On the front, "I can't..." and on the back, "...but He can!" So read this summer's camp t-shirt of First Baptist, Tifton, Georgia, where I spoke last week.
Bill and Dana Hughes have led the youth ministry at First Baptist for 20 years. But I have known them for most of their 39 years as youth leaders. When Bill interned with our ministry he discovered "I can't...but He can!" Astounding fruit has followed at First Baptist.
When Bill began, 15-20 kids attended the youth group. They started "CAB"--Committee Against Bill--determined to get him fired. They felt threatened by the "Jesus can" message. Several times various adults tried to get him to leave. Bill's response: "I have faced difficult situations when adults didn't grasp the vision for discipleship. When conflict arose, I found it best to speak the truth in love and let the chips fall where they may." Bill has faithfully pursued the "Jesus can" approach for 20 years.
From the first 15-20, the youth ministry now has 180 active kids, with 100 in discipleship groups. In a town of 18,000 that is huge! Bill told me, "This growth amazes me because we still do what we did from the beginning--disciple kids as Servant Leaders." Bill used to count the number of kids who went into ministry, but he stopped years ago, when the number reached 40. Many more have been added to that number.
Discipling students includes evangelism/missions. Through Bill and Dana's influence the youth ministry has made concerted efforts to reach out to black and Hispanic kids, actually starting a Hispanic church in town. Teenagers have five mission trip opportunities during the year, plus two weeks of summer missions in Tifton. Bill has taken kids all over the world. They have been arrested in Mozambique, caught in a sand storm in Niger, lost their money in Costa Rica, lost a passport in Moldova, got stranded in Argentina.
"In Lebanon," Bill says, "when they threatened to kill us for passing out New Testaments, the undercover missionary told us we should stay in the hotel the remaining four days and then leave quietly. Our kids decided they would rather continue to pass out New Testaments like they had planned. They did. Two weeks after we left terrorists blew up the airport." Bill and Dana have demonstrated to their kids the "Jesus can" adventure.
Recently Bill commented to me: "I continue to be amazed that God actually allows me to get paid to do a job I would gladly do for free. In 39 years there has not been one day when I woke up and did not want to be a youth minister. It is more than loving kids, although I do love kids. It is a sense that somehow, in some way, God is using me to impact the world from Tifton, Georgia."
Bill does not see himself as "cool." Often he wonders: "Why do these kids show up here?" But he is cool because kids know that he is all about Jesus and them, not himself. His kids get it because to the core they see that Bill lives out "I can't...but He can!"
How many more "Bill's" can God produce through Reach Out? Some day the "future Bill's" will thank you for your prayers and gifts. Join us in multiplying Jesus-Focused Youth Ministry to more "I can't...but He can!" leaders and students around the globe.