They renew me.  They give me hope.  Their great faith in God and in their youth inspires me.

I think about the people who volunteer their time each summer at Camp Mennoscah as program directors, counselors, cooks, nurses, summer staff, board members, and in so many other roles throughout the year.  They, too, have great faith in God and in youth.  Each person cares so much for the campers and other staff that are at camp.  They share their faith stories.  They struggle with doubt and fret about a multitude of issues.  They play pranks and tell bad jokes.

These Camp Mennoscah people inspire me in their dedication to our camping ministry.  It’s not easy working with children and youth (or even just people in general), and yet they persist in creating a fun and meaningful experience.

I cheer for them.  I do a happy dance for them.  I can’t wait to see what adventures we have this summer.  Hooray (and thank you) for all youth ministry workers!