Have you ever heard someone say, “Either get involved with what God’s doing or get out of his way”? After our trip with the Student Leaders to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, I learned that this is sound advice. After weeks of preparation, hoping for the best but planning for the worst, praying that all of the factors outside of our control would go well, the adults of the group messed up almost every aspect of the trip that was within our control. The result? God was not going to let us get in the way of the work he was doing in these students. Everything worked out flawlessly, despite our greatest efforts to seemingly sabotage the trip.
Sabotage is a strong word, you say? I’m being too hard on myself and the other leaders, a bit of hyperbole? You be the judge:
The Student Leaders were going to Washington, D.C. to give a power point presentation at a local church. I forgot the laptop in the house.
Running a little late because some of the adults, not the students, were late to arrive in the morning, we had to rush to get to the Capitol building for our tour. In our haste, the person carrying the keys dropped them on the lawn of the Capitol building, only to find this out hours later when we needed to get in the van.
Now off schedule and without a van, we decide to take a walk, not a ride, down the National Mall. We soon realize that there is a thunderstorm brewing and heading our way.
On our way to dinner and the presentation, yours truly has trouble reading the GPS and D.C. traffic patterns (for which one needs a Ph.D. in stupidity to understand) and gets us lost. Lost and confused, I decide to go straight in a left-turn-only lane and get the other van pulled over.
Lastly, though completely out of our control, the storm hits the area really hard knocking down trees and power lines and forcing miles of traffic to detour through the neighborhood of the church where we are presenting.
Those of us who knew what was going on throughout the day were frazzled to say the least. Everything within our control seemed to be going wrong. Everything was going to fail. We had let the students down on their big trip. With each thing that went wrong, I prayed to God, “Please, Lord, do not let us get in the way of what you’re doing through these students. You wouldn’t miss this incredible opportunity in their lives and in the lives of those in attendance, would you?”
He would not.
When we arrived at the church, they had an extra computer that worked flawlessly with the projector. The keys were miraculously found thirty minutes later in the grass. After a beautiful walk, the vans picked us up on the Mall literally three seconds before it started to completely downpour and lighting began to strike (and yes, I know what literally means and I’m using it correctly.) The officer, being a nice gentleman, not only let the driver off without a ticket, gave her directions directly to the house and around the traffic. And despite the storm, traffic, and power outages, more than fifty people showed up to the presentation from as far as an hour away.
God’s will be done whether we get in the way or not.
Amazed by the miracles that God had performed all day, the many ways that he had cleared the paths we had blocked, all we could do was hope that the students would take advantage of this incredible opportunity. After all that, would they forget what they came to say?
Don’t bet on it.
These students rocked the place. After they almost flawlessly went through their rehearsed power point presentation, they fielded questions for a half an hour and completely blew people away with their confidence, their poise, and their determination to change their world.
With one of the questions, the smallest of the students assertively grabbed the microphone out of my hand, stood up to the podium and responded off the cuff: “I need to get this off my chest. There’s been something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Camden gets a bad reputation and I don’t like it. This is my home, and if people would just dig a little deeper they would see a place with great people and a lot of great things happening.” Wow. How many twelve year olds do you know that would be able to say this at all, let alone with such authority and confidence to a room full of strangers?
One person asked for advice for other students looking to do the same thing. Without hesitation, one of the 8th graders spoke up, “You can’t be afraid to talk to people who are older than you. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice or something important to say. You have a voice and you need to make them listen.” This is an eighth grader with more confidence in front of a crowd and more conviction to speak truth to power than most adults I know.
I could go on and on for another three pages with comments like these. At almost no point was there a pause between questions or answer that didn’t immediately inspire the whole room. And from who? Middle schoolers. That’s right, children as young as twelve years old taking an active role in their neighborhood and unafraid to tell others about it; children that were able to captivate adults and youth alike, able to inspire even the many in the audience that head up their own local advocacy and community organizing groups. It was truly remarkable.
What was so humbling about the whole day was that God chose to speak through a bunch of children, not me; that I had such little power in the matter, that, despite my own efforts to (unintentionally) sabotage the whole day, God was still able to speak through the least likely of prophets. My own shortcomings and their incredible successes reminded me that it is God’s will, not my own, that will be done. It is a call for humility and faith, to be able to give up control in my own life and to remember that I was never the one in control in the first place.
As the Gospel Matthews says,
And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. (Mt 3:9)
Let us not be fools to think that our education, social status, age, skill, or wealth mean anything in the long run. God could, and continually does, lift up the lowly to shame to proud. On Tuesday, in more than one way, God reminded me of this fact and that fact that God’s will will be done whether I’m on his side or in the way.