I Have a Dream

Two weeks ago, I met with one of the girls I mentor, who I’ll call Brooklyn. During our meeting, she expressed frustration to me over the fact that as a teenager, she believes she has no power; That there is nothing she can do to fix the world’s problems.

I rebuked the thought and then helped her to brainstorm ways to attack the thing that most makes her blood boil: Wasting food. The next day, I received an e-mail from Brooklyn laying out a plan of attack against this problem. The e-mail ended with the phrase, “I’m going to change the world, Jen.”

Yes, Brooklyn. I believe that you will. And that’s not something that I say or take lightly.

This conversation kept replaying in my head last week as I prepared to lead our ministry’s 30 Hour Famine, a time in which our students and leaders fast for 30 hours in order to “taste” hunger, raise money and awareness to fight world hunger, and serve locally.

Inspired by my conversation with Brooklyn, this year, I wanted students to leave dreaming about the role they might have in God’s Kingdom.

To inspire this kind of dreaming, we spent the weekend talking about justice. We prayed the Lord’s prayer and wrestled with what it means to say, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We looked at the words of the prophet Amos and his call to seek good, not evil. We talked about what it would look like to live in a world in which justice rolled down like waters. We listened to Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes and dreamed about how we might establish that kind of Kingdom here on earth. Then, we read the words spoken by a modern day prophet, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

We used those words and a collection of black and white photos to spark the imaginations of our students, challenging them to answer these questions, “What are your dreams? How might those dreams be part of God’s Kingdom?”

The answers were awe-inspiring.

“I have a dream that size doesn’t matter. Nor does age, sex, color, background, or culture.”

“I have a dream that one day no man will be hungry, there will be no waste, and that children everywhere will be excited for their next family meal.”

“I have a dream that diversity will coexist in America.”

“I dream that one day, everyone will have what they need.”

“I dream that there will be justice in the way people are treated. People will respect others – not just their friends, but elders, those who are handicapped, and the less-fortunate.”

“My dream is that everyone will have a friend that can help them in times of need and a family that can support them.”

Some might call these dreams lofty, or perhaps even frivolous. Others might claim they are impossible to obtain.

Not me. I call them God-sized.

Having been in the room when students spoke these dreams into being, I saw their passion and excitement for them. I felt the presence of God as students shared these dreams with one another, in a moment that could best be described as sacred. I saw the nervousness on their faces as they desperately hoped someone would take their dream seriously.

This brings me to my dream.

I have a dream that my youth ministry will be a place that incubates dreams and allows them to be spoken, nourished, encouraged, and birthed. I have a dream that my youth ministry will be a place that connects students with adults who share their passions and that together, we’ll seek good, not evil and advocate justice for the oppressed. I have a dream that my youth ministry will inspire students to take a risk and to pursue their dreams and that in doing so, our prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven,” will truly become reality.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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