When I was in high school, my youth minister always had a way of taking us out to nature in order to have us connect with God. If any of you know me, I am not a camper. I work very hard not to be out in the woods. All that being said, I do find ways to connect with the Lord through nature, through his creation, but on this day I wasn’t going out with my peers to stare at water and connect with the Lord. No, we were going out to the woods to have a heart to heart discussion with one another.
Within our youth group, we had two very different cliques. One was the kickers. In Houston there’s a radio station called KIKK. It’s a local country station, and their slogan in the 90’s was, “Proud to be a KIKKer.” The locals would take the term KIKKer (kicker) and apply to anybody who wore Wranglers or enjoyed country music. Therefore, half of our youth group were kickers. They were members of the 4H, bull riders, raised livestock, and would proudly wear their Wranglers tighter than any jeggings teenagers wear today. The other half of our youth group were basically skaters, or wanna-be skaters. We had straightened hair, parted down the middle baggy jeans, and no interest in being around livestock. We were not displaying unity in any way, shape, or form, and our youth minister, Ryan, was very aware of this.
We had been at youth camp for three days. It was the middle of the week, and tension was high between the two groups. Ryan decided it was time to have a come-to-Jesus moment, but he didn’t let us know that was what was happening. We were going on a nature hike at sunset. As we hiked through the woods, we came across a deck in the middle of the forest. He had us sit in a circle and started asking questions about unity. Ryan read Bible verses about how the church would be divided, and how the enemy would use that in order to keep Christians from doing the mission of God:
- Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
- Ephesians 4:1-3 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
- 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
Ryan then allowed us to talk, one at a time, so that we HAD to listen to each other, about grievances that we had with one another.
One kicker, Petin, began to speak up. He shared how he did not like to be called a kicker. He understood that most people in Houston who wore Wranglers and listened to country music were labeled as a “kicker”, but he didn’t like being called that nor did the other half of our youth group. He said he didn’t even give us a chance to get to know him. I in all my high school wisdom responded, “well what do you want us to call you?” His response is something that stuck with me for the past 20+ years:
“I want you to call me Petin.”
What? Just call you by your name? Not the label that EVERYONE else in Houston has agreed upon? Even as a teenager, I knew this was a profound statement. As an adult, I look back and process what was said to me.
“I want you to call me Petin.”
Not a label.
Not what you think I am.
Call me by my name.
That night in the woods as we sat on the deck being forced to listen to one another, we learned a great lesson:
Stereotypes are something we put on other people in order to put THEM in a box or into our own categories.
By labeling my peers in the youth group, I thought I knew them. I thought by placing a stereotype on them, I already knew who they were. I wasn’t taking the time to call them by name. I wasn’t creating unity. Quite the opposite. By labeling my peers with a stereotype based on blue jeans and country music, I was creating discourse and a roadblock for what the Lord wanted to do in our youth group.
After that night, as a group we repented for how we treated one another based on preconceived notions. We came together and asked for forgiveness. What would happen next in our youth group is truly amazing. The Lord began to work. Our youth group went from 10 people to 50 in a matter of weeks. People were getting saved every week, and the Lord was being glorified. I truly believe that I was part of a revival at my church. The adults in our church didn’t know what was happening, but they knew God was doing something among our teenagers. This small, little country church was seeing the movement of God. The diversity of teenage social groups was truly amazing for a bunch of adolescents. However, the Lord wouldn’t move until set aside our agenda and sought unity as believers.
People have names. God knows my name. God knows your name. Take time to let go of the boxes and stereotypes and encourage unity. Stereotypes cause division. Jesus calls us to love Him and love people. God calls us to have unity. So, we let go of stereotypes and what we think we know about someone who is different… even if it means they like country music.
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Photo courtesy of sbmeaper1 on Flickr