Yadi Martinez, who helped make PYM16 happen, is joining us a regular PYM blogger. Yadi is a Latin LGBTQIA Youth Advocate and Unconscious Bias Awareness Facilitator. With over 10 years of ministry in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, Yadi has worked with several churches and organizations, including Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ. Yadi currently serves as a Youth Minister with the New Church – Chiesa Nuova UCC in Dallas, Texas.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Pentecostal Church, completely fascinated with youth ministry. Every Saturday night, the congregation would join us as we, the young people, would lead the worship service. We would proudly stand together as a group in front of the congregation to recite 1 Timothy 4:12. Our youth pastor would do the sermons, or he would assign one of us to preach.
As a youth group, we took pride in our services. We, the young people, participated in mission trips and hung out at school. We even vowed to be good in order not to be “left behind.” Despite loving youth ministry, I lived quietly knowing I was going to hell for being gay and praying fervently for God to change me. The time did come when I started to question evangelizing about the salvation or hell option. In that questioning, the lovely youth ministry experience came to an end.
Sadly, I have heard this happen to many of my young friends who have come out or have challenged their faith. When this happens, the youth group they grew up with no longer welcomes them.
Whether we serve young people in a church, in the streets, or as volunteers, we are truly ambassadors of good will. I believe that youth ministry is where the divine intersects with the complexity of the world of a teenager, for the Holy Spirit is with us as we laugh and cry, and we are privileged to enter the lives of teens in their roller coasters of emotions.
Youth ministry, to me, is where you encourage a young person to grow and develop their faith by questioning it. It is the place where they must learn the true meaning of pure, unconditional, unadulterated love. As youth ministers, we get to bring balance to the force. We get to counter the messages that they will burn in hell for being different with the message that God loves them unconditionally without them needing to earn it. We get to love young people into being their true selves. We are not forcing them to fit perfectively in a box. In fact, we are encouraging them to live authentically, embracing God’s amazing love.
As youth ministers, we create a safe space for everyone to belong, for it is in that love that we can truly show that this is a place where membership will not be revoked.