Youth Ministry Basics: Responding to Tragedy

“In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus, John 16:33

In January 2010, a major earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing almost 250,000 people.

In 2007, 32 students and adults were killed when a disgruntled student opened fire on campus.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category 3 hurricane, struck the Gulf States, causing flood walls to break and many causalities, leaving many homeless,
hungry, and without rescue for several days.

In 2004, a 9.1 earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a major tsunami in the South Pacific. Nearly 250,000 people were killed in over 14 countries.

The fact that we live in a sinful world means that we are never far from tragedy, and as humans, we often grapple with the question of “why” tragedy happens.

As a youth worker, we have two choices: either ignore it or talk about it. I hope that it’s the latter. We have an amazing opportunity to respond to tragedy with
a message of hope and comfort, whether it is large scale like the Haiti earthquake or small scale (a death in the congregation). Below are some pointers for discussing tragedy.

1) Do your research:  Find out as much as you can about the situation and share that with teens as much as you are able. (Obviously, if the thing you are discussing happened in your congregation, you will need to use discretion.) Teenagers have lots of questions and your ability to answer them will help give them answers that they need.

2) Be prepared to answer the tough stuff: Questions about big events usually center around the theme of “why,” or “how.” “How could God let this happen?” “Why were so many killed?” “Did God cause it to happen?”  Try to anticipate what your students might ask and be prepared to give a scripturally based answer. Of course, you won’t be able to anticipate every question they have, but you’ll be ready for some of them.

3) Share the Gospel: Even though it seems that there is no hope in major tragedy, remind kids that there is hope: God has promised eternal life to believers, and
He is present in all times and in all places. Remind students that God did not CAUSE this suffering as part of a great plan, but that it’s a consequence of living in a sinful world.

4) Get creative: Prayer Stations are a great way for kids to verbalize prayers in creative ways. Some ideas: Set up a map of the place affected and have kids light a candle and say a prayer for them; have them create artwork based on images from the tragedy, read the Psalms as a closing prayer.  The more ways that students get involved, the more it will hit home to them.

5) Get Active: Students love to help make a difference. Collect a free will offering. Find out a specific need and help do your part to fill it. Our middle school
students collected items and created hygiene kits to send to Haitians who were in need.

How do you help students deal with tragedy? What’s been the most beneficial thing for you, as a youth leader, when talking about these tough issues?

Published February 25, 2010

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