Thursday, May 17, 2012

Glazed Good News - How Handing Out Donuts Transformed My Ministry (And My Heart)

Last fall, I approached the administration at a local high school with this question:

How can we be partners in loving and growing the teens in our neighborhoods?

Now, I've approached schools before and never been able to have a conversation. Perhaps the title of "pastor" was a red flag to them, potentially from bad experiences with churches in the past. I told this school that our agenda was not to proselytize, nor to manipulate with a bait-and-switch tactic of getting more students to come to our church. The agenda was simple and clear: we want to love this school, whatever it takes.

So I asked them what their current needs were. Due to Mesa public schools shifting from a three-year to four-year high school this past year, the already-crowded school had been inundated with a few hundred more underclassmen. The current bus system dropped many of these students off 60-90 minutes before classes began, leaving hundreds of students on campus unattended and unable to get into classrooms. Students lined hallways, packed the tiny cafeteria, and found pretty much anywhere they could to sit or hang out. Many (apparently) would leave campus, despite rules against this. The current security team and teachers couldn't manage to keep an eye on all 1000+ students spread all over the campus for those 60-90 minutes.

The administration wondered if some caring adults would be willing to be on campus for an hour, even just once a week.

It was a tangible need that no one was fulfilling.

So we met that need.

Since January, myself and the Mesa Young Life director (along with a few adult volunteers) have been showing up on campus every Thursday morning an hour before classes start and handing out free donuts. That's it. Hand out a donut, meet some new students, remember names, and be an adult presence on campus. Students, teachers, security guards, and principals have all been surprisingly grateful and blessed by the effort. At first, students were incredibly wary and cautious. Who were these adults, and what was their agenda? I was often ignored or brushed off. But months of being "that donut guy" turned into "Hey Joel! How's it going? Got some more donuts?"

Being good news doesn't have to be complicated. It simply requires asking a question--what need can we fill?--then consistently following up and meeting that need. Sure, it requires risk and sacrifice. I woke up extra early every Thursday morning to be away from my family and surround myself with crowds of high school students. Yet this entire experience has been deeply transforming and a personal blessing. I was deeply nervous to hang out with students who didn't know me as the youth pastor, who just saw me as some guy who was friendly and seemed to care about them and had some donuts.

I realized that I could preach "go and be the good news" all I wanted to our students, but it didn't make a difference if I wasn't willing to practice what I preached. I've now built relationships with students and faculty that never would have happened if I had stayed on our church's property. I just signed up to be an official volunteer with the high school through the public school system, which will allow me to be on campus on a regular basis starting in the fall semester. My only agenda: love the school. It's only a small step, but it has transformed my heart, and I'm hoping will transform our community.

How can you be good news in your community and neighborhoods? What are some ways for you to spread ministry beyond your church walls?

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