Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
As the church spreads, the wards we’re in become more diverse. In wards where there is rapid conversion, such as in many eastern states, you may find yourself teaching a class of teens wearing jeans, pink hair, multiple piercings, and no realization yet of what they’ve signed up for. The Strength of Youth pamphlet may seem to be a foreign language to teens who’ve never encountered such standards. When a youth is more worried about whether or not there will be a house to live in next month, she may be puzzled by your concern over the length of her skirts. If her parents each work two jobs, and she has one herself just to pay for the absolute basics, she may find your discussions on family home evening to be one too many things to do.
The first step to reaching these children from very different backgrounds is to visit their world. Go to their neighborhood and find out what they’re seeing every day. If you’ve always lived in a nice middle income neighborhood, or even in a place where the poor might be scattered throughout nicer neighborhoods, you might be surprised by what you see. Learn what their neighborhood is called and watch the reports on the news.
When I worked in Young Women’s, our leader often planned activities that had the girls working with their hands. Then she asked them questions or just listened quietly while they talked amongst themselves as they worked. As she listened, she gained insights into their world. Our teens spoke casually of things that would have shocked us as teenagers, and listening let us find out how the world had changed. It’s important to listen without judgment if you want them to speak openly in your presence. Just gather your research in the earliest stages and then teach the truth in your classes.
Find out what your youth want and need to learn in your weeknight activities. Do they need practical skills, such as cooking their own dinner while their parents are at work? If money is very tight, would sewing be helpful? First, though, find out if they have machines or if they need to learn hand-sewing. Take nothing for granted. If their world has nothing but necessities, do they long for pretty bedrooms? Help them make gospel appropriate decorations, or teach them to make something from nothing.
Start where they are. If your youth have no extra money, they will not be willing to throw away their immodest clothing, and couldn’t replace it if they did. So, teach them to layer what they have to make it modest, and then how to buy appropriately in the future.
Measure the distance between where many of these young converts are coming from to where they have to go. This can give you a tremendous respect for your youth, and patience as they make their line upon line changes. It’s possible to be unwavering about the teachings while being respectful of the challenges of making these changes. Show them the baby steps and celebrate each one successfully taken.
It may be the hardest calling you’ve ever accepted, but it can also be the most rewarding.