youth group and hitler

I don’t have the energy or discipline required for 6-9th grade boys and girls.  It is exhausting.  But I love them, so every Wednesday night, we gather.
Tonight, with Valentine’s Day coming up I found this cheesy game in an email about collecting hearts and whoever gets the most wins and then some even more cheesier questions and love.  But the follow-up scripture was a very familiar one that is dear to my heart:

You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind.  And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

So we played it.  And it was kind of fun.But then it came the time to talk about it.

We got to talking about who our neighbors were.  Were they just the old couple who lives next door?  Or the cranky mom who won’t let us play basketball?  Just people in our town?  In our county?  In our state?  in the world?

In the way things do happen with this extremely talkative group (which was only boys by this point), we got to talking about “illegal immigrants” (I’m trying very hard to encourage folks to use the term undocumented… many of them actually did come here legally but circumstances have prevented them from going home, renewing visas, etc.) and “terrorists.” 

We started asking whether it was fair to characterize a whole group of people.

We asked if people who do bad things deserve our hatred or our love if we are Christians.

We started wondering about how folks get to the point where they allow terrible things to happen in their own country, like people in Nazi Germany.  We wondered if we would have stood up for our neighbors and faced prison and death on behalf of another person. Would we have gone along, or would we have sacrificed ourselves and our families? 

Would we have tried to leave?  Where would we have gone?  Would we have entered a country illegally if we thought it was our only place of escape and refuge?  Would people have welcomed us or turned us away?  Where are the folks who come here coming from?  Would they have come legally if they had the option?

We found ourselves ending with Deuteronomy 10
Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.

You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.
Reverently respect God, your God, serve him, hold tight to him,
back up your promises with the authority of his name.
He’s your praise! He’s your God!
He did all these tremendous, these staggering things
that you saw with your own eyes.  (The Message, verses 14-21)

It was not at all where we thought the evening would end up… but these kids are smart. And when you can get them to talk one at a time, they have some fascinating things to say. My prayer is that they will go home and never look at their neighbors… the grumpy guy next door, or the strangers who live all around us, or the brothers and sisters we see on the television half way across the world… the same way again.

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