Rethinking Youth Ministry
Teen's YouTube Cry for Help Becomes Message of Hope
Some of us may be nostalgic about high school, but I've never met anyone who would willingly re-live their middle school or junior high years. This fact may partially explain why so many people have responded to the viral YouTube video of 14-year-old Jonah Mowry. In August, just before the start of the new school year, Jonah sat alone in his bedroom at 4 a.m. and made an emotional video in which he fights back tears and "speaks" through index cards, telling his story of being bullied. Jonah writes:
I look happy, right? Well, I'm not. What you all see is the fake me. . . Suicide was an option many times. I get bullied every day. This started in first grade . . . and I'm starting eighth grade next month. I am not ready. I have one close friend left. The rest are starting high school. I'm scared to go back. A lot of people hate me. I don't know why. But I guess I do. Cuz I kinda hate me, too. Gay. Fag. Dick. Douche. Homo. Asshole. The list goes on and on. I can't do this anymore. I'm tired of being torn down . . . and building myself up to only be torn down again. But . . . I'm not going anywhere. Because I'm stronger than that. And I have a million reasons to be here.
At the time he made the video, Jonah says he was haunted by thoughts of the previous school year, coming home many days in tears over the harassment he was enduring from other students. He couldn't share this burden with anyone at home as he wasn't ready to reveal the reason for the bullying and "come out" to his parents about his sexual orientation. So, as many teenagers do, Jonah turned to social media to reveal his hurt. The heart-wrenching YouTube video was really meant as a message to his older friends, letting them know of his pain but also his resolve to take a stand against "the haters" at his school. With encouragement from his friends, Jonah posted the video to Facebook for others to see.
But the video remained mostly unknown until early December when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton stumbled upon it and featured it on his website. Jonah's message has since been viewed more than 7 million times and the teen has received an outpouring of support from others who know what is like to be bullied. I first became of aware of the story when one of the teens in my youth group—a young guy who on the surface seems to have it all together and is perfectly happy—posted Jonah's video to his Facebook page and added this note:
I try not to talk about it, or even remember it if I can avoid it, but for a long time, especially in elementary school, but even up through a lot of freshman year, I remember feeling just like him. It's horrible, and I don't really know where I'd be if I hadn't found friends, because to an extent it's a mindset that never leaves you, just one you do your best to ignore. If you know someone like this, it's really easy to makes things better. Smile at them in the hall, ask them about their weekend, tell them about yours even. And believe me when I tell you this; it means the world.
Rev. Brian Kirk is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves an inner-city church in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches as adjunct faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, and co-writes the blog rethinkingyouthministry.com.