I knew the answer before they asked the question.
Early one Sunday morning, I had just received keys to one of the rental cars we would be driving from Kentucky to Georgia. I turned the ignition and the radio sprang to life with news of death. It was July 28, 1996, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Tom Brokaw was reporting: “A bomb exploded late last night in Centennial Park…”
Parents would be arriving at the church in less than 30 minutes to drop off their teenagers for our youth mission trip to serve at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The car symbolically pulled forward as I pondered the concern I knew would greet me upon reaching the parking lot: Are we still going?
I simultaneously knew my response: Absolutely.
It doesn’t take prophetic powers to predict a question like that from parents about to send a child to a place that suddenly sounds much more dangerous than it did the night before.
Youth mission trips are fun because they involve a certain element of adventure into the unknown. But when one of those “unknowns” is revealed to be a known danger, we can start to question our previous commitments.
So I wasn’t surprised by their question. And I hope they weren’t surprised by my answer, either.
We talked briefly and honestly about our mission to serve those attending the Olympics. And we admitted that it seemed a lot more scary now than during our planning sessions. We talked about those who were depending on us for help and what might happen if we didn’t show up.
But most of all, I wanted our kids and their parents to appreciate what would happen to their faith if they decided to stay home…and if they decided to go.
Parents were rightly concerned about the physical well-being of their children. My concern, however, was also for everyone’s spiritual well-being, and I knew their decisions could be equally as deadly.
Most of these kids had come to church their entire lives, and everything had been peachy keen. But suddenly some difficulty arises, and families decide to play it safe, avoid the risk, and stay home?
No, they had heard us sing in church: “Wherever he leads, I’ll go, I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, wherever he leads, I’ll go.”
Thankfully, they all agreed that we should honor that commitment, so we loaded up the vehicles, hugged parents a little more tightly than usual, and hit the road.
It wound up being one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. We served at the Equestrian Venue, saw the Japan vs. South Korea baseball game, almost got lost on MARTA, and slept in a church gym in Conyers with 2-3 other church groups.
When each church group arrived that first night, we were all eager to learn if other churches had anyone back out. Sadly, one group had 2 students whose parents kept them home.
Twenty-five years later, I still think about those 2 kids and pray that, like the disciple Peter, their faith has been restored and their courage renewed to follow even when the path becomes difficult.
Dr. Steve Cothran lives in Newnan and has been a Baptist youth pastor for over 30 years.