It’s the year 2000 and I’m 17 years old. I’m in California for the first time in my life. I’m at a base for YWAM- Youth With A Mission. I’ve worked hard to earn the money to get there on a trip with a couple dozen peers from my church youth group. There’s a worship service every night and Thursday, the night before we are to take a bus to Tijuana where we’ll perform skits that scores of white kids before us had performed in barrios and on beaches, and eat cinnamon ice cream; where I’ll skip the afternoon game time to go on the street with a couple friends and make good on the money we spent to get here- telling whoever we come across in our midwestern high school spanish, about the love of God. That Thursday night in California the 20 something leader asks anyone who wants to dedicate their life to spreading a message of God’s love in the parts of the world where it hasn’t been heard, to stand up. I stand up, with little hesitation and a sense of profound importance of the moment.
Later that week when Sarah, Mike and I skip out on the frivolity of board games in a dank dormitory, we don’t have much to say theologically to people. It’s not an academically robust message. It’s very simple. We just wanted to tell people about the existence of an immense love. For them. For all of us. Mike turned to us and said, “I feel so alive!” I felt in that moment that I didn’t want to do anything else the rest of my life.
This group of teenagers from the rust belt portion of Indiana, just outside Chicago, evangelical in heritage and trafficking in bad punk rock music, had made an important discovery together. Dan, our twenty-something worship leader, had instituted “the mic of the people” at our youth group worship times, where we could all say…anything. That mic became the place where we discovered our voices. We discovered how it was that we ourselves were interacting with God, with relationships, with things that were important to us. We discovered that we could believe in a God who was love, who was uniting people. We could even follow a God like that. We could even dedicate our lives to a God like that.
This mic was the first place I felt the power of my voice. I felt I could transmit and translate an idea about God that resonated, that ignited something in my friends, in me. I felt connected.