One thing I have learned in my years as a missionary is that language is fluid. Every generation creates its own language within the language. If you lived in the 1920s and wanted to say something was attractive or pleasing, you said, “It’s the berries.” If something was fun it was a “hoot,” and the highest-ranking person in an organization was known as the “big cheese.” By the 1950s we added phrases like “put the kibosh on it” if you wanted to get something stopped. If a person was showing off, people referred to their actions as “grandstanding.” By the 1960s, when we wanted to refer to something that gave us great pleasure, the word “hoot” had been replaced by “gas” or “blast.” When we were in a hurry, we were “bookin’ it” down the street and a bottle opener was now referred to as a “church key.”
I learned a new word today. When students are text-messaging back and forth, they are having a “nonversation.” Texting and instant messaging have opened up a whole new world of coded language. I am still working to learn plain ol’ English.
But normal words have also shifted; for instance, the words “commitment” and “surrender.” This generation has a totally different definition of “commitment” than when I was growing up. My parents taught me that when you made a commitment, you kept it no matter what else came along. Your integrity depended on the way you fulfilled your commitments. But this generation believes you can make many commitments and then choose which (if any) you want to keep.
As a longtime youth minister, if I hosted a carwash to raise money for a mission trip, I might have 30 students sign up to help. On the morning the carwash took place, I stood with bucket in hand, a line of cars . . . and no students. When I called to ask where they were, I almost always heard, “Well, Brother Walker, something else (usually a soccer game or school activity) came up.”
“But you signed up and committed yourself to be here.”
“I know, but another commitment came along.”
I learned to stop using the word “commitment” and ask the students to “surrender” instead. “Will you surrender this Saturday to be here to help with the carwash?” Finally, we were communicating . . . at least I hoped so.
This generation has redefined what it means to be poor. To the average American student, “poor” means you don’t own an iPhone or the latest Playstation console. You may drive a used car or (God forbid) wear hand-me-downs. The poor of the 1920s wasn’t the poor of the 1960s, and the poor of the 1960s is not the poor of 2010. When I was youth pastor at Tulsa, First, I took our students to spend a week in a homeless shelter. We slept on the ground and stood in lines to get our food. That one week did a lot to adjust the students’ definition of “poor.”
The only way I know to readjust today’s students’ language and understanding of what Jesus meant when He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) is to expose them to those who are truly poor. For 35 years, I have taken students to the mission field. We go not only to do mission work, but to learn by experience what it means to be a follower of Christ.
I recently heard from a student who wants to follow Jesus by going to the mission field, but whose parents have refused permission. I have always taught young people to obey their parents even if means staying home. I believe God places authority in our lives to provide protection and direction. But a situation where a parent seems to stand in the way of a child’s obedience to God breaks my heart.
The Lord has used the footage that has been released from Haiti this week to touch this generation in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time. These students stand ready to follow Him to the ends of the Earth. But for every 1,000 tudents who feel called to go, only one set of parents says, “Yes.”
We may need to redefine for this generation of parents what it means to release their children to the Lord. Where are the parents who pray for God to use their sons and daughters and then lay them on the altar for Him? Where are the parents who teach their children that when God speaks to them, the only answer is, “Lord, here am I. Send me?”
I long to see a generation of parents and children who will surrender . . . to Him.
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.