Dave Mockett is a youth and schools’ worker with the COOL Trust in Plockton. He shares with us something of his pastoral care for young people.
Increasingly my youth work involves coffee. We have the usual programmes of drop-ins, prayer gatherings, Bible engagement, youth clubs and activities. But young people need time and space to talk and be listened to. Sometimes this needs to be more purposeful than fitting it in to a pre-planned session or club. And so I drink coffee.
By spending time with young people, especially in schools, the issues of life often bubble to the surface. Over the years young people have shared a whole range of concerns with me: exam stress, future plans, parent problems, transgender issues, struggles with sex or sexuality, medical issues, bullying, loneliness, self-harm and other addictions, depression and suicidal thoughts, questions, doubts and curiosity about faith.
Firstly, this is not a list I have taken out of a youth work magazine, or a training manual for schools’ workers. This is a list of individuals who have had the courage to share something of their lives with me. For each of these issues, where you are reading a word, I am seeing a face.
Secondly, I am not a trained professional in these areas. I have attended a few training courses because I am a paid youth worker, but often, if I have found a course, I have attended out of a sense of helplessness arising from a specific situation which has been shared. These are big concerns in the lives of my young people, and what I can always offer is my time.
Recently we have been looking at ‘compassion’ in our primary school assemblies, using the story of the Widow of Nain in Luke 7. Jesus was filled with compassion, then he did something to help. The first thing Jesus did was to identify with how the woman was feeling.
When it comes to a teenager who has attached himself to you, is often quite annoying and not someone you naturally warm to, then effort is needed. I believe this effort begins with spending time with Jesus ourselves, reflecting on our own unworthiness before him and learning to see others as he sees them.
But compassion isn’t just sympathy or even empathy. The word used in Luke 7 literally means ‘to have the bowels yearning’ (Young’s Concordance), or to have a deep wrenching of the emotions leading to action. Jesus’ second response was to raise the widow’s son. I can’t do this, but I can do something. For me, that’s where the coffee comes in. If I can impart a sense of value to a young person through time and listening then often that is my best work.
Early on in the conversation I am able to identify those issues which will need professional help or compromise my own integrity, and those for which coffee will probably be all I can offer. A coffee conversation will include small talk, but I always look for that moment when I can either guide the conversation towards deeper matters, or ask specifically what they would like to share with me. Usually this entails reminding them of no promise of secrecy, but on occasion it has been quite direct such as, “Are you cutting?”
It also includes honesty as to how I may be able to help. Last year I was faced with a completely new situation; I told the individual that it was new to me, but promised to find out more and walk alongside them as we learnt together. Then I let them talk, prompting with suitable questions such as, “How did that make you feel?”, “How have you attempted to deal with this?”
Finally, I always offer to pray. Not all of the individuals I have coffee with are Christians, but it’s exciting if they allow me to pray with them there and then. But if not, then I pray at home and remind them every now and again that I’m praying.
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ve never had a young person respond negatively to be reminded that I’m praying for them.
This article first appeared in the Summer Term 2017 edition of the Pray for Schools Scotland Update.