January 2017, Millennial Life

Pursuing Your Passion in the New Year

by Trapper S. Kinchen

dscn0836As 2016 dissolves into the past and 2017 thrusts us ever closer toward a new decade, we owe it to ourselves to be bold. The start of a new year is the perfect time to shed insecurities, flex creative muscles and start chasing dreams. The missed opportunities and blunders of the old year become history, and – at 12:01 a.m. January 1 – our lives reopen to the limitless possibilities and excitement of the future.

Millennials are notorious for their confidence. We have learned through life experience, observation and intuition that purposefulness outweighs mediocrity. As a result, many millennials have chosen to pursue their passion instead of settling for stability. This self-assurance has led to a generation of people that are redefining words like “success” and “ambition.”

For example, Kimani Alexander is a busy guy. He’s a 17-year-old student at Scotlandville Magnet High, where he serves as the junior class president. He is heavily involved in a host of extracurricular activities, serves as the chairman/president of the junior deacon board at Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, helps his family around the house, and – despite that amazingly full schedule – finds time to run a small business.

Alexander comes from an industrious family. His grandfather is an engineer as well as a dentist, and his grandmother runs a lucrative sewing business. She designs and produces ladies’ formal wear, and she taught her grandson how to convert his creativity into something tangible.

She taught him how to sew, and he fell in love with making gentlemen’s trimmings — bowties, handkerchiefs, etc. “I picked it up from her, and I’ve been doing it for a year. I’ve been doing pretty good with it, too,” he said. He has done so well that, in the course of 2016, he made nearly $1,000 in profit.

Alexander designs, constructs, and sells his handmade accessories in a workspace he and his grandmother share. His bowties in particular show a serious talent for fusing whimsy and style. Throughout the past year, he has taken the basic constructional elements of bowtie-making and very subtly revolutionized them.

Anyone who has ever worn a bowtie is surely familiar with the sweaty aggravation of getting them to fit properly. You must either fight with complicated metal tabs or study YouTube clips on proper tying methods. Either way, it winds up being more of a hassle than it is worth.

Alexander has taken all of that into consideration and developed a technique that helps avoid any bowtie related stress. His design modification is so practical and clever that it is nothing short of genius. He stitches one of his well-crafted bows onto a thin elastic band, just wide enough to comfortably fit around the average neck.

All the wearer has to do is slip the elastic band over his head, situate it under his collar, and fold the collar down. Voila! An instant and perfectly tied bowtie. If it sounds like one of the simplest and most remarkable innovations to formalwear that you’ve ever heard, then you are correct.

dscn0841But bowties are not just a part of his moneymaking venture. For Alexander, they are a way of life. You won’t likely catch him without a suit and tie, because he believes in the power of dressing well. He said, when you put forth an effort in your appearance, “You look more intelligent, it highlights your character, and it brings your personality out in how you carry yourself.”

Alexander and his business are examples of the ways in which millennials are reshaping the global economic landscape. It is more important now than ever before to demonstrate a can-do attitude in the workplace. Forbes.com highlighted a 2014 study conducted by Bentley University, which “suggests that Millennials sense that career success will require them to be more nimble, independent and entrepreneurial than past generations.”

As the American and global workforces begin to shift with the influx of millennial laborers, the way in which employees interact with their workspace is also transforming. The same Bentley University study indicated, “Millennials are less interested in managing others than in having their autonomous, creative work lives.” Like Alexander, more and more young workers are more concerned with pursuing careers that suit their personality/creativity, than with working at a job that provides little beyond stability.

Even though he is only 17, Alexander represents the national trend of increasing numbers of millennials starting and building small enterprises. Fortune.com says, “While the older generation launched their first businesses at roughly 35 years old, so-called “millennipreneurs” are setting out around 27.” So, although the risks may be high, many of our peers are working hard to transform their occupational fantasies into reality.

If you would like to support Kimani and purchase one of his bowties or handkerchiefs, simply direct message him on Instagram or reach out to him on Facebook. Search “K. Alexander Bow Tie,” and his information will present itself. Whether you need something for prom, a wedding, or just want a slick tie for your wardrobe, he has a great selection of readymade merchandise and is willing to take commissions, too.

Long term, he plans to graduate high school and pursue a business degree at Southern University. Alexander hopes to delve deeper into entrepreneurship and continue to learn the ins and outs of economics, as he matures. His favorite quote is, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” The hard work he is putting forth at 17 will ultimately have a great and lasting impact on his future abilities as a businessman.

image-97Despite everything that occupies his time, Alexander says his ultimate goal is to “teach and motivate others to do their best.” His drive and work ethic are built on passion, determination, and faith. “I thank God every morning for waking me up and for his many blessings. I’m grateful for the motivated spirit he has given me,” Alexander said. He is such a fine example of how, with a little resolve and a great deal of perseverance, one can achieve anything one sets out to accomplish.

Venturing into entrepreneurship is just one of countless ways to be bold in 2017. The Lord is calling each of us toward a vitalizing and enriching purpose. Now is an excellent time to take notice of your passion, trust yourself and wholeheartedly chase your goals.

Fresh starts, bold moves and leaps of faith are possible year round, but January reminds us that our futures are crisp and limitless. New Year’s Day is symbolic of renewal, a day when we can bravely stare into the eyes of opportunity and see our lives as we would like them to be. Just remember, all things are possible with a bit of courage, the willingness to work hard and a healthy dose of faith.

December 2016, Millennial Life

Young People Going Global

by Trapper S. Kinchen
May pictured alongside a member of the local Belizean community.
May pictured alongside a member of the local Belizean community.

The world in which we live is so strongly dictated by visual media that the line separating truth and perception is easily blurred. We see, read, and hear about international disputes, global poverty and worldwide persecution. Yet, because of the constant stream of information surging across our news feeds, we often become desensitized to major issues. By absorbing information almost exclusively through the glow of an electronic screen, it is hard to feel and truly comprehend the difference between the global refugee crisis and an episode of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Millennials are better able to positively impact life on Earth than any preceding generation. We are savvy, empathetic and easily engaged. But, it can be difficult to figure out where to start making a difference. That being said, when all the distractions are cleared away, the answer is simple: having a global impact is as easy as being conscious of the bigger picture.

Gabrielle May is a millennial who spends a great deal of time thinking about her place in the broader universal scheme. She has dedicated herself to domestic and international missions, and in the process, discovered the beauty in taking time to give back to her fellow man.

She is the daughter of a kindergarten teacher and an engineer, born and raised in Baton Rouge. May has spent the last four years studying animal science at LSU and Louisiana Tech, and she will graduate from the latter at the end of this term. She works as a swim instructor when she’s not in class and tries to make time for her friends whenever possible. May seems like a typical millennial, but beneath the façade of her personal achievements stirs the spirit of a woman genuinely concerned with bettering the global good.

The local children waiting for Bible study to begin.
The local children waiting for Bible study to begin.

May first became involved with mission work in middle school, through her youth group at Broadmoor United Methodist. They participated in annual goodwill service projects around the United States. After a few trips, May developed a genuine enthusiasm for helping families in need. “I really loved serving others,” she said.

However, mission opportunities began to dwindle once May entered college. So, after healthy doses of introspection and prayer, she decided to spearhead an expedition designed to engage millennials in international aid. “I looked into some stuff, talked to a few of my church friends and my parents, and I decided to lead a mission trip to Belize,” she said.

Belize is a small county perched between Mexico and Guatemala on the western rim of the Caribbean Sea. It was a British territory until 1981, and since its independence, has experienced relatively slow economic growth. In fact, according to borgenproject.org, 41 percent of Belize’s population remains impoverished.

One of the children from the village where May volunteered.
One of the children from the village where May volunteered.

For two consecutive years, May has led groups into the country’s tropical interior. The objective behind her yearly trip is to meet some of the Belizean people’s most basic needs while simultaneously spreading the Gospel. And, based on the overwhelming expressions of local gratitude, her team’s work has had an encouraging impact on the lives of the poor.

Belize is a popular vacation destination for many Americans. It is known for its network of coral reefs, interwoven mangrove forests and glittering seascapes. However, May’s mission team worked primarily with inland indigenous peoples, many of whom are Yucatec Maya and Belizean Mestizos.

May’s outreach gives millennials a chance to serve outside the United States and provides them with a better understanding of the life-altering power of Christian goodwill. Twelve people joined her the first year she led the expedition, and this past summer, the number of volunteers swelled by 25 percent. “Most were aged eighteen to twenty-five, and two or three older adults also came,” she said.

In the beginning, the trip was a new experience for May, who up to that point, had primarily served as a missionary in the United States. It was also her first time leading a trip by herself. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” May said. But, despite some trepidation, she moved forward with her planning.

The villagers – from the area where May volunteered – live primitively by developed standards, and they are afforded few prospects for economic mobility. She and her team split their time between providing charitable aid and catering to people’s spiritual needs. “We did VBS in the mornings, and in the afternoons, we were able to hang out with the kids and do food deliveries,” she said.

In between Bible studies and distributing supplies, they built bunk beds for the village children. May also taught a group of local youth how to swim after hearing about an increase in drownings – she wanted to leave the people a little more comfortable and better prepared than when she arrived.

May is primarily drawn to the humanitarian side of mission work. She strives to demonstrate the inexhaustible compassion and authentic love of Jesus Christ through practical means. May’s experiences in the field have had a heavy influence on her perspective. The time she has spent ministering abroad has helped her realize the potency of her faith. “I’ve become more grounded in what I believe and why I believe it,” she said.

It is true that not all of us are called to the mission field, but that doesn’t mean we cannot be of service to the global community in other ways. Each of us is capable of fostering positive change in the lives of our fellow man. Sometimes, it is as easy as making a simple purchase. May said, “I love shopping at places where they give back when you buy something. That way you’re still giving to people when you buy something you really need.”

Donating supplies to a church or a reputable mission organization is also a great way to have a worldwide impact. Much of the global population lacks easy access to fundamental goods and services. School supplies, bars of soap, clothes, toys, food, money, or anything else you might feel inclined to give can help transform the international social landscape.

For anyone who feels compelled to give directly to May’s annual mission to Belize, contact Broadmoor United Methodist Church. You can make a donation online, or send a physical contribution to the church office with a memo stipulating that your gift should be allocated to the church’s Belize ministry. May said, “Even a few dollars really help and make it possible for us to go on the mission field.”

Whichever way you decide to contribute, remember to be open to the subtle guidance of the Holy Spirit. You might not be called to join May on the field or to even make a physical donation. Instead, the Lord may be directing you to pray for the worldwide network of missionaries, international affairs, the global economy, etc. The key is to follow your heart and do whatever it is you feel led to do.

Like most millennials, May does not know what the future has in store. Yet, she remains optimistic about her prospects and leans heavily on her faith. May said, “Faith, for me, since college, has been really tough. I know God will guide me to where I’m supposed to go, but it isn’t easy to keep that in mind on a daily basis. I keep thinking, ‘What am I going to do and where am I going to go?’ But, I have to have faith that, even though I might mess up, I will end up where I’m meant to be.”

It is important to take the time to look beyond our devices, past the steady trickle of information permeating our lives. The Earth is vast, and people just like you and me populate it. We are all called to play a part, and now is the best time to take the initiative to serve the global community. Like May says, “You’re never too young or too old to change the world.”

Millennial Life, November 2016

Embracing Your Authentic Self for the Holidays

by Trapper S. Kinchen

083We spend our late teens and most of our 20s trying to grow ourselves up. We develop fresh interests, build eclectic friendships, challenge ourselves with hard work, and press into a real relationship with God. The process is not an easy one, but with the passage of time, most of us wind up confident and self-sufficient. We become adults.

However, despite the hard-won battles to achieve independence, many of us emotionally revert when faced with our families. A single word or gesture from a relative can unexpectedly send us into a spiral of self-doubt and codependence. Because of this, many millennials, like generations before them, wrestle with conflicting feelings about “going home.”

The American holiday season officially commences on the last Thursday of November — when Thanksgiving and the promise of pie draws each of us back to our places of origin. During the holidays, we engage in familiar traditions and work hard to meet our parents’ expectations. That being said, no matter how hard we fight against it, every well-meant attempt to satisfy our relatives comes at the expense of our adulthood.

When we sacrifice our authentic selves in the name of family harmony, feelings of psychological regression and emotional depression typically follow. Research has proven many millennials dread interacting with their families around the holidays for fear of loosing their sense of self. Last December, Dr. Goal Auzeen Saedi contributed an article entitled “Ditching Family Drama This Holiday Season” to Psychology Today. It highlighted the anxieties and concerns millennials typically develop when faced with kin.

Dr. Saedi followed a group of college students preparing to leave school for Christmas break. The mental health facility at the university where she worked saw an uptick in the number of people seeking psychological guidance as the semester drew to a close. She wrote, “[They] shared concerns that their families would not accept the more authentic version of themselves. Others came from demanding and sometimes critical parents and were anxious about returning to such a home environment.”

Her research indicates that plenty of people worry about regressing under the strain of their family’s emotional demands. Of course, Dr. Saedi’s findings are not necessarily indicative of every person’s experience. Not everybody is hesitant to “go home.” Nevertheless, when looking at statistics on the mental health of most Millennials, it’s safe to assume that, for many of us, regressive family environments compound with our already highly stressful lives.

CBSNEWS.com cited a 2013 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association and Harris Interactive, which found that “Millennials are more stressed than any other current living generation.” As a group, we bear a great deal of worry. Although some is self-induced, much of our nervous tension is generated by outside influences.

Millennials are faced with an onslaught of psychological strain that makes the transition into adulthood especially challenging: starting careers in a sluggish and competitive job market, cultivating relationships in a progressively disconnected social environment, and understanding where we fit into the rapidly shrinking global landscape.

107As of 2015, millennials are America’s largest generational demographic — the first time in nearly half a century when baby boomers have been outnumbered. We represent a national cultural shift toward openness and inclusivity. It’s no secret most of us hold perspectives that veer, to some degree, away from our parents’ values.

Market analysts and other social theorists call our age group’s worldview the “millennial mindset.” We, in greater numbers than any previous generation, have postponed major life decisions like marriage and reproduction in favor of participating in new experiences and pursuing adventure. And, even those of us who are married and/or are parents, approach life differently than generations past.

The “millennial mindset” also affects how we as a demographic tackle major holidays like Thanksgiving. Millennials are progressively more interested in throwing creative and relaxed celebrations rather than sticking to traditional themes. This change has stemmed in part from our desire to be comfortable just as we are, and our need to avoid pretense.

As our views of the holidays shift, so do the ways in which we engage in them. There is a phenomenon called “Friendsgiving” that is rapidly gaining popularity among our demographic. It is an alternative to the customary Thanksgiving dinner.

Millennials are swiftly realizing celebrations do not need to be unnecessarily full of familial expectations and suppressed anxiety. As a result, many of us have begun opting out of the domestic rituals of our childhoods in favor of coming together with like-minded friends. We have begun to shed obligation in favor of embracing realness.

The general idea behind Friendsgiving is to have a genuine celebration without the dysfunctional tension, outdated conventions and emotional strain usually associated with a holiday at home. Friendsgiving is not defined by a set of prescribed rules, and that’s what makes it so appealing! Invite your friends, coworkers and family too, but do it on your own terms.

It is about abandoning guilt, shame and pressure, and coming together to rejoice with people you enjoy. When the pressure is off, it becomes a celebration based on giving thanks rather than meeting requirements. Chris Erskine of the Los Angeles Times says, “A Friendsgiving is Thanksgiving with no baggage, no family tensions. At Friendsgiving, no one sits in judgment.”

When I was in college, the Saturday before Thanksgiving break, I would host a lunch for all my friends. I spent 72 hours brining a turkey, baking bread from scratch, and learning that homemade cranberry sauce isn’t worth the effort. On the day of the lunch, we all sat around my apartment eating, discussing current events and being our authentic selves. It was a powerfully mature experience, mixed with feelings of pure delight.

067Like the ones my friends and I used to have, Friendsgivings are blank canvases of festivity, designed to bring people together. You can turn them into whatever you want: an informal potluck around the television, a full-on sit down affair with a turducken and cocktails, a vegan barbeque in the backyard, etc. The key is to enjoy yourself and savor the people who help to enrich your life.

Finding peace during the holidays does not necessarily mean isolating yourself from your family. It might be as simple as redirecting the family tradition. Invite your parents and siblings to your house, encourage them to mingle with your friends and assume the role of host.

Breaking free from rituals can be powerfully liberating. Whether its Friendsgiving, Friendsmas, or Friendependence Day, creating a comfortable and joyful atmosphere for a holiday party is always a good idea. Flexibility is the cornerstone of celebrating. It’s not about honoring a custom, but rather about taking pause to count life’s blessings.

It is vital to remember that God wants us to be whole, happy and healthy individuals — the Bible is full of references to this. We do a disservice to others and ourselves when we get bogged down in familial dysfunction and personal regression. The best part of growing up is getting to embrace bare bones self-authenticity and gathering together with the people you love. Happy Friendsgiving!

Millennial Life, October 2016

Kaylee Hughes Finds Joy in Her Faith Despite the Storm

by Trapper S. Kinchen
The UNO men’s basketball team and Hughes’s family in front of their flood ravaged home.
The UNO men’s basketball team and Hughes’s family in front of their flood ravaged home.

As millennials, we find ourselves at a serious developmental crossroads. We have just begun to face life head on – our dreams raw against a world-weary storm of frustration – and each of us is busy learning how to cope with adversity. With a little faith, we can overcome the ache of disappointment and embrace positivity.

Sixteen-year-old Kaylee Hughes lives in the center of Livingston Parish with her parents and three younger sisters. Their charming, single-story, brick home is situated on the Hog Branch tributary of the Tickfaw River, about 45 minutes from Baton Rouge. Lush meadow vistas and thick stands of oak trees dot the landscape around their tiny community.

Hughes is the eldest of four daughters. She and her younger sisters, Jaycee, 14, Maggie, 7, and Harlie, 3, attend Holden High – a kindergarten through twelfth grade public school – where her mother teaches. Her father works alternating three-week shifts on an oil pipeline in Alaska. But, the Hughes family is very close, and their deep familial bond helps buoy them during times of crisis.

At the beginning of August, Hughes embarked upon her junior year of high school. She settled into basketball, softball and track practices, began working on new material for her church choir, and hunkered into a study routine. But, on August 12, the creek behind her home began to rise.

Hughes marking the water line in her family’s sunroom.
Hughes marking the water line in her family’s sunroom.

Like most Louisianans, the Hughes family is familiar with the wild force with which natural disasters often strike. Two years ago, their house was severely damaged in a fire. Her family soldiered through a lengthy renovation process before finally getting resettled. Then, this past March, when the melting snow from the Midwest began draining southward, their home took in nearly a foot of water as the Tickfaw River distended to almost twice its normal size. They had only been back in their house for three months when the recent flood struck.

Hughes, her mother and sisters, along with an aunt and cousin, spent Friday, August 12, equipping for what the National Weather Service promised would be a historic flood. “All day Friday, we were busy sandbagging and buying water pumps, but we weren’t expecting the river to crest until Sunday, so we decided to sleep in our own beds that night,” Hughes said.

Exhausted from a hard day’s work, Hughes quickly fell asleep. But, under the cover of darkness, water was swiftly breaking over the embankments of Hog Branch Creek. Before long, the brisk muddy current had reached her house.

“I was lying in my bed, reached over, and felt water,” she said.

Hughes’s youngest sister, Harlie, standing by the ruined contents of their home.
Hughes’s youngest sister, Harlie, standing by the ruined contents of their home.

In the nick of time, Hughes’s grandfather collected them in his lake skiff. While he shuttled the family to a cousin’s house, they came across a cluster of panicked evacuees. “We had to rescue a few people. There were a bunch of kids with a couple of wailing moms. We finally got them to dry land by the fire station. We gave them all the food we had and a tarp to keep the kids dry,” she said.

Through the fray of the rising water, Hughes and her family stayed focused and calm. After the tide receded, they returned home to evaluate the damage. The creek had risen five feet into the house, leaving a heavy brown line on the living room wall. Everything, even keepsakes stored on high shelves, was ruined.

Hughes is all too familiar with parting with her belongings. This is not the first time she has had to start from scratch. But for Hughes, coping with her family’s displacement is the most difficult aspect of the destruction.

“The hardest part for me is feeling like I’ve invaded other people’s space,” she said. Hughes says it is impossible to get settled now that she cannot go home, now that there is no longer any place that feels completely hers.

National guardsmen Murray and Hopson at the Livingston Parish Courthouse.
National guardsmen Murray and Hopson at the Livingston Parish Courthouse.

Since the flood ebbed, a swell of volunteers has come to the aid of Hughes’ family. Different relatives have taken turns housing them, the Holden basketball team initiated a cleanup effort, and despite their own personal losses, members of the Holden community have reached out to help.

In the wake of devastation, there has been no shortage of volunteers from different parts of the state arriving to help flood victims rebuild. The SLU tennis team came to Holden to assist with a cook off and clothing drive, and the UNO men’s basketball team lent a hand to the Hughes family, leading the effort to clean out their house.

It is impossible to overstate the important role fast-responding volunteer programs play immediately following a natural disaster. As soon as the floodwaters began rising, our Louisiana National Guardsmen began operating in affected areas. Our men and women in uniform are crucial to recovery initiatives, and they are always prepared to risk their lives for citizens in danger.

Immediately following the flood, I spoke with a national guardswoman stationed at the Livingston Parish Courthouse. Kalley Murray, a 19-year-old servicewoman, has been a part of the Louisiana National Guard for over a year. She and her commanding officer, Daniel Hopson of Delhi, La., sat down to discuss how the military was leading recovery efforts.

Murray is from Sulphur, La. Both she and Hopson have experienced many natural disasters, but they appeared particularly touched by the trials facing local flood victims. “It’s heartbreaking. People have lost everything. The damage is devastating,” said Murray.

She and her fellow guardsmen have actively worked to secure the battered communities of South Louisiana, patrolling ravaged neighborhoods and lending helping hands. Murray and Hopson both emphasized the importance of engaging in community outreach directly after a catastrophe.

Hughes' home during the flooding.
Hughes’ home during the flooding.

Hughes and her sisters have certainly done their part in contributing to disaster relief. “We went to some teachers’ houses to help them clean up,” she said. They have also been very active in helping their church, the First United Pentecostal Church of Denham Springs, rebuild.

Faith is the primary reason Hughes has not, through all the wreckage, lost hope. “My relationship with Jesus is a building process. Living for God isn’t easy. Our church leaders have taught us to dig deep. When you go deeper, that’s when you find the joy of the Lord,” she said.

The Hughes family is focusing on the future. Whether or not their home gets rebuilt is in the hands of an insurance adjuster. But in the meantime, they are sticking together as a family, remaining grateful for their many blessing and praying for a resolution.

Hughes insists on staying positive. “I keep thinking ‘You’re going to get to the other side.’ I’m just trying to have fun with it,” she said. “We’re going to talk about this experience forever. So, we’ve got to do the best we can with it.”

Even though we live in an imperfect world, the Lord is constantly working all things for good. It is impossible to control what crosses our paths, yet how we respond to tragedy is completely up to us. We can crumble beneath the weight of a setback and surrender to circumstance. Or, like Kaylee Hughes and Kalley Murray, we can tap into our faith and find joy in a crippling situation.

Traumatic experiences – like the recent flood – have the potential to define our character. Perseverance can grow out of pain. Determination can blossom from distress. It all depends on whether we have the spiritual strength to stand, facing the squall of disappointment, and press forward.

Millennial Life, September 2016

Abby Ter Haar Understands the Importance of Engaging In the Broader Global Conversation

by Trapper S. Kinchen
Ter Haar visiting Amer Fort in Jaipur, India.
Ter Haar visiting Amer Fort in Jaipur, India.

Millennials have the power to change the world. But like pebbles on a beach, we sometimes lie motionless while the tide of life knocks us back and forth. When that happens, our trepidation and self-consciousness render us helpless, and we begin to feel incapable.

It is only when we reconcile our faith with our shortcomings that we can reach beyond ourselves and make a difference in other people’s lives. However, that is not always easy. Life is a steady stream of potential letdowns and obstacles, and it takes faith and tenacity to tackle the hurdles head on.

Abby Ter Haar is a typical millennial. She jogs for fun, has ambitions of attending graduate school and is busy trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. But, beneath that veneer of normalcy bubbles the spirit of a woman set on making a difference.

Ter Haar is one of 7 million Americans and 147 million people worldwide who suffers from alopecia areata — an autoimmune skin disease that results in varying degrees of permanent baldness. For 17 years, she has lived without a single strand of hair on her body. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF), the disease’s trigger is unknown, and there is no effective treatment to combat its symptoms.

Ter Haar has lobbied congress alongside the NAAF to help increase awareness and funding for alopecia research since she was 8 years old. Despite the challenges of her disease, she has taken up the mantle of activism and steered clear of bitterness. “I can see how God used [alopecia]. I wouldn’t be the person I am if it hadn’t happened to me,” she said.

Hair loss can be emotionally crippling for alopecia suffers. They sometimes become reclusive and detached from their careers, friends and families. For those people, having a wig to wear often means the difference between psychological healing and emotional collapse.

However, wigs are not always easily accessible. “Wigs are super expensive. They can be thousands of dollars and only last for two to three years. One of the things we’re lobbying for is Medicaid funding for wigs,” Ter Haar said.

1570Meanwhile, some people with alopecia quickly come to terms with their hairlessness and do not feel the need to hide it. Ter Haar only started wearing a wig when she was 19, and even then it was a spur of the moment decision.

Ter Haar admitted she partly started wearing a wig because of the social pressures she faced in college. “It hasn’t always been easy. I struggled a lot. It’s important that people realize that. There were days when I couldn’t go to class because I was crying,” she said.

She studied at Texas Christian University — a campus with less than 10,000 students — and occasionally her schoolmates made cursory judgments based on her appearance. It was entirely different from her experience in high school, where everyone understood and accepted her disease. “College was the first time I really noticed people treating me differently because I looked different,” she said.

Now a college graduate, Ter Haar takes life as it comes. Some days she is fully confident. Others, she needs a little self-motivation to get going. “Everyday can be different. Sometimes you feel totally fine, but sometimes you can feel awkward,” Ter haar explained.

Ter Haar is a poised woman whose outward beauty is enhanced by her bubbly personality and energetic charm. Nevertheless, it has not always been easy to reconcile her alopecia with self-assurance. “It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’ve had to make my own way,” she said.

Her advice for someone facing an obstacle, physical or otherwise, is to keep your eyes on the bigger picture. “If you have to go through things like that, face adversity of any kind, you’re a stronger person when you grow up,” she said. “You don’t see it when you’re 12, but as you grow you’ll realize you’re more resilient and can handle bigger problems.”

Ter Haar lobbying for alopecia funding on Capitol Hill.
Ter Haar lobbying for alopecia funding on Capitol Hill.

Ter Haar’s alopecia helped foster her unique strength and confidence, and it helped her realize the importance of giving back. During her last year of college, she wound up going to India to teach English at an all-girls school. There she was faced with a patchwork of complex cultural hurdles, which she navigated bravely.

With only a basic understanding of the local language and Indian social norms, she tried to have a positive impact on her students’ lives. Ter Haar has a passion for women’s rights, and India became a place where she could actively engage in discussions about international public health. “There are a lot of issues for women in India. For example, there’s a huge sex-selection abortion problem,” she explained.

While abroad, Ter Haar spent her time working hard to effect positive social change. Part of her effort was based on empowering local girls and women to take advantage of the new opportunities slowly becoming available to them. “We made this really cool video for International Women’s Day. It was a great conversation to start. That was probably my favorite thing we did,” she said.

She was always sensitive to the social nuances that separated Indian culture from her American point of view. Ter Haar focused on encouraging kids to think about the world differently, and helped them consider fresh perspectives. She never told people what to believe, only encouraged them to engage in the broader global conversation.

It has been a few years since Ter Haar last lived abroad. Since then, she has worked on bringing awareness to disenfranchised groups, volunteered for nonprofits and focused on building her skill set. After Labor Day, she will be heading back to India for 10 months.

Ter Haar said she looks forward to taking part in the dynamic progress sweeping Southern Asia. Indian millennials are actively working to better their communities, despite facing powerful financial and social barriers. Many of them come from extraordinarily poor socio-economic backgrounds but manage to start some of the world’s most innovative nonprofit organizations. “It’s really inspiring. Things are changing so quickly,” Ter Haar said.

Ter Haar with her students at Lady Irwin Senior Secondary School in New Delhi, India.
Ter Haar with her students at Lady Irwin Senior Secondary
School in New Delhi, India.

It is increasingly important to make an effort to explore the world around us, even if that means simply interacting with people from a different part of our city, parish or state. “Getting outside our own comfort zone is really important, because it helps us understand ourselves better,” she said.

Now more than ever, we need to engage with one another. Most of the social antagonism battering the globe is the direct result of individual complacency. “Especially in the current political environment, a lot of the conflict comes from us just not getting out of our personal bubbles,” Ter Haar explained.

Volunteering is a brilliant place to start if you are interested in reaching out to your community. For those looking to have a positive impact, Ter Haar suggests doing some research on local charitable organizations. “There are a lot of great nonprofits that work in Baton Rouge,” she added.

For Ter Haar, charity work is not about receiving recognition or praise. Her philanthropy is based on meeting people exactly where they are and loving them. “If we remember how Jesus treated people, it makes it easier to want to work with everyone and see their point of view,” she said.

As the surge of life’s difficulties rolls over us, we must strengthen ourselves with resolve, stand firm in the midst of the fray and press forward. God has supplied us with the power to overcome every challenge, but we have to be willing to use it. He has called us to reach beyond ourselves and engage with the world around us – all we have to do is embrace our potential and put it to use.

August 2016, Millennial Life

Diving Into the Murky Unknown

by Trapper S. Kinchen
Stein in Gonzales’ Jambalaya Park. Photo by Keli Hayden.
Stein in Gonzales’ Jambalaya Park. Photo by Keli Hayden.

Many millennials tend to be islands unto themselves. Our generation is one of the world’s most capable, but we are often self-restricting. Fear of failure sometimes drives us away from opportunity, and insecurity often forces us to repress our enthusiasm.

Each of us has experiences worth sharing, and we all possess the ability to positively influence our fellow man. You do not have to be perfect or highly skilled to make an impact. All you need is confidence.

Courtney Stein is a shy girl with a keen perspective, and she is a powerful example of how pushing past uncertainty and wading into something new can make a remarkable impression on other people’s lives.

She lives in the boggy lowlands of Ascension Parish on the edge of Gonzales. She is a writer, scholar and – from August to April – a volunteer catechism teacher at St. Theresa of Avila Catholic Church.

Twenty-five-year-old Stein works full-time as a receiving manager at a Baton Rouge bookstore. She has a keen interest in young adult and children’s literature, and has translated her obsession with reading into a passionate pursuit of learning.

She graduated valedictorian from East Ascension High in 2009, got an English degree from LSU in 2013, and received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts one year ago. Studious, hardworking and determined, she is an ideal student, and after years of practice has become a first-rate teacher.

Stein’s official role at St. Theresa is teacher’s aide. “I take the kids, one and one, and help them learn their prayers and process their catechism lessons,” she said.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of catechism, Stein explained it as, “a nine-month, in-church class held so kids can learn more about their faith before making the official decision to become a full member of the Catholic Church.”

Catechism provides young Catholics with information about the Church’s tenets, and educates them on how specific rituals function inside and outside of mass. Each church has its own parish school of religion (PSR) where classes are taught. Because it concerns spiritual development, catechism is never taken lightly.

 Stein holding her journal.
Stein holding her journal.

Nearly a decade ago, the director of the St. Theresa PSR asked Stein if she would be interested in helping. St. Theresa, like many churches, is always in need of volunteers, and the director felt Stein would be a good fit for working with the parish’s children. Nevertheless, the thought of teaching was intimidating, and Stein felt there were other people better qualified for the job.

“My immediate reaction was to say no. It scared me,” she said. Stein’s lack of self-assurance was overwhelming. She had only ever been a student, never a teacher. She thought, “Who am I to instruct kids? I don’t know enough. Honestly, who gives me the authority to be the voice of faith to these children? What if I say the wrong thing?”

She spent two days considering the consequences of accepting the position. Stein prayed about it, faced her anxieties head on and ultimately felt comfortable enough to say, “yes.” It has been six years since she first started volunteering, and it is something she has never regretted.

Teaching at the PSR requires serious sacrifices of Stein’s private life. It is a job that affords her no financial compensation, but takes up a great deal of personal time. Its only reward comes from the enjoyment of passing on wisdom to a fresh generation of Catholics.

Fortunately, that satisfaction is enough for Stein. Every August, she returns and starts working with a new group of kids. Her fear of teaching has vanished. “I now know teaching is just sharing knowledge with another person, and a big part of it is being open to other people’s experiences. We’re all capable of that,” Stein said.

Like a parent, Stein appreciates each student’s special point of view. “Every kid I teach brings a different life experience to the table. Their uniqueness causes them to process information differently and sometimes ask tough questions. I learn from them as much as they learn from me,” she said.

Stein in front of her church.
Stein in front of her church.

And that, Stein said, is why she is motivated to teach — so she can keep learning. The students force her to approach even basic material from new angles. No information can be taken for granted. “We’ve had kids come to our class who’ve asked, ‘who’s Jesus?’ or ‘what’s the Holy Spirit,’ and that’s hard to hear,” she explained. “As Christians, we occasionally forget about the people – especially children – out there who don’t know the fundamentals. Luckily, in catechism, they get the chance to learn about the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

All of her students – regardless of their familiarity with Christianity – are curious. When a child asks “why,” Stein always says, “Everything can and should be traced back to the Bible. If you have any questions about your faith, that’s where you need to start.” And Stein is frequently compelled to turn to the Word herself when students pose difficult questions.

Part of being an effective teacher is admitting when you do not know the answer. “You won’t always have the correct response, and you’ve got to be prepared to admit that. You also have to be ready to do everything you can to figure the right answer out. Not just for the kids, but for yourself,” Stein said.

Searching for the “right answer” is the driving force in Stein’s life. She is a member of a large Acadian family that practices centuries-old religious and cultural customs. Growing up, there was little separation between her spiritual and social upbringings.

However, the rituals and traditions in which Stein was raised come with a few limitations. Occasionally, her opinions shift from both the official doctrine of the Catholic Church and her family’s conventional worldview. But, she knows neither her faith nor her perspective is mutually exclusive. They each work together, in their own particular ways to make her a productive person.

For Stein, faith is not defined by stiff regulations. It is about embracing your imperfections and exercising the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.

Stein holding her rosary.
Stein holding her rosary.

Her practical approach to faith makes Stein an ideal candidate for ministering to children. She also brings a great deal of life experience to the classroom. As a teenager, she came up against some fairly steep psychological obstacles.

Ten years ago, Stein suffered a heavy emotional setback after ending a friendship. “I went through a very tough time my sophomore year of high school. I was deeply depressed. I had some really bad thoughts,” she explained.

Fortunately, she reached out to her family, friends and a therapist for support. Her healing also came, in part, through prayer. “I prayed a lot! Even when I didn’t want to – and to be honest, I mostly didn’t feel like praying – I did it anyway, and it helped,” she said.

Stein, like many of us, still has moments of doubt and self-condemnation, and she occasionally feels her closeness to the Lord “come and go.” But, she said, “It’s normal to question and feel insecure in your faith once in awhile. You just have to work through it – don’t settle – in order to strengthen your bond with God.”

No two of us are the same. Whether it is through teaching, creating or competing, each of us has something extraordinary to contribute to the greater good. Self-assurance does not always come easily. Sometimes we have to step out in faith before we can develop authentic personal strength.

Life is a bottomless and uncharted sea of opportunity. Waves of uncertainty often push us away from our potential and blur our point of view. Like Stein, we must take a deep breath, wrap ourselves in confidence and dive into the murky tide of the unknown. The ripples we create have the potential to impact someone else’s life in a big way.

July 2016, Millennial Life

A Mission in the Desert

by Trapper S. Kinchen
Sara Stevens two days before departing for her mission trip. Photo by Keli Hayden.
Sara Stevens two days before departing for her mission trip. Photo by Keli Hayden.

Often times, we millennials are not fully aware of the impact – positive or negative – we have on other people’s lives. We are young, and most of us are comfortable deferring to someone else when pressure runs high. But, despite our relative lack of life experience, we all have the potential to influence the world in a concrete way.

Sara Stevens is from Holden, La., a community tucked in the dense groves between Baton Rouge and Hammond, where the local high school graduates roughly 40 students each year.

She is 22, and she is currently at work sharing the gospel in the Middle East. She will spend the next three months on the mission field at an undisclosed location (for security reasons).

Missionary work is the sort of occupation that requires a commitment to leadership and someone unafraid to face a challenge. But, it is also a job that any one of us might unexpectedly be compelled to undertake.

Stevens is a regular young woman. She attends classes at Southeastern during the day, spends time with her friends in the evening, and recently became engaged to be married. Truthfully, there is nothing that would outwardly imply that she is an adventurer or an experienced leader. But, there is much more to her than meets the eye.

Stevens is very much like the rest of us. It took time for her to develop an open and personal relationship with the Lord. “I was christened when I was a baby, but I grew up in a Baptist church. And, I got saved when I was in the eleventh grade at a Global Youth Camp,” she explained.

One of Stevens' favorite scriptures.
One of Stevens’ favorite scriptures.

It was at that camp – run by Global Youth Ministry – where Stevens began to grow spiritually and build the sort of leadership skills that would later come in handy on the mission field.

She spent the summer of 2014 as a staff member with Global Youth Ministry. Her duties included functioning as an official photographer and stand-in mother for her team. “We traveled a lot, and I was in charge of fixing lunch for about 20 people. I would make snacks for everyone too, and basically be the mama of the staff,” Stevens said.

She and the rest of the group toured Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina, holding youth camps for local teenagers who wanted to learn more about Jesus and have an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Under the guidance of the Global Youth mentors, Stevens’ inner strength grew. She honed her instinctive aptitude for leadership with each camp she helped organize. The confidence and passion she developed while working during that summer ultimately equipped her for the mission trip she would undertake two years later.

Although she is well prepared to serve in the field, Stevens’ journey to her mission has not been easy. She was responsible, over the past several months, for raising the funds to get herself to the Middle East, and for having enough money to sustain her while she is there.

“I prepared financially by doing a lot of babysitting, and I’ve cleaned houses to raise the money I need,” Stevens said.

The town where Stevens will be serving.
The town where Stevens will be serving.

The self-motivation, fortitude, and adaptability she utilized at home will eventually benefit her on the mission field. When she reaches the Middle East, Stevens is joining her fiancé – a mentor with Global Youth Ministry – who works as an IT coordinator for a small Christian school in the desert. She will work alongside him and his team to spread the gospel to the local Arabic-speaking community.

The town where Stevens will minister has a large Christian population, and her service will have less to do with the sort of human aid work we often associate with missionaries, digging wells, building houses, etc., and will mostly focus on holding camp meetings and verbally spreading the word of God.

At their camps, missionaries take questions the local youth might have and help them dig deeper into the word in order to find answers. “They do home groups. So, every Thursday night, the missionaries go to a house and have a deep Bible study with the kids who choose to come,” Stevens explained.

Most of the millennials in the town where she will work come from Christian families, but their knowledge of the Bible is dismal. “They are often confused. They believe what their parents believe, but they don’t have their own understanding of the word or Jesus Christ. So, that’s what the youth group Bible studies are for,” she said.

The opportunity to have a positive impact is enormous, but Stevens will rely on both common sense and spiritual discernment to help her know how to best interact with the locals. “You have to know who you’re talking to before sharing the gospel. Otherwise, it could be dangerous,” Stevens said.

Despite the potential hazards, Stevens does not seem worried about her expedition. “I’m not necessarily scared. Flying by myself makes me a little nervous, but I’m excited to get there,” she said.

While political and cultural conflict currently disrupts much of the Middle East, Stevens maintains a strong perspective on it saying, “The way I think about it is this: Louisiana has a problem with human trafficking, and that’s dangerous! If I’m here everyday, facing real-life threats, what’s the difference between that and dealing with the risks in the Middle East?”

It will take every ounce of Stevens’s faith and courage to see her mission through to the end. The echoing of bombs from the Syrian Civil War can be heard from the town where she will sleep. Those bombs signify the displacement of over 13 million people, half of whom are children, from their homeland, according to worldvision.org.

Despite numerous challenges, Stevens will endure, and she is determined to effect positive change in the lives of the people she encounters. Like any first-rate leader, she is undeterred in the face of opposition.

A good leader is not difficult to define. She must be able to effectively communicate. She also needs to possess a deep capacity for listening and have a desire to help others succeed. “Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean being in charge. It’s being able to work well with others and encourage those around you. It is not just about giving orders,” Stevens explained.

When Stevens returns home, she will start back to Southeastern, where she will graduate in December with a degree in education. Afterwards, she will spend the whole of 2017 on the mission field to see if the Lord is calling her there permanently.

583-2For Stevens, it is about taking the time to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say. “Don’t do something just because you think you’re supposed to do it. You need to be sure, and, most importantly, be patient,” she said.

If you want to get involved in the sort of work Stevens is doing, conduct some research on Global Youth Ministry and explore the opportunities they have available by visiting their website www.globalyouthministry.org. You can also donate to its work via the website through a monthly financial contribution or one-time donation.

Just like the brave men and women in the American armed forces, missionaries risk their lives to enact positive worldwide change. Just like soldiers, they need our emotional support and verbal acknowledgment of their service.

“People can help missionaries by donating money, with prayer or by sending packages and letters of encouragement,” Stevens said. Don’t hesitate to contribute in whatever capacity you are able.

“If you don’t know if it’s really the Holy Spirit leading you, pray about it. Wait. Don’t rush into something unless you’re sure,” Stevens concluded. Her words hold value whether you’re preparing to embark on an international excursion or choosing a college major. Don’t be afraid. With a little faith and a healthy dose of commitment, we can all be part of something great.

June 2016, Millennial Life

The Arduous Odyssey of Self Discovery

by Trapper S. Kinchen

(Editor’s note: Julie is a pseudonym for the counselor interviewed for this article.)

FullSizeRender-6We, millennials, find ourselves in this transient space between who we were as children and who we will be as adults. It doesn’t matter if you are 13 or 35 — undoubtedly you are bound on the great and unchanging odyssey of self-discovery undertaken by each generation since the birth of creation.

Time propels each of us forward on an expedition to unlock who we are, apart from our parents, separate from what we’ve been taught. We work toward finding life-affirming careers, healthy romances, honest friendships and most importantly, an authentic relationship with God. Sometimes, along the way, our newly discovered personal truths and experiences diverge from the sentiments and facts instilled into us as children.

That separation between what we thought we knew and what we now hold to be true sometimes stalls us with a song of self-doubt and dread, and we often find ourselves in need of a little support and encouragement along the way.

I recently sat down with Julie, a friend of mine who works as a faith-based counselor on the Northshore. She specializes in individual and family therapies and works with a great many people our age. Her job is essentially to offer encouragement, and provide her clients with the tools they need to navigate their day-to-day lives as healthily as possible.

Each of the people she treats represents a unique personal history. The traumas, experiences and circumstances that bring them to her practice are incredibly diverse, but the usual motivations that spur her millennial clients into counseling are stress, anxiety and fear. Sometimes these symptoms manifest in varying degrees of depression, compulsive behavior and/or an urge to self-harm.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_05As the 21st century carves its way through American culture, technology continues to play an ever-increasing role in how we exercise our minds, bodies and spirits. Julie sees firsthand the consequences that widespread overdependence on technology is having on millennials. “Comparing ourselves to other people isn’t new. But, with mobile devices, technology is constantly in our face. A general feeling of inadequacy is practically inescapable these days,” Julie said.

It’s undeniable that social media has exacerbated our national obsession with individual success. We are continually bombarded with unrealistic beauty and material standards on platforms like Instagram, and are often left questioning our worth. Are we #important, #beautifulenough, #reachingnewlevels? We wonder why we don’t have a high enough paying job, a house of our own, a new vehicle, a cohort of attractive friends, a beautiful and affectionate romantic partner or a more symmetrical face. The cultural ideals one encounters on social media have the quiet ability to undermine our confidence.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_01Modern technology has the potential to enrich our lives in ways no prior generation has ever been enhanced before. Skype and social media, for example, afford us the ability to maintain visual relationships with people clear across the globe. But like any other obsessive impulse, over time, technological codependence starts to snuff out our humanity.

The Pew Research Center discovered in 2015 that 24 percent of teens “go online almost constantly.” They also found that 71 percent of all teens use more than one social media site while online.  Such a heavy amount of Internet use is disconcerting because when we glut ourselves on visual media, our desire to live life to the fullest is undermined by a compulsion to sustain a captivating online presence.

All of the externally induced self-doubt we carry, mixed with the litany of heartache and worry each of us endures on the path to maturity, can manifest into depression, anxiety, panic, fear, low self-esteem, etc., and these symptoms become unmanageably enflamed when we ignore their underlying causes. The most cathartic way to confront and reconcile the roots of any emotional or psychological unrest is to seek counseling.

When deciding whether to see a mental health professional and what sort of help you might need, Julie emphasizes that there’s a great deal to consider. As a Christian, ministry-based treatment might be the right choice for you. The differences between faith-based counseling and traditional psychological analysis are not terribly deep, and Julie insists that each technique holds merit.

FullSizeRender-7“I use elements of both traditional analysis and faith-based principles in my counseling. How much I include of either depends on the individual I’m treating. Incorporating prayer and scripture into the healing process can be very beneficial if a person is open to them,” she said. The key is to find a counselor with whom you mesh well, and whose techniques you find effective. Pray about it. The Lord will ultimately lead you where you need to go if you ask Him.

It is also important to be proactive and take a dynamic role in your own healing. To start, do some online research on local counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Read about their unique counseling styles and approaches to treatment before making an appointment. If you know someone who is seeing or has previously seen a mental health professional, ask if they recommend their counselor.

If you’re a student, either in high school or college, there are already resources in place to help you combat these achingly negative feeling that might be weighing you down. Go to your school counselor or the mental health facility at your university, and they will act as a launching point for your journey to overall wellness. They can either treat you themselves, or recommend someone for you to see in private practice.

If you ever get to a place of total hopelessness and dejection, Julie recommends you go immediately to someone safe who loves you and let them know how you feel. If you do not have a person you can readily approach or trust, call your doctor or go to a reputable hospital and let them know you are severely depressed. Your physician can quickly refer you to a mental health professional, and all hospitals have at least one psychiatrist on staff that can help you in case of an emergency.

Julie emphasized that if someone ever comes to you with the intention to harm either themselves or others, get them to the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible so they can be treated by a medical professional.

Julie also has some suggestions for any parents who might be wondering how they can help their depressed, anxious or panicked child. “Leave judgment out of it,” Julie said. “If you want your teenage and adult kids to feel comfortable coming to you when they have problems, listen to them and offer them love and encouragement.” Additionally, be conscious not to add any additional pressure to your child’s emotional burden. Let them come to you when they seek guidance. Be ready to hear them. Advise them when they seek it, and provide them with a silent ear when they need someone to listen. Let them know they are loved and supported, not as children who need to be soothed or disciplined, but as capable, flourishing individuals.

PI_2015-04-09_teensandtech_10When I asked Julie what she thought most Christians commonly misconceive about therapy, she said, “People often think their problems are ‘all under the blood.’ They sometimes believe the abuse, trauma and uncertainty they experience can simply be offered up in prayer and that’s the end of it. Yes, the Lord wants us to be whole and healed, and he will help you process your pain and anxiety if you’ll let him. But, each of us has to play an active role in our own healing.”

Mental, emotional and psychological illnesses must be treated as such. God has provided us with plenty of resources to help us engage in complete and lasting wellness. Depression, anxiety, panic and self-hatred are, in essence, no different than broken bones. You would not try to set a shattered femur without the supervision of an orthopedist, would you? Nor should you feel you must weather the aftershocks of mental, physical or spiritual trauma alone and unguided. Let a counselor encourage and direct you through the pain.

The route to self-discovery is sharp and twisted. The terrain is perilous, and our missteps will be many, but we don’t have to undertake the expedition alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when it’s most needed and always remember to take your time and enjoy the journey.

May 2016, Millennial Life

Young Life Focuses on Building Community Through Authentic, Loving Relationships

by McKenzie Moffett
Angel Esteban Davila, left, with Louie Bernard.
Angel Esteban Davila, left, with Louie Bernard.

For young people, the first year or so of college is often filled with challenging transitions and a flurry of decisions about the future, both immediate and more distant. What’s your major? Have you chosen a concentration? Are you planning to ‘rush’? Maybe they’ve come from out-of-state and are wondering how they’ll fit in at a large state school or how they’ll make friends.

Many of those incoming students soon find themselves trying to get involved on campus and make connections, and that’s where Young Life is stepping in. Millennials are different, in a good way, and no one knows that better than other millennials. It’s often difficult to explain exactly who they are (if they’ve even figured that out yet), and the negative generalizations that have been projected on them by others certainly don’t help. But, collegiate Young Life leaders get it, especially those here at LSU.

Louie Bernard is a recent graduate of LSU and a member of Young Life LSU’s college mission staff. Bernard attended St. Thomas More High School in Baton Rouge, and said that’s where he first experienced what Young Life had to offer. “My junior year of high school I went to a camp called Woodleaf. I saw people alive in their faith like I really hadn’t seen before. I saw and heard the gospel talked about with love, this love that, while I knew a ton about God, I [realized] I didn’t know anything about that love,” Bernard said.
“Hearing about the love – I just wanted to come alive in my faith,” he continued. However, as it does for many, the transition into college provided a challenging environment for fostering his newfound faith. Bernard said he remembers and can identify with those trying moments many students face early on. “I was struggling with adjusting to freshman year of college, making mistakes. I felt like something wasn’t right with my faith, like I was just acting,” he said.

“I wanted to be a better version of myself,” Bernard said. So during the summer following his freshman year, he went to Lost Canyon, a Young Life camp in Arizona, and spent three weeks with 52 complete strangers. It was upon his return to LSU for his sophomore year that he realized what he had been missing all along was community.

“I wanted community really badly,” he said. But at the time, Young Life did not have a presence on LSU’s campus. He began seeking out ways to bring this same sense of community and belonging he had found in Arizona to campus, when he met Scott McClain, one of the Baton Rouge area Young Life leaders. Bernard said that McClain began pouring into him in ways no one had before, and most importantly, he showed Bernard what it meant to be loved.

Members of LSU Young Life at the Crooked Creek Ranch retreat in Colorado.
Members of LSU Young Life at the Crooked Creek Ranch retreat in Colorado.

“It was just authentic,” Bernard said. “It wasn’t about growing the ministry or the things that we were doing, it was just about the fact that he loved me and he chased after me, and in the midst of my struggles with college and not knowing how to live as a Christian and not knowing Christ as I wanted to, he just loved me unconditionally.”

Bernard was not alone in his longing for love and connection through community – in the first three years since its return to campus, the Young Life leadership team at LSU has grown exponentially, and they’re focused on bringing young people to Jesus through relationship building.

“I’m focused on building relationships with students on LSU’s campus. I’m aiming to reach people who don’t want anything to do with the church; who don’t know Jesus and don’t necessarily want to know Jesus,” Bernard said. He said that Young Life has a unique opportunity at LSU to reach parts of the campus that the church can’t reach because the reality is that there are parts of the student body that don’t want to be a part of the church for one reason or another — but they’re willing to be loved.

Bernard said that it’s important for Christians to realize that, especially with this generation, people just need to be loved. They need the voids in their lives to be filled with the love of Jesus, and love from the Christian community, or they’ll turn to anything and everything else to fill that void. The common denominator with young people really seems to be an innate desire for connection.

“A person longs to connect with their friends, so they’re going to seek out avenues(no matter the consequences) to do that,” Bernard said. They’re often fearful of being left behind – and we’re sitting on the sidelines blaming the person and the decisions they’re making, but failing to realize the root cause of these decisions is the deep need for connection and community – something many are starting to find through Young Life.

Louie Bernard with Richie Rojas and Caroline Rodrigue.
Louie Bernard with Richie Rojas and Caroline Rodrigue.

Young Life is also training kids who have been in similar situations (running from/not wanting anything to do with God/the church) to go out and form relationships with other kids who are in a place they once had been. Because the desire to be in the “in crowd” often dominates decision making, Young Life is trying to promote a similar culture of inclusion by showing students that they can be a part of something positive, and it just might give them what they’re looking for.

“Do you know that God loves you? Wouldn’t it be enough to have that and be a part of that?” Bernard said. “We’re offering them a chance to be loved, unconditionally.” He described the uniqueness of reaching millennials by saying that it’s similar to the story of the Prodigal Son – the father loved him enough to give him the freedom to make the mistakes he needed to make, and when he came back broken, the father loved him anyway.

“I’m no expert on the human heart, I just know mine is broken,” he said. “We live in an impulse driven world – we are used to having everything at our fingertips – why can’t fun, pain, etc., be solved with the same type of impulse? Everyone is looking for a quick fix, but what I think kids are starting to figure out is that it’s a little bit of a slippery slope.”

One thing he’s found that works is keeping it simple. “Christianity at its base is a lot like breathing; you breathe in and then you breathe out. Jesus didn’t ask us to go and change the world; what he asked us to do is to be one with Him and one with the Father, and when you do that, it’s as easy as breathing to go and change the world,” Bernard said.

“People need to be loved in order to love other people. [What’s most important is] letting people know that they’re called to unconditional love, and Jesus is enough,” he said. And Young Life does just that. They currently run six different ministries in the Baton Rouge area that encompass every age group from middle school to college, and they even have a ministry dedicated to loving and serving young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, called Young Life Capernaum.

Members of LSU Young Life throw the “Young Life” sign during a recent retreat.
Members of LSU Young Life throw the “Young Life” sign during a recent retreat.

For those involved with Young Life, authenticity looks a lot like walking with others through their daily trials, the good, the bad and the ugly, and loving them through it all. Bernard commented that Oswald Chambers said it best, saying, “The beauty is, if you’re authentic, then what darkness and brokenness does is it draws us into the light.” Being authentic is just a sign that you’ve learned to understand that God loves you in your brokenness, and that your brokenness is not something to be ashamed of.

“The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action,” Mother Teresa said in her Fragrance Prayer. It’s about that relationship first and foremost — all other things will come when our actions toward others are based in our experience of being loved by Jesus.

For more information about how to get involved with Young Life at LSU or the various Baton Rouge area Young Life programs available, visit the website www.batonrouge.younglife.org and contact a member of the Young Life leadership team.

April 2016, Millennial Life

Victoria Lira has a Burden for Teens

Devotional book to help a new generation

by Mark H. Hunter
Teen writer Victoria Lira holds up her first book, "I Have Called You for Such a Time as This," a devotional book for teens and adults. She has filled a half dozen notebooks with thoughts and ideas for a second book and does much of her writing at her mother's kitchen counter. Photo by Mark H. Hunter
Teen writer Victoria Lira holds up her first book, “I Have Called You for Such a Time as This,” a devotional book for teens and adults. She has filled a half dozen notebooks with thoughts and ideas for a second book and does much of her writing at her mother’s kitchen counter. Photo by Mark H. Hunter

Victoria Lira sees so many similarities to her life as an American teen and what happened in the Bible’s book of Esther, that she titled her book of devotionals after Esther’s key passage.

“I Have Called You for Such a Time as This: A New Generation Devotional Journal,” is a soft-cover book of 31 chapters written in an easy, bright style.

As a minority Jew living in the pagan culture of Persia, Esther was chosen to be a queen, violated court protocol and saved her people from a genocidal plot. Her uncle Mordecai advised her, “Who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14

“I definitely can relate to Esther because sometimes you feel like her in her situation — she was so young, but God called her to such a great task,” Lira, 17, said during a visit to her family’s home. “She had to save her people and she had to go before the king, but she couldn’t do that unless the king called her, but she knew that if she would have waited for the king to call her that her people probably would not have survived — so she had to go and step out in faith.”

“She (Esther) said, ‘God, I know this is dangerous but I trust you.’ She didn’t really worry about her own desires, she didn’t really worry about saving her own skin, but she said, ‘this is what God told me to do and I’m going to do it,’” Lira says with a big, bright smile. “Sometimes you may be scared to take that step out to do what the Lord told you to do but you just have to trust him — he will give you the courage just like he did her.”

Each chapter is based on Bible verses for each topic and feature titles such as “Jesus Hugs,” “True Beauty,” “Never Compromise” and “Rapture Dream.”

Victoria Lira's book "I Have Called You for Such a Time as This."
Victoria Lira’s book “I Have Called You for Such a Time as This.”

The “Rapture Dream” story is from a dream she had when she was 7 years old. She was in the clouds with her younger brother Joshua in what evangelical Christians call “the Rapture.”

That dream of going to Heaven was so powerful she wrote it down in a diary. Since then she’s composed hundreds of stories, devotionals and Bible lessons that fill a stack of hand-written notebooks.

Lira lives with her father and mother, John and Nancy Lira, and her siblings Joshua, 16, Isabella, 12, and David, 5, near Gonzales. Her father is bi-vocational, meaning he is a self-employed contractor who also has his own evangelistic ministry. He preaches locally and takes the family on mission trips several times a year to Central America. He also volunteers with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in their prison ministry.

“I definitely get a lot of inspiration from my family,” Lira said. “How my Mom handles different situations with wisdom. Dad is really hard working, and he inspires me to work hard no matter how tired you are. Joshua is really bold for Christ.”

She’ll soon graduate from home schooling, taught by her parents, and while she isn’t sure exactly what’s next, it will be a ministry of some kind.

She felt a calling into the ministry several years ago, she said.

“We were street preaching with a church group in Mississippi and everyone was taking turns at the microphone,” she said. “I was at the back of the crowd and I felt this urge to go up to the front to witness to the people, and I thought, ‘Really, Lord, do you want me to go?’ I was, like, so nervous, and my Mom, who was back at the hotel room, texted me at that very same moment, and said, ‘Hey, I feel the Lord wants you to go and talk.’”

“The Lord had already spoken to me and then confirmed it through her,” she said. “I had no idea what I was going to say and I opened my mouth and the presence of the Lord just came over me and was speaking through me.”

“As soon as I got done I felt the Lord impress upon my heart ‘this is what I have called you to do, I have called you to be a preacher and a teacher,’” she said with a big smile.

She already ministers to teens via her social media sites.

“I was following this girl on Instagram and every day she would post stuff like, ‘nobody likes me’ or I’m worthless,’” Lira said. “I messaged her and shared Jesus with her and told her, ‘all that stuff you’re saying isn’t true because Jesus loves you and Jesus cares for you.’”

Teen devotional writer Victoria Lira covers her mother's kitchen counter with her Bible, laptop and notebooks as she works on compiling a second book to follow her first, (in front) "I Have Called You for Such a Time as This." Photo by Mark H. Hunter
Teen devotional writer Victoria Lira covers her mother’s kitchen counter with her Bible, laptop and notebooks as she works on compiling a second book to follow her first, (in front) “I Have Called You for Such a Time as This.” Photo by Mark H. Hunter

“Pretty soon she said, ‘You know, you are right, thank you for telling me that,’ and her whole – everything – changed,” Lira said with another big smile. “She started posting things like ‘Jesus loves me,’ and ‘I know who I am in Christ.’”

Lira is an outgoing and talented young woman who also plays the violin and is very serious about her relationship with Jesus and telling others about him.

“The Lord gave me that (Rapture) dream when I was small to show me that we’re living in the last days and now is not the time to mess around but now is the time to get your heart right with God, to be about the Father’s business,” she says with all seriousness. “Now is the time for teenagers and young adults to rise up to the challenge that God has called us to.”

“Jesus is coming back and either you are right with him or you are not,” Lira said. “Now is the time to do the Great Commission — to witness to as many souls as we can because we can’t take anything with us but souls and that’s what the Lord has called us to do.”

Lira’s book, which has sold out the first 500 print run, is available at Amazon.com in both English and Spanish: http://www.amazon.com/Have-Called-Such-time-This/dp/1482383020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF

For more information about Lira family ministries and mission work:

* Add Victoria as a ‘friend’ on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

* Visit her website: www.victorialiraministries.com

* Contact her via email: WriterVictoriaLira@gmail.com

* Listen to her radio show on: SoundOfTruthRadio.org

* Visit her brother Joshua’s website where he sells inspirational T-shirts to fund their family’s mission trips to Central America at: www.shopcrosspost.com

* Visit her father’s ministry website: www.evangelistjohnlira.com

April 2016, Millennial Life

Young people are an integral part of doing Jesus’ work in today’s culture

by McKenzie Moffett

(Editor’s note: The following article is an editorial work reflecting the personal views and experiences of the author. This piece is meant to function as an introductory explanation of our newest column, Millennial Life, which will serve to highlight the outstanding young people in our community who are serving Christ in many capacities, and tackle the challenges our young people (high school, college and young adults) must confront in 2016.)

“Do not let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity,” 1 Timothy 4:12 (NLT).

iStock_000041497574_LargeIf you grew up in church like I did, this is likely one of the first verses that comes to mind regarding the status, actions and ministerial impact possibilities of young people. These words from 1 Timothy were often followed by a message that highlighted how a majority of Jesus’ work was done prior to age 33, which was meant to, in some way, encourage the young people in my church to get up and get moving for Christ. Never for a moment did I lack an understanding of what I was supposed to do regarding the dissemination of the message of salvation and the words of the gospel. The Bible, my pastor, youth leaders and even my parents made it pretty clear that I was to go forth and share all I had learned from my years in church with the world. But admittedly, for many years, I’ve struggled with the how.  

It seems simple enough, right? According to Luke 2, Jesus was a mere boy when he stood alone in the temple doing what verse 49 refers to as, “[going] about My Father’s business,” and, as verse 52 states, “[increasing] in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” So why then, when faced with the prime situation for sharing the gospel, did I often deflect to the happenings of pop culture or a discussion of the latest episode of a favorite series on Netflix? An honest look in the mirror revealed that I did so because I believed the lies that the enemy and the world around me, told me: you’re unqualified, you lack wisdom, you’ve made too many mistakes, your friends will judge you, you don’t have all of the answers, you’re too young to make a difference, and the list goes on.

MillennialLife1But the Bible paints a much different picture of the ways young people can and should impact the kingdom. Jeremiah 1:7 says, “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.’” Clearly, the Lord is not concerned with age, but rather the willingness of one’s heart to submit to his will and follow his voice. We’re told in Genesis 1 that “God created mankind in his own image,” and again in Psalm 139 that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Throughout the scriptures we see examples of the ways God placed his fingerprint on who we are and who we’re becoming, as well as a pattern of God using individuals that were imperfect and unqualified in the eyes of the world, to do his most important work.

This generation of followers of Christ must confront a new set of challenges as it aims to live set apart from a world that increasingly finds ways to misconstrue, divide, cheapen and reject the message of Jesus. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but the manner in which we present his message of grace, forgiveness and love must be accurately directed to reach the ears it is falling upon. We are the most like Jesus when we love others and often it is the message of his compassionate, unfailing, authentic love that the world around us needs to hear more than anything. Each who has experienced that Christ-love has a story to tell — when you look beside you and realize that the only thing that sets you apart from the next person is Jesus’ redemptive love, doing his work becomes a part of who you are instead of something you do.

I want to hear from you, young people (and those who work with young people). I know there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of you in the Baton Rouge community who can relate to these words in one way or another — who are making an impact by boldly and authentically sharing the love of Christ with others through your friendship, service and leadership. I want to tell the story of what Christ has done for you and what you are doing through him. You can send story ideas to mckenzie@batonrougechristianlifemagazine.com.