Charles E. Dudley, Sr. Retired pastor and church administrator

Children and adults who have grown up In sheltered second-, third-, or fourth-generation Adventlst homes often don't know what the "real world" offers. A few break away, thinking that they are being cheated out of new and exciting "real" experiences. But many soon discover that It's a mirage.

Consider for a moment the "real" world of some young people and their families:

The pastor's wife frantically summoned her husband to come home immiditely. when he arrived, police officers were pointing pistols at his son's head. Little did the pastor realize that his son was a fugitive from justice.

His son had been with a few other boys from the neighborhood when oneproposed they rob a store on the other side of town. Not realizing that this was something his buddies had been doing for thrills and kicks on many  occasions, he went along for the ride.

After the crime, his buddies left town, and he went to visit relatives. The police put out an all-points bulletin on the youth as fugitives. When the pastor's son came home a few weeks later, the police were there to do their duty . The youths was arrested and is now in prison awaiting a possible 30 year sentence.

He was an Adventist youth.

A second-generation Adventist lay dying of AIDS. He called his parents to his bedside and looked into their faces and said, "I had to come to this before I would come to myself. I am glad that my sins are forgiven and that God loves me!"

He was an Adventist youth.

A divorced Adventist mother was left to raise her children as best she could without any child support. When her son turned 1 8, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His years in the service, however, took their toll: her son came home with little interest in spiritual things.

He too was with neighborhood friends when they suggested robbing a convenience store. He too just went along for the ride and didn't participate in the robbery. But things turned sour when one of his nervous colleagues panicked and shot and killed the store attendant. The police soon caught all of the robbers, including the former Marine who was sentenced to 30 years in jail. And just after he began serving his time, a fight broke out in the prison's exercise yard. He attempted to quell the confrontation and was stabbed in the back and hospitalized.

He was an Adventist youth.

Another young man was sitting in Sabbath School when one of his gang quietly entered the church to kill him. When the gang member finally cornered the Adventist youth, he drew his gun to "blow him away." But another gang member in the balcony saw what was happening and threw an "Uzi" down to the Adventist youth, who proceeded to cut down his assailant.

The Adventist youth immediately left town under the conviction that he must mend his ways and stop "playing" with church and God. He entered a rehabilitation center in another city and found peace and joy as he helped other Adventist young people through similar troubles.

When he returned home for the holiday season, his heart was filled with joy for the Lord, and he sought to share these blessings with his former gang members. They weren't very receptive, and he was killed.

He was an Adventist youth.

I'm sure these and similar experience break the heart of Jesus. He loves His people. And He never intended that His followers would allow the "real" world to invade their lives and tear up their families and relationships.

In 1977 juveniles committed 14 million crimes in the United States. They impacted the lives of tens of millions of people and cost the economy more than $425 billion. Such crime has risen 40 percent in the past 10 years; killings 93 percent. 1

At a community forum in Knoxville, Tennessee, the city's chief of police remarked that chronic youth offenders exhibit six characteristics, either singly or in combinations. They (1) belong to a delinquent peer group; (2) have weak family attachments; (3) experience early childhood abuse, usually physical; (4) perform poorly in school; (5) lack consistent discipline; and (6) live in highcrime neighborhoods. 2

How does society begin to curb youth crime? At the same forum, a juvenile court judge stressed the need for youth "to do something constructive [with their lives]... before they reach adolescence." He denounced "the growing social acceptance of children growing up without men in their lives." The judge said that youth need both a father and mother for healthy development. To this end, he said that parents of younger children need strong parenting support from others. 3

According to a newspaper report, other speakers at the community forum "expressed nothing but pure common sense when it comes to curbing youth crime. It doesn't take a genius to know that wholesome recreating, supervision, helping parents be better parents, and the presence of strong mom and dad role models all contributed to the building of the character and accountability of children. It's always going to be those basics that make the difference."4

What about our youth?

What about our own youth who attend our Sabbath School classes and sit in our pews each week? Are some perplexed, frightened, or troubled? Absolutely! And we as a collective group of Christians a church must address their needs seriously, individually, and corporately.

Parents must work with their children. Church leaders must help youth and parents. Youth must nurture youth. If we want to see our youth in God's kingdom when Christ comes again, we must get serious about helping our Adventist youth cope with the difficulties facing them in today's society.

So as caring Christians, what can we do? Consider these ideas:

Strengthen the church school program. For years, a certain pride existed in receiving a Christian education. Joy was found when one was able to attend a church school. Christian teachers helped develop the hearts, minds, and characters of children in spiritual things.

Regrettably, many people today don't want the blessings of a church school whereachild's mind is trained to love God supremely and to care for the interests and needs of fellow human beings. The expense of operating church schools does not seem to be a priority. But as someone said, "Christian education doesn't cost, it pays" spiritually, mentally, physically, and socially. Attending public school takes its toll on Adventist youth.

Rebuild the Sabbath School programs. The Sabbath School program sets the tone for worship and for living a Christian life during the week. Parents should ensure that their children come to Sabbath School every week. A better bridge should be built between church-school learning and that which occurs in Sabbath School classes. Christian teachers should be involved in molding the characters of children all week long.

Encourage Adventist Youth Societies. We need more of these. Leaders must reflect upon the past blessings of these programs and encourage the formation of more. Consider the benefits that our youth gain from progressive class work, living with nature through camping, learning the meaning of "wilderness survival" for the times that are just ahead, sharing the gospel with communities through youth outreach programs, Friday night or Sabbath afternoon AY meetings; and the positive role modeling by adult leaders.

The church that cannot save its own youth will never be able to save the world! Youth have something to offer in the development of the church that will benefit not just our youth, but the world.

1 Horace Johns, "Using Common Sense to Curb Crime and Violence" in Nashville Pride, Jan. 27, 1997.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.

Charles E. Dudley, Sr.
Retired pastor and church administrator