I was a freshman in college. All my friends had moved away, and I was the only one that stayed home. My home church did not have much of a college group and I longed for the days of youth group. I had recently met a friend who invited me to his college group. I had seen some of his friends and they looked really cool, I mean really cool (I would say hip, but these were before the days of hipsterville. Emo was still in)!
I walked in the room and the first thing I noticed was that everybody was attractive. My first thought was,
“This is awesome! Not only am I going to learn about Jesus, but I’m going to get a hot girlfriend out of it as well!”
My friend did his due diligence and introduced me to a group huddled in a circle. He was involved with the sound board so he could not really stay by me. So here I am excited to be in this group, and I’m doing my absolute best to join in on the conversation. The more I tried to include myself, the more excluded I felt. A person would walk up to the circle and they would welcome them with warm greetings and hugs, but I never got introduced. The worst feeling was knowing they did not forget about me; they knew full well I was there yet they still chose to ignore me.
This was the first time I was hurt by the Church. Now my faith was mature enough to know that their actions did not reflect the love that Christ has for me and for others, but as I look back I wonder what if I didn’t know any better. I probably would think that Jesus did not want anything to do with me. I might have thought that I was not cool enough or attractive enough for Jesus. I may have even thought that Jesus was a little racist (I’m pretty sure I was the only Latino male there).
A few years later, I transferred to Azusa Pacific University and my Old Testament professor was talking about the David and Bathsheba incident (2 Samuel 11). He was telling us about how badly David messed up. Yes there was adultery, lust, lies, and deceiving, but Dr. B pointed something else out to us. He reminded us that the author makes it clear several times that Uriah is a Hittite. Uriah is not one of them, Uriah a foreigner in a strange land. David knew the commandment that he should love the alien as himself (Leviticus 19:34). We are quick to remember the adultery, the lust, and so on, but Dr. B also reminded the classroom that David also broke Torah by not treating the Uriah the Hittite as he would himself. Then Dr. B said something I’ll never forget. “For you youth leaders, remember to treat people visiting your group for the first time with absolute respect. Do not break Torah.”
I wonder how often our youth groups treat new comers like Uriah the Hittite? I love my students to death! I love them as if they were my own and would do anything for them. My group is a small group and a unified group, but because we are so unified we are also an intimidating group (I don’t think they do it on purpose but it just the reality of the situation). I constantly have to challenge them to put their guard down and welcome others in.
So here is my challenge to you. Encourage your students to be as welcoming to others as they can be! It pains me to think about all the “Hittites” that we the Church have sent off because we are not welcoming them because they are not like us. For many, the way we welcome or don’t welcome others will be a direct perception of what they think Christ thinks of them.
Let’s not send more Hittites off to the front lines.
*Werner Ramirez is the Youth Director at Good Shepherd Pres. Church in Long Beach, CA. He is a great friend of mine. He was my roommate in college and was in my wedding. I love this guy to death. You can follow him on Twitter @wernerramirez