This was my question: Does Young Life work in the Middle East? In other words, does Young Life's recipe of meeting people where they're at, on their turf, on their terms, with no agenda accept to serve as the best representative of Jesus we can be really work in a part of the world where it appears everyone has already made up their mind?
We arrived in Zababdeh to find out. Yousef has been doing Young Life there for two years. Zababdeh is a historically Christian city; it's the traditional place Jesus met and healed the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Currently, the 15,000 Christian and Muslim inhabitants live in relative peace with one another. Together, they suffer the frustrations of Israeli occupation; though it is more like a cloud than an ever-present torment. (I have more I could write about this, but I won't. There is plenty of blame to spread around, including America.)
Back to Zababdeh. We arrived for arabic coffee and dessert. A note on arabic coffee: it's an acquired taste. That's my theory. I haven't acquired it yet. It is more caffeinated sauce than caffeinated beverage. Our team met the Young Life team while I played football (the true international language) in the street. We heard Yousef tell the story of Young Life here, then we walked to Young Life club.
Kids showed up in clumps. Twos, threes, five giggling girls, two shy guys...seventy of them by the time things started. We were in this finished basement of an unfinished house (there was no house).
Hunter did the ice cream hula hoop skit. I've done the same skit for years. It worked like a charm. Kids laughed. Walls were broken down. A Young Life leader led a mixer involving clothes pins. I did the same skit the week before at my club at Forsyth Country Day School!
The leaders played a couple more games, one I might take home with me, then Yousef gave a talk. And just like in the clubs I've been to all over the United States, the kids listened. They were engaged, rapt absorbing every word. It was amazing. It's always amazing.
Watching the leaders hang out with their teenage friends was like watching the way I want my leaders to hang out with their teenage friends here in North Carolina.
We spent the evening with them, laughing, singing, dancing, and telling stories. I told them, Yousef had to translate, that there was no difference in my opinion between these young men and women leaders than the young men and women that lead with me here in America. In my opinion, they could be Young Life leaders in America someday. Yousef said he wouldn't translate that part. I said, "Why?" He said, "It would make them too happy." He told them anyway. They were happy.
Young Life works. I was convinced. But I actually had another experience that gave me personal proof.
The next day we were in Jericho. You know, the place where the walls knocked down. We were at the Oasis hotel, a five star...oasis...in the dessert. It was nice. We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I awkwardly found my way in my shorts past other fully clothed (I mean fully clothed) guests to the gym. I lifted some weights. Pretty much all of them. There weren't that many. Then, ran on the treadmill in kilometers per hour. (It seemed longer than miles per hour). I don't know why.
Anyway, out of the corner of my eye I saw a ping pong table. Now that's what I call five star! I challenged the Keshians to singles. Took Nancy down. Then Rich. I was feeling it. Some Palestinian guys walked in and challenged me. I took on the bigger of the two. I'll call him Raj. I walloped him. But we had a good time. He cussed after every point - in perfect diction. It was great.
Hunter came in and we played Raj and his buddy in doubles. It was a heated, explicative-laced, death match. The Americans won. Raj, his friend, Hunter and I talked until dinner time.
Later, Hunter led our group in a little business meeting (see, business trip). I played a few songs. On the way back to my room this group of teenagers yell at me. Turns out, Raj was with them. They asked me if I could play for them. I said sure. Then Raj's buddy started singing Country Roads. I accompanied him. We laughed. They asked me if I knew any Jason Mraz. We sang I'm yours. Then on to Taylor Swift, Enrique Iglesias, etc. The result is probably on youtube somewhere. I haven't looked. It was unbelievable. We talked for awhile. I introduced Hunter and Yousef to them and headed to bed. Yousef ended up talking to Raj for about a half an hour. They're going to meet up in Nablus this week to talk some more. All that from ping pong.
That's Young Life.
Can't wait to see how the Lord my use them!