The Kids Downtown

Youth 1

Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids
Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids
They will eat right out of your hand
Using great big words that they don’t understand

-Arcade Fire, "Rococo"-

I had a meeting today with a nice young man who is doing youth work in my city. He filled me in on his work to train volunteer youth ministers and organize some youth outreach events through citywide effort.

One topic that came up, that always comes up when discussing Woodstock youth outreach, is the downtown Square (See my previous post, "The Public Square & Open-Air"). Every day of the week youth are hanging on the Square. They are with their friends, mostly just hanging out, passing time. On Friday and Saturday nights it grows as many youth hang on park benches, in the band gazebo, walking around, etc. 

By all appearances, there's a specific sort of youth in my city that hangs out in our Square. Generally speaking they aren't the kids in letterman's jackets or who attend math club meetings or who run for student council. Just by checking out their clothes and actions and hearing them talk (available to anyone who passes through the Square when they are around), folks see them as rebels, as troublemakers. They are probably the ones without a solid family life. They certainly are the ones who wear different clothes, have emo-ish hair, and, well, you have a picture in your head. Saw one dude who wears thick black all around his eyes. When they pop into Starbucks some adults seem intimidated. They are (again, generally speaking) loud and rude. But that's just by appearances.

But here's the truth, and it hit me like Mack truck today: I don't really know them

Sure, I can tell you what they look like and sound like and how a few of them have irritated me or someone else I know. But I haven't met more than one or two of them. I don't know what they've been through, what their parents are like, or anything else about them. 

So how can we reach them?

The idea most often discussed by pastors/church leaders I've talked to is to start some sort of youth center where they could hang, get a Coke, get tutoring, and so on. It will give them a place to go and things to do. It will keep them out of trouble. I think there's some merit to the idea (though it has problems), but no one has been able to make it happen. This youth guy just told me today of another concerted effort that was made by a local church that fell short on funds to pull it off.

Then I had this radical thought: We should just walk across the street and talk to them. 

It's simple. Anyone can do it. It takes no planning, no property, no rent, no decorating, no keys, no insurance, no staff. They are right there in front of us. It just takes someone who loves Jesus and loves their neighbor and a little time.

As I write this five youth resembling the above description stomped into Starbucks, didn't buy anything (probably no cash), sat in the soft chairs intended to make paying customers comfortable and goofed around loud enough to get shooed away by a barista. But we shouldn't see them as a nuisance to our clean, comfortable lives. We should see them as some of the only people in suburbia who wear their problems on their sleeve. They have issues, often easy to see ones, and we have answers and help. We have the gospel They are a mission field, and they are right across the street. Let's stop planning grand schemes and just go talk to them.