Youth Potential

Photo by Alex Radelich

FYI’s College Transition Project has been funded, to a large degree, by the Lilly Endowment.  Periodically we get to update folks at Lilly, either in person or in writing, about our findings and their implications for youth ministry.

During my last phone call with Chris Coble from the Lilly Endowment, after I explained the great interest that the students we are surveying are expressing in service and justice work, he recommended I read “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel.  Patel is an American Muslim from India and the founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.  In the midst of the conversations and programs coordinated by the Interfaith Youth Core, one of their key emphases is service and charity, for they find those two values cut across religions.

As interesting as the background on the Interfaith Youth Core was, since I finished the book two hours ago I can’t stop thinking about a different theme in the book:   many religions focus on youth for they recognize that youth are both impressionable and behold great power.

At one point, Patel spoke with a teenage friend of Osama bin Laden.  Bin Laden was 14 years old when a P.E. teacher at his school started an afterschool Islamic study group.  Students could play soccer after school if they joined this study group.  The students began memorizing passages from the Qur’an.  After a while, the charismatic and popular P.E. teacher exposed the boys to stories that nudged the group into an acceptance of violence on behalf of Islam.  The former friend of Bin Laden dropped out of the group but others, including Osama, became more and more devoted to a “by any means necessary” approach to restoring Islamic law.

I can’t help but wonder what might have been different for Bin Laden, for Islam, for the U.S., and really much of the world, if Bin Laden had had a different adult influence as a teenager.

If you’re a parent or a youth worker, your work is important.  You never know who might be sitting in front of you at church.