Last weekend, we had a region-wide leader gathering for Young Life here in Albuquerque. Leaders from El Paso, Los Alamos, Las Cruces, Crown Point, Farmington, and Albuquerque came together for a weekend of encouragement, community, and raucous laughter...of course!
We had the incredible opportunity to hear from Bob and Claudia Mitchell during this time. A little background on these two incredible people. Bob is a former president of Young Life and one of the first Young Life kids EVER. As in this dude and his family hosted some of the first Young Life clubs at their house, and his leader was Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life. Anyway, enough of the celeb status laundry list. In my mind, this man - "Mitch" as he's known - is a pillar of faith beyond the Young Life community. Last weekend he told us about how he fought from within the mission during the '60s and '70s to make a place for women and African-Americans in leadership. He told us about moments of frustration and triumph as he has walked faithfully with the Lord for close to 80 years.
I was fortunate enough to hear from Bob and Claudia during New Staff Training in Florida, as well. It was equally as cool to be exposed to their experiences there, but it was awesome to actually get to meet them, talk with them, and laugh with them on such a personal level here in Albuquerque.
I'm gonna call this as it is for a minute. I don't know about you, but when I meet "big wigs" as my mom would call them, I am often times disappointed. Usually these people are not as terrific as they're made out to be. Less personable, less eloquent, etc.
Not so with Mitch. Meeting him, shaking his hand, being close to him, I saw such genuine kindness in his face, I heard authentic love in his voice. Like who is this guy?? He rocks. He's hilarious. He loves Claudia in such a precious way.
This personal interaction made me listen in a totally different manner this time around. And this is what I heard and keep hearing a week later.
We had a question and answer time with Bob and Claudia. One of the leaders asked what advice Mitch would give to a Young Life leader now. He sat and thought in his characteristic way for just a moment before continuing with no preface: "Cultivate your own relationship with Christ before anything else. That's the greatest thing you can do."
If anyone could give Young Life leading tips, it's Bob Mitchell. But instead of advising us on how to run a good program and get kids to camp or enlightening us on the most effective contact work strategies, Mitch said one thing: Know. Jesus.
I was reminded of the time Jesus clarified something to us in Matthew 22:37-40 about the Law and the commandments. He says (without introductory material, either), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
So here we are - here I am. We get caught up in program, logistics, doing. We forget that Jesus gave us the CliffNotes version of the Old Testament. And I'm not saying don't read the OT - as an English teacher, I will ALWAYS encourage the actual reading of primary material. But here it is, the bare bones of what we as Christians are called to do:
Love God. Be with Him. That's the greatest thing we can do.
Love people. Be with them.
I think one of the reasons I am so struck by Mitch's advice is because I've heard him tell of the way he lived this out. One story in particular stood out to me. At New Staff Training, Mitch told of his first night in the San Francisco Bay area. He had just moved to this city, no friends, an empty home, a new part of the country. He drove to the top of a hill overlooking the city, the sea of lights stretching out before him and absolutely overwhelming him with where to even begin in reaching out to the kids of San Fran. Mitch teared up as he told us of his cry to God in that moment, the raw "where do I even begin" honesty he poured out on that hill.
What's striking to me about this is that before Mitch settled in, met the neighbors, found a church, went to a school, he first retreated to be with the Lord. To surrender his upcoming months and years in the bay area to the Lord. To love the Lord before he commenced doing. Mitch realized that without Jesus at the center, he would never find his way in that city. Mitch realized that cultivating his relationship with Christ was then and would always be the most effective ministry strategy in Young Life, the church...heck, anywhere. This piece of advice was not just a repetition of a hugely important piece of the Bible. It was a tested and lived out truth of Mitch's life.
And so that's why his words - really Jesus' words - keep ringing in my ears: Love God with all you have. Give Him the first fruits of your life.
This is - and always will be - the great commandment.
Peace and Blessings, y'all!