Last week at summer camp I joined a group of 10 kids who piled into sturdy pink tubes and plopped into the river for a leisurely float downstream to a local barbecue spot. While we started out in a neat little cluster, the currents spun us into protruding rocks, low-hanging trees and other groups of tubers.
I did not find this part leisurely. I make minute-by-minute schedules on spreadsheets and assign seats on road trips because I want to know where the youth in my care are at all times. My greatest nightmares are not death or public speaking -- it's accidentally leaving a teen at a rest stop or coming up short when counting heads at a youth rally. Watching two of my sixth-graders float away while they screamed to "Wait up!" made me realize that losing track of teens on a river was an equally horrifying scenario I hadn't even thought of.
As they called out to me I attempted to slow down to help them. I dragged my feet through the rocky bottom and attempted to stand up and walk in their direction. While the water was only 2-feet deep, the current was so strong that it knocked me right over, banging my knees to the ground and forcing my tube out of my grip.
Good grief, was this activity safe? How had the insurance companies not shut down this shady outfit -- my knees were bleeding, and I had water up my nose. Looking around I realized, however, that I had no one to blame but myself. Those who had not attempted to fight the current and stand up were still bobbing peacefully in the water. One guy was even texting. The sixth-graders who had initially screamed in terror at the thought of separation were now giggling as they bumped off a log and into a group of their friends floating by.
Taking a deep breath I realized we were on a river full of campers and staff who would be quick to aid any of the kiddos who encountered trouble. There was no way I would be able to keep track of nine other people, and I was going to have to trust that the current would carry them safely to lunch.
The feeling was actually familiar. It was the same feeling I have after a Bible study, when the kids go back to their Facebooks, their friends and maybe even family who don't support their beliefs. It's the feeling I have when school starts up after the summer and I know they're going to face tough choices and serious temptations in the hallways. If there are kids in your life you care about, you know what I'm talking about. Like the currents in the river, kids can find themselves carried to places they didn't expect or want to go.
My tubing teens were prepared. I knew they could all swim. Their tubes were inflated, and they had put on sunscreen and shoes with straps on the back that wouldn't fall off. They were ready for whatever the next hour and a half held -- even if I couldn't guide them over every rock and rapid.
Much like I couldn't fight the current to stay with the teens in my care, we can't stay beside the youth we love from everything they'll encounter. However, we can do our best to be sure they're prepared. Giving them knowledge through family discussions, Scripture, prayer and a church community does more than fill them with a lot of God trivia -- it gives them a foundation to stand on when they find themselves alone.