An innovative discipleship series for young people tackles the tough issues
Amanda* knew she needed help. As a guarded and bitter teenager, she didn’t believe love existed in the world.
“Every time I attended a wedding or saw a ‘love is a great thing’ status on Facebook, I would roll my eyes and cynically let out a laugh,” says the 17 year old from Winnipeg. “Love was a great big joke in my eyes. I grew to fear each relationship, no matter who the person was.”
This attitude seems unexpected, until she explains why: “As a child, I was abused by family members, and I moved from foster home to foster home. To me, love meant only disappointment and pain, and I held deep grudges against people.”
Amanda sought help by enrolling in The River – a discipleship program for Christian youth and young adults. “My burdens kept me back from feeling and doing things the ‘normal’ way,” she says. “With everything going on in my heart, I hoped The River would help me discover the girl sealed behind my pain. It seemed like a safe place.”
A ministry of Living Waters Canada, The River combines biblical teaching, real-life stories and prayer times, so that young people will have a place to learn and be heard. In a confidential setting led by trained volunteers, participants can talk about the hard stuff in life – the good and the bad, the past and the present – and encounter Jesus’ grace and truth.
At The River, youth and young adults are encouraged to bring their baggage – the stuff that’s often not talked about in church. That includes abuse, sex, porn, romance, sexual orientation and eating disorders.
“Young people today hear lots of confusing ideas about relationships and identity, so we don’t shy away from the tough questions that they have,” says Martin, coordinator of The River in Canada.
The River uses dramatic sketches, multimedia clips and interactive teachings to capture the attention of young people and communicate God’s desire for relationships. “When our leaders share about their personal struggles, they open the door for participants to be real about their stuff. Many of them encounter Jesus in ways that bring healing to their life,” says Raena Peters, who coordinates The River in Winnipeg.
That’s certainly true for Amanda. “Before taking The River, I didn’t know how to deal with my messy heart,” she says. “I always strived to be good, mostly to win the approval of others – not because I wanted to honour God.”
“Now, I’m still dealing with all the mess, but I’m doing so much better. I’m more aware of when I put on my ‘mask’ and what I can do when messy emotions come up,” she adds. “Being part of a small group has made me more open with others because I’ve experienced how freeing it is to be real and honest.”
Life isn’t perfect for Amanda. She still deals with memories of sexual abuse and times of confusion and anger. “I’m nowhere close to being healed. I wanted to have the perfect Christian healing, but sometimes the heart needs to be messy before it gets cleaned,” she admits. “Going deeper with God has brought lots of grieving about my past, but I don’t regret taking The River.”
The River is now offered in Winnipeg and Vancouver, but the ministry wants to establish it across Canada. “With three formats (see sidebar), The River is accessible to more churches that want to help young people explore God’s truth for relationships and sexuality,” says Matt.
Amanda knows what The River can bring. “I can confidently say I re-fell in love with Jesus at The River,” she says. “The more I feel his love and grace for me, the less I understand it, and it has made me persistent in my healing journey.”
* Amanda is a pseudonym.
The River Guide
The youth and young adult ministry of Living Waters Canada, The River works as an extension of the local church by providing safe places to address relational and sexual issues. The River is offered in three streams that fit the needs of youth, young adult and school groups.
- Ignite: one session for a youth or young adult group
- Encounter: four weekly teachings, plus discussion and testimonies
- 360°: 10 sessions with teaching, worship, prayer and reflection
To find out more, check out: livingwaterscanada.org/programs/therivermenu
Options – Fall 2010