Choosing Hope

Choosing Hope_Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

This week our church had the privilege of welcoming Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis for a community event here in her home town of Greenwich, CT.

She is the is the author of Choosing Hope: Moving Forward From Life’s Darkest Hours and the Executive Director & Founder of Classes 4 Classes. https://classes4classes.org/

A local newspaper, the Greenwich Sentinel did a nice job covering event and you can watch a brief recap here:

https://www.greenwichsentinel.com/2016/02/25/former-sandy-hook-teacher-inspires-encourages-hope/

Kaitlin is a wonderful example of how a person who suffered through a horrific tragedy is able to move forward..not necessarily move on.

On December 14, 2012 gun shots sounded throughout the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It was indeed a dark day for America and a day of unimaginable pain and loss for the parents of the innocent children whose lives were taken from them.

While my wife Lauretta and I welcomed our twin boys Jack and Blake into the world that same morning, we were simultaneously reading the reports of that attack back home.  Our faces were flooded with tears of joy (for the new life brought into the world) and tears of profound sadness (for the parents who would never hold their children again in this life).

It was a day that we will never forget, nor will Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis

Kaitlin was there that day, fulfilling her life-long goal working as a teacher.  Her heroic actions saved the lives of her 15 first-graders that day and she shared with us last evening the emotions and thoughts swirling through her mind during those life-and-death minutes between the shooter’s first fire and the SWAT team’s rescue.

I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty in sharing just how frightened and virtually crippled that day made her and how it was a long and painful process towards healing.  Through prayer and the immense support of family and friends, Kaitlin was able to move beyond that fateful day and not let that dark moment define her future.  She now seeks to help others do the same.

Through a powerful array of inspiration stories, poems, quotations and personal reflections, Kaitlin is able to offer a message of hope to all who have gone through difficult and dark times.  Each day we have an opportunity before us to choose hope.  This choice, as she states, is not always easy but is possible and helpful to bring healing. We cannot control the situations surround us, especially the choices and actions of others.  However we can choose our attitudes and actions and how we respond to situations and circumstances.  We will respond with fear and despair (which is crippling) or hope? (which is life-giving).  In her own words:  “Bad things happen to all of us, things that test us and impact us and change us, but it is not those moments that define.  It is how we choose to react to them that does.”

I believe that part of her own journey towards healing and health, was found in writing her story…as many survivors have done after tragedies.

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http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Hope-Moving-Forward-Darkest/dp/0399174451

By going through this process, she was able to reflect on her life’s purpose and calling to be an educator and advocate for children.   Though no longer teaching in one particular school, Kaitlin now educates children, teachers and schools across the nation. Her messages are still about choosing hope, but now Kaitlin is able to leverage her influence and use her platform for another vision.  Her organization Classes 4 Classes believes that “when we teach kids empathy and tolerance there is no room for hate.”

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Classes 4 Classes provides a social network that promotes kindness and social curriculum by connecting teachers and students with other classrooms. Now in 10 states nationally, this Pay-it-Forward grass roots movement is exciting and much needed in our country and globally.  Part of Kaitlin’s vision is to see this movement of connectivity, compassion, kindness and generosity spread across the world.

Many people, such as myself, believe that education is a foundation of flourishing for any society.  Today’s children are indeed tomorrow’s leaders and Classes 4 Classes has a great opportunity of making a positive impact through developing life-long friendships that cross sociology-economic, cultural, racial and ethnic lines.   This is a beautiful and bold vision, which I am honored to bring awareness about and advocate for.

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I was honored that she was willing to speak at our church and it was a true delight to facilitate a thoughtful and inspiring Q &A session following her presentation.  I consider her a friend, partner and colleague as together we strive to bring a message of hope into our schools, churches, families and societies.

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Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

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Let me begin by saying I really, really appreciate this book and applaud Brock for writing it and the good folk at The Youth Cartel for publishing it.

This book should be on the shelf of all youth workers in the U.S and I think Europe as well…but more on that later.

I have known Brock for a number of years and actually sat down with him over coffee (at the same Starbucks he meets his students)

He was very helpful during my decision and transition to leave youth ministry in the US and experiment with it here in France.

I remember Brock sharing about his call to Trinity Church in Greenwich and my honest wondering how he would make the transition from the glitz and glamour of youth ministry in Southern California to the challenging world of postmodernism and post-Christian world in the Northeast.  I had been serving as youth pastor for 10 years in the neighboring town of Bedford, NY and so understood full well the implications of postmodernism in society, the church, and especially with student ministry.

Many are called and few make it.

Brock transitioned well.  He gets it.

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You may not agree with everything he says in the book and I would bet it is because your ministry context is vastly different from his in the metro NYC über wealthy, highly intelligent and often antagonist culture riddled with cynicism, skepticism and secularism.

Because Brock is truly a practitioner of youth ministry, he unpacks the real issues facing today’s post-Christian teenagers better than anyone else I have read.  He really understands his context including the challenges facing the message of Christianity..or at least the image of Christianity.

You may think your environment is nothing like Brock’s and you may be correct...for now

Statistics and social experts correctly predicted that the Northeast of the United States would follow the trends in Europe.  This has already happened and will eventually sweep through the rest of the United States, hitting urban areas and both Coasts first before merging in the middle and …wait for it…actually impacting the “Bible Belt” of America’s heartland.

Whether you like it or not, we will be living in an ever-increasing post-Christian society.

Here in Europe, and especially in France, Christendom has long since evaporated and I would argue that for the best 25+ years students and churches have been experiencing what Brock describes is now happening in his area.

So, if you live in the Northeast, the first few chapters of the book you will understand because it is the reality in which you are serving. These chapters will be crucial for those trying to discern where society and culture is heading in the next 5-10 years.

For me, the chapter “The Way Forward: Response to a post-christian world” is paramount.

Brock argues that youth workers must embrace Christian relativism, embrace tolerance, embrace spirituality, embrace intellectualism, embrace mystery, embrace the miraculous and embrace answers.

Of course he unpacks each one with stories and strong theological arguments while remaining unwavering in his focus on Christ and passion to see students embrace and encounter Jesus.

In the chapter “A New of Mission”, Brock shares about moving away from an agenda of conversion to full engagement in the community. “We don’t serve to get people saved. We serve because we are saved.”

This indeed is a radical paradigm shift, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of God’s grace and blessing to the world in which we live.

In the chapter “A New Measurement for Success” Brock brilliantly and carefully attacks the numbers game of youth ministry in favor of relational and spiritual development as measures of a healthy youth ministry (and youth pastor) “My relationship with Jesus is my ministry”, and we are challenged and called to truly live out our faith with our students in honesty, transparency, authenticity and grace.

Brock Morgan has a challenging task and he approaches it as a missionary. Brock stands outside of the post-christian culture and observes as a missiologist and then delves into that world with optimism and hope.

From the stories I hear, God’s Spirit is truly moving among his church and youth ministry in Greenwich.

After finishing the book, a few questions linger.

I wonder if this approach is still valid for a society already gone through this shift away from Christianity.  Though hard to disagree with the movements in England, in France and other parts in Europe the history of the Church is so sullen people have lost faith. Whereas in the U.K and U.S, the church and state have not really been separated, a nation like France nationally split from the Church and makes it almost illegal to display one’s personal faith publicly.

I also wonder what youth ministry will look like as the next generation rises up in leadership, a generation itself raised in post-Christian values and worldview.

Around 10 years younger than Brock, I find myself actually on the cusp of a generational divide.  While others approach youth ministry from the vantage point of missiology, the time is coming when words like “progressive” and “post-modern” will define not only students but leaders as well.

What will faithfulness to God’s work in youth ministry need to look like for those who honestly question traditional beliefs and practices while embracing skepticism, tolerance, pluralism, inter-faith partnerships, social equality in all forms, and Biblical “openness”?

It is still to been seen how post-christian youth workers can embody a new kind of youth ministry.

That book has yet to be written……