In the song “Greatest Love of All,” Whitney Houston sang “I believe the children are our future, Teach them well and let them lead the way…”. Well, after attending the Evidence Based Prevention Strategies For Law Enforcement seminar, sponsored by the Middletown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force on July 10, I say that children and teenagers are our Now! This event was a summit of police, educators, town council members and clergy, gathered to address the problem of underage drinking on Aquidneck Island. One mother from our island shared the devastating story of losing her son in an alcohol related crash when he was a freshman in college. Our featured speaker was Christopher M. Bartolotta, who works for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Connecticut. He cited two statistics which made my head spin: alcohol related tragedies are the #1 cause of death for 16—24 year olds and that alcohol related “date rape” and teenage pregnancy are at all time highs. Wow! Houston, (not Whitney, whose own dependence on alcohol and drugs is well chronicled) we have a problem!
I confess, I should know better! Experientially, I know the importance of investing in our youth. Both of my parents are educators in the Maine public school system. They tell me it is an increasingly difficult place to work due to the presence and availability of alcohol and drugs. But as a pastor, I also know the Biblical admonitions to pay great attention to our youth. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children.” Jesus commanded in Mark 10:14 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In Mark 9:42 Jesus remarked “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” The point: children and teenagers matter greatly to God!
This seminar had ironic timing for me and our church. We just decided to look to hire a part-time youth coordinator/pastor to strengthen our current youth ministries and reach into our community. Furthermore, from July 14—18 we put on Vacation Bible School, titled “Jerusalem Marketplace.” We thought that we were doing enough already! But I am starting to wonder if these are good and important things, but they are really just scratching the surface of what must be done.
What am I proposing? I think a number of actions must be taken. First off, the church and families must focus on teaching the youth and children God’s word and ways so we can form and shape their character. My former pastor and mentor termed biblical wisdom as “skill for living.” If we can pass on the fundamental truths of the Bible, then we are equipping children and youth to grow up to be healthy adults and people of faith. Otherwise, we have failed them and displeased God, which I am not interested in doing!
I think we must also pray for our youth. I don’t mean that to be trite or clichéd, but it is true. We must ask for God’s help and guidance. Furthermore, we must seek to support and encourage single parents in our community. They have the hardest job, toiling hard (sometimes 2-3 jobs) to pay the bills and keep an eye on their children at the same time. Inevitably, teens will have unsupervised time alone in which they can get into all kinds of trouble.
But lastly, this is a community effort. So I affirm the coalition of police, educators, council members and clergy that unite to strengthen our island. We all have a stake, we all have a part to play to see our community be all that it can be and more, as long as we all realize that the time is NOW!