A friend took issue with my last post, the one about Shepherd King's blessing of the book bags. He recalled his own experience in school - how he was harassed, bullied and beaten up by bigger, more popular boys, the "jocks" especially. He not only went to church every Sunday, he also prayed that these boys would leave him alone, but they kept on making his life hellish. Was God asleep, he asked, or just ignoring him?
It's a good question. I've never understood people who make light of the worries that school children have. It's tough to be a student in a school with several hundred (or thousand) other youth your same age. There are people smarter than you, bigger than you, and with more influence than you. Finding where you fit in, and then staying safe from those who want to ridicule you or abuse you is challenging - challenging each day. Last year one of our kids was regularly humiliated by a teacher in front of the entire class. How is a 12 or 13 year old supposed to deal with that? Some kids bring weapons to school, or drugs; others begin experimenting with sex at a very young age. How are kids supposed to find a safe way through such dangers?
It is because of the dangers kids face at school that I like to open the school year with a communal blessing for them, asking God to go with them into those classrooms, hallways, school bathrooms and other battlefields. It is hard enough to figure out who you are and who you are becoming as a youth without having to endure pressure to drink or have sex because "everyone else is doing it," without having to suffer physical and mental abuse from other students or even teachers. And so we ask God to be present in schools, to encourage those who are weak and unsure, to guide students and teachers alike, to watch out for those who are in trouble and to teach those who are inclined to use power the wrong way.
Prayer is one way we can support young people, teachers, and administrators who are beginning a new school year. At Shepherd King we are also asking members to become mentors to students at our adopted school, Eisenhower Middle School. Mentoring gives a youth someone to talk to, someone neutral who is on his/her side, someone who cares for him/her. Mentors spend time with their assigned student and get to know what is going on in that young person's life. A mentor can ease a student's worries, suggest ways to cope with difficult situations, and talk to school officials on the student's behalf. By being mentors we are not only asking God to bless our school, we are taking steps ourselves to make schools more manageable. When we offer ourselves, God works through us to bring compassion, help, and hope to school children.
If you are interested in becoming a mentor at Eisenhower, call the church office and find out more. And whether or not you become a mentor, please pray for students, teachers, and administrators as the new school year begins.