Our own rumspringa

Our own rumspringa

Rumspringa (derived form the German term “Rond Springen” or “running around”) generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, that begins around the age of sixteen and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community.  (wikipedia) In one of our upperclassman small groups a student made a passing comment that I have been wrestling with for the past couple of days.  She simply observed that their once full table of students during small group time has withered over the the last couple of years.  Where a once a robust small group of 15 was, now a consistent remnant of 6 remain.

As my wife and I talked, we could account for almost every student that has faded away from our student ministry.  And for almost every student there was an explanation.  Most of them were a small changes in priorities that resulted with them being less connected and ended up with them being M.I.A.

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Calling Teenagers to a Developmentally Appropriate Faith

teenagers2[averageym Note: Andy Blanks is becoming a good friend, and in fact a good enough friend that we found ourselves disagreeing on some ministry philosophy.  I love when we be come good enough friends and that there is already a foundation of humility and grace that we can actually wrestle through issues, sharpen each other, and learn from one another.  Thanks for inviting further conversation.  The post below was featured yesterday on the youthministry360.com blog.] [ym360 Note: This thoughtful and thought provoking post is born out of a discussion Ben and I had based on a post I wrote entitled, "Stop Telling Students To Invite Their Friends To Church." (You can see Ben's comment at the bottom of the page.) I was reminded once again of the great truth that there's room for different opinions and approaches as we all seek to lead students closer to Christ. I'm deeply thankful for Ben and his devotion to Christ, his family, and his ministry. Even if I don't always agree with him. :) --Andy]

This last spring we signed up my 5-year-old for his first season of T-ball. It’s quite entertaining to watch 5-year-olds learning the game of baseball. By the end of the season, the goal is that these kids will (almost) know their positions, the direction to run around the bases, how to hit a ball off a T, and, well, that’s about it. But the foundation has been laid.

While I’d love for my son to live out my his dream of playing in the big leagues one day, my ultimate dream is for him to be a godly man who loves Jesus, and who lives a life that reflects that love. My dream is that he would live “within the culture as a missionary who is as faithful to the Father and his gospel as Jesus was in his own time and place.” In essence, my dream is that my son would live a life that is missional.

I’ll come back to this baseball analogy. But first, I want to talk about this concept of missional living as it relates to the students in our ministries.

I believe missional living is advanced Christianity because it assumes the foundations of the faith are firmly established within an individual. It assumes we know our identity in Christ. It assumes we have a biblical worldview, among other things. With this foundation of faith set, we can then differentiate ourselves from our culture, wrestling with the task of being faithful to the gospel message in our time and place, just like Jesus was in His time and place. This is missional living. And being effective at it depends on having certain foundations in place.

So how does this relate to youth ministry? While I agree that this missional living is the needed direction for our churches, the issue is how much of this our students are ready to embrace.

Everyone from Chap Clark to Time Magazine is pointing out that adolescence is lasting years longer in the current generation of teenagers and young adults than in preceding generations. The excellent book Starting Right provides one take on why this is the case, namely the ability (or inability) of young people to answer three significant questions regarding their identity: Who am I? Do I matter? How do I relate to others?

How do we as youth workers lead students in embracing this advanced form of Christianity when they can’t even answer with much certainty who they are, let alone even begin to answer the final question about how they relate to others? We need to be engaging students with these conversations, helping them work through them. But in doing so, it’s vital that those of us who work with students don’t project a spiritual journey that is developmentally too far ahead of them.

In other words, what we’re teaching students has to be different than what we’re learning.Our current “location” on the path of spiritual growth is (hopefully) different than that of the 15-year-old boy in our student ministry.

In Hebrews the author lays into the congregation for still drinking milk. But this admonition was about expectations. The expectation was that the Hebrews were no longer babies in their faith. Yet many of our students really are spiritual babies, and rightfully so. “Milk” is the expected drink for babies, right? The rub only comes when they should be eating solid food and are still drinking milk.

In my experience, high school and certainly middle school students aren’t at all ready for the "steak" of missional living. This isn’t a put down. If we’re honest about the average students in our ministry, isn’t there a healthy number who aren’t ready for this advanced form of Christianity? They have little idea who they are, whether or not their lives matter, or how to relate to others because of their identity. They’re still working out the fundamentals of their identity and faith. It’s only after this is done that they’re ready to engage their culture in any sort of meaningfully missional way.

And so my son’s T-ball season is more similar to student ministry then I thought. T-ball teaches fundamentals. It paints the picture of what real baseball is like. My son’s coaches don’t just give them the age appropriate version of baseball mechanics; they give them the age appropriate version of baseball. The difference is significant.

This is the delicate balance we need to strike in leading our students. We don’t force-feed them a faith they aren’t ready for. And we don’t baby them by painting a picture of a faith for “just where they are.” We give them an age appropriate faith that points to what a mature faith should look like.

In seeking to lead our students in a developmentally appropriate spiritual growth, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

We should model a “steak-eating” Christianity This means that, as adult leaders, we live lives of purpose. We model spiritual habits and practices that are foundational to spiritual growth. We live lives where we seek holiness in our personal and public lives, where we love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God . . . Missional lives firmly planted in our cultural context.

We communicate the basics of missional living in our words and deeds My son’s proficiency at running the bases and throwing the ball to first base doesn’t really matter in T-ball. But it’s vital in baseball. In the same way we demonstrate missional fundamentals to our students. We take them on mission trips, we do acts of service and compassion, and we partner with organizations who work for justice. Even though our students aren’t developmentally ready to embrace missional living, we help them develop the foundational habits of missional living.

We model missional living in an age-appropriate manner Because we work with teenagers, our focus should be on identity formation, not identity application. We have to help students figure out who they are and how they matter before we put them to work. If they’re just doing the motions without a clear identity, they’ll struggle with how their faith is any different than the Lions Club or Rotary or Habitat for Humanity. We live missionaly because we’ve been redeemed and transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. This is the hope that is the foundation for any sort of missional living.

We need to be missional, we need to push our churches to be missional, but our students need to understand who they are and who they are in Christ before we push them to missional living.

What about you? How do you approach challenging and leading your students to live out their faith in their unique contexts (both cultural and developmental)?

My prayer for all of us is that Jesus, who is so faithful and uses all our feeble attempts, continue to woo, redeem, and transform our students so that He may use them to be missionaries in their context.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 3: The Future

Don't forget to read part 1: the past or part 2: the present Our students are not broken, or rebellious, they are Unique! As I wrote about in Part 1 and in Part 2, our culture continues to change, and as it does we must be proactive in finding the thin places where the gospel and culture connect.

For our parents and grandparents, the crisis used to be rebellion, the good news was justification. For us, the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing and redemption. But for our students, what is their crisis? Especially since they don't see themselves as being rebellious or broken.

Since there is no common morality, there can't really be rebellion. And since there is not a very good picture of how the world should be, they have no sense they are broken. And you can see this worked out when you actually talk with them and hear their stories.

The things we would classify as sin, rebellion, or brokenness are not things they are ashamed of. In fact they are badges of honor that give them street cred among their peers and make them feel more unique, more beautiful. They have no regrets! Everything they have done and experienced have made them the unique and beautiful person they are today.

Part 2) The Future If there is no brokenness or rebellion then where is the crisis? Where is the thin place in this current culture what is the crisis that the gospel is good news for? Because the truth is, our students are in crisis!!

While they may not be able to articulate their own rebellion or brokenness, we can see the impact of sin on their lives and it is devastating. But we must not take the easy way out and simply put our worldview and experiences on them and make them conform to our language. We know they are sinful and messed up, but they don't know that. So instead of hammering away with words and a world view that is totally foreign to them, why not actually find that place where their felt needs rise to the surface and have a touch point with Jesus.

And I believe that the crisis that our students are facing is one of abandonment and isolation. And this is a thin place where there truly is good news found in Jesus Christ through

Our students are abandoned and isolated This is basically the premiss of Chap Clark's book Hurt. Students have been totally abandoned by the adult world and left to fend for themselves. Now students have figured out how to pacify adults into thinking they are ok by simply telling them what they want to hear.

Have you ever noticed how students are incredibly quick in coming up with answers to your questions. They have mastered the art of psychoanalysis. They know what you want them to know and they have figured out if they give it to you then you will let them get back to their real life. Because they have been conditioned that we adults don't really care about them, and therefore their true life, true reality is this underworld that his hidden from adults and lived among their peers.

But in this world beneath, there is not grace and kindness, warmth or hospitality. It is a dog eat dog world, survival of the fittest, lord of the flies. And in order to survive in this world is it is about finding your cluster of close friends, locking arms, and doing life. But if, God-forbid, you ruffle the feathers of this cluster, then you are out! This sort of bullying, ostracizing, and alienation from peers and oblivious adults is devastating to the souls of our students.

Because of this reality, their worlds have become increasingly smaller and their place in it is fragile at best. This crisis is one that is so real it is actually palatable. Our students have no home, no family, no place of refuge, no identity, no purpose larger than their cluster of friends. They are isolated and alienated from true community, from true love, and from true purpose.

(Of course this is a dramatic picture and doesn't account for every student's story, but I think it is the cultural story that most students can identify with)

The good news is that they are invited to belong: If the crisis can be clarified as one of isolation and alienation, then Jesus Christ offers incredible news to this group of students. As the scriptures teach, once were were no people, but now we are the people of God! Students are actually invited into the family of God, for whoever receives Him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

If you think about it, most of what works in our student ministry is creating a sense of community. The students who are most committed are the ones who are most connected. This is the case because we are creating a heavenly version of community every Wednesday night.

When students show up they are noticed, welcomed, and valued. It is the place where the get to put the drama of home life and school friends away, even for a couple of hours, and simply rest in a place that is home!

I am sure that you do plenty of really great things and you are the most amazing speaker, and your worship team has a new CD, and your numbers are through the roof. But I bet if you did a survey of what your students value most about your youth group it is the sense of community. It is because youth group is actually part of the good news to our students, it is the answer to their feelings of isolation and alienation.

There must be an initiation rite But by simply letting the experience the love of the youth group community as an honored guest does not get them where they need to go. It is like being an honored guest at your friends home. No matter how close you are, how welcomed you are, you are still not family. At some point you have to go home and don't get to go with them to Hawaii on their family vacation.

But the good news to our students is not that they are simply honored guests, but that they are invited to become actual family! To belong to the body of Christ! This invitation requires action. On our end it requires a clear invitation to this new reality. And on their end it requires a clear decision.

As more and more of my peers are giving up alter calls and punctuated salvation in favor of the journey towards christ, our students are getting confused and lost. They will not figure it out by osmosis. They are barely figuring out their abstract thinking, so leaving it all to nuance is no bueno! We must get over our own issues so that we can properly serve the needs of our students.

Our students need clear sign posts, clear opportunities, and a clear invitation. They are not to be honored guests in the house of God, but to stand up, and by faith be adopted into the family of God and take their place as daughters and sons of the King. For they used to be no people, but now they are the people of God!

And as the people of God, they have an opportunity to partner in the family business of expanding the Kingdom of God. Standing up for injustice, participating in the ministry of reconciliation, and bringing light to the darkness.

Where do we go from here? These are just my thoughts as I have watched the student culture continue to shift from under me and the older stories of the the gospel make less and less sense. Whether this is the right paradigm or not doesn't matter. The reality is that student culture is undergoing another seismic shift, and we have an opportunity to be proactive in our quest to contextualize the gospel in a relevant and practical way.

Contextualization has been the bread and butter of missions for 2000 years. As youth culture changes, how must the gospel change so we can help our students connect to Christ. I think the crisis is alienation and therefore the good news is belonging.

What do you think the current crisis is among our students? What do you think the good news is for them?

This is the exact topic of conversation we will be wrestling with this coming fall. I would love for you to participate with us. If you are from the Bay Area it is only $65 for the day plus food. If you have to travel farther than a day, cover your costs to get here, pay for lunch, and we'll spot your fee. We need as many people around this table as possible, which means we need you!

Come and be challenged, encouraged, and equipped. See you this fall!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

What is your view of social status on a high school campus?

breakfast_club It is not 1985 anymore:

Back in the 80's Young Life was the premiere organization reaching students for Christ.  They were a corrective force for the church and were the key organization to completely transition how churches do student ministry. Because of the influence of Young Life, the church has been able to expand their demographic from a closed group of church kids, into youth groups that are just as missional and inviting as many Young Life Clubs.It seems that the institutional church is always slow to change and slow to change their methodologies.  Since this is true, I am wondering if we are still holding on to a key ministry philosophy of Young Life had back in the 80's.

This philosophy was simple, if you win the popular kids, the leader kids, you will win the campus.  (I have no idea if this is still Young Life's main strategy, but it used to be and was incredibly effective)

Over the last 10 years, scholars like Chap Clark and others have deconstructed the social landscape on high school campuses and have found that the stereotypical model of status has changed.  Gone are the days where there was a top tier popular student that was recognized as such by the entire school, and gone are the days where those outside that popular circle longed to be seen by ad included in it.

Chap Clark in his research identified that instead of this one unified social strata, there are now small groups he calls clusters.  These clusters, made up of 6-10 students are autonomous groups with their own hierarchy and power structure.  And what is amazing is that most clusters could care less about the other clusters and the strata found within them.

If you observe your student ministry, I am sure that you will find this same social dynamic at work.  There is not one or two people who the entire group look up to and want to be like.  In fact there are clusters, groupings of students who are connected and these clusters are independent from the others.

You notice this when you have an event and there may be plenty of people there, even plenty of popular kids, but if no one from that student's cluster is there, they are out and feel isolated and alone.

Time to step up and change our game plan:

For me, I find myself running a full decade behind what is relevant.  So for me, I am realizing that I can't simply reach out to and pour into my leader kids who would have been the top of the social ladder back when I was in high school.  By instinct going to these kids and trying to get them to be nice to the other students is giving me much less bang for my buck when it comes to relational ministry and reaching out a larger number of students.

My new strategy is to look at all the cluster groups that my students are a part of and map them out.  As I have done this I have found some surprising results.  Some complete clusters are present at youth group and are having a blast because their peeps are all here, all together, all the time.

Other students are the lone representative of their cluster at school and so feel incredibly out of place at youth group.  And everyone else fills in the middle.

If I want to reach more students for Christ, then I must be willing to be diverse in my relational efforts and in my execution of our student ministry.  When I favor one cluster over an other I dramatically limit my effectiveness to the entire group.

I need to reach out to each individual cluster, and affirm their cluster, their group, and their passions.  What Young LIfe proved to be true in the 80's is still true in these clusters.  If you can win the head of these clusters, hook in the top of their social strata, it is like shooting fish in a barrel to reach out to and gather the rest of the cluster.

My Summer Goal:

This summer, that is my goal.  I am going to reach out to, goof off with, and spend time doing the things each of these diverse clusters like doing.  I am going to seek out the top of each cluster and invite them to partner with me and to reach out to their friends who already love and respect them.  I want to expand my student leadership base to include students from all these diverse groups, and slowly but surely our youth group will look a little less like a monochromatic group of people striving to be close to the popular people, and a little more like diverse body of Christ we are called to be.

How do your students break down socially?  Who are kingpins?  Who are on the fringe?  Who do you spend your time pouring into and reaching out to?  Are you still living into the 80's model of popularity and leadership or are you maximizing the reality of clusters?

Conflicting truths as we navigate the changes in student ministry

Teenagers hands playing tug-of-war with used rope

There are two competing truths that are attempting to live together in the youth ministry world. Truth 1) The process of adolescence is lengthening. In the 1950’s, most sociologists agreed that by the time someone was 16 they had completed the process of individuation. And in the 70’s it was around 18, then in the 90’s it was the early 20’s,and now its believed to be the late 20’s. Chap Clark has done a ton of work in helping youth workers and parents understand this process. Even TIME magazine is on board with this truth.

Truth 2) Students today are so over having youth ministry be fun and light. They are ready for deep theologyemerging worship practicesjustice ministry, and being missional.

As I have been trying to bridge the gap of these two truths, I have been coming up short. Over the past year or so I have been intentionally wrestling with these competing truths, and I keep coming to an un-politically correct conclusion: I firmly agree that while adolescence is lengthening, students are not developmentally prepared or ready for some of the deeper things of christianity.

(If your interested in how I came to this conclusion, I wrote about it here)

Because youth workers are doing youth ministry longer, it makes sense that we have our spiritual growth overflow into the heart of our ministry. But as the developmental gap widens, we have to be so much more thoughtful and aware of differentiating our issues and growing edge with those of our students.

Which leaves me wondering: Where are the books that actually equip those of us in the field who work with middle school and high school students that address this phenomena on the front end?

Because, if this lengthening is real, then the implication is not just that students are behaving like adolescents well into their 20’s. It also means that current high school students are behaving and processing the world the same way middle schoolers were just 10 years earlier. This truth leaves me with some unresolved questions:

If that is true, then shouldn’t high school ministry today look more similar to jr high ministry of 10 years ago, opposed to looking more like college ministry?

If this is where our high schoolers are at, what in the world are we supposed to do with our middle schoolers?

How do we walk with students who are engaged in and exposed to very adult material and are even less able to process these experiences because they are even more developmentally delayed then we are aware of?

Are you noticing this in your ministries?

Student ministry is changing at break-neck speeds because students are becoming more and more complex. They are exposed to more complex and adult issues at a time in their lives when they are becoming less developmentally prepared to deal with them. While this is very overwhelming, I am committed to figuring it out. I want to walk well with students through this crazy season of their lives. I so want God to use my feeble efforts to be part of the redeeming process, and not be the part that needs to be redeemed. Thankfully, no matter what, God uses all of it (the good, the bad, and the ugly), as part of his authoring and perfecting of their faith. Thanks be to God!

I have recently been invited to be a regular contributor at youthmin.org.  It is a great group of people who are trying to mix up the conversation regarding student ministry.  If you don't already read them, I highly recommend it.  Have a great day!

Want to win Chap Clark's new DVD?

This upcoming week is Orange week for me and for some of my fellow bloggers.  To kick it off, we will be giving away Chap Clark's new DVD; "Parenting A New Generation by Chap Clark: A Tool for Parents and Student Pastors to Understand and Lead Today's Students"  A few months ago I reviewed this series and gave it 5 out of 5 stars. (actually I didn't give it any stars, but I highly recommend it.)  If you would like to read the review, you can check it out here. If you want to participate in this drawing, simply connect through facebook, and away we go.  We'll announce the winner friday night.

Good Luck!

don't you wish chap clark was your friend?

chap clark

I do.   In fact, it would be pretty cool to call up Chap, grab a coffee and talk about life and ministry.  I would love to pick his brain about all things related to student ministry.  Since this is not my world, I have at least found the next best thing. Orange has put out a new DVD curriculum for youth workers and parents called, Parenting a New Generation: A Tool for Parents and Student Pastors to Understand and Lead Today's Students.  This 3 DVD set is worth its weight in gold.  (And Gold is doing really well right now)

Chap Clark spends 13 sessions unpacking the best of all his research, teaching, books, and trainings and presents it all High Definition.  The teaching is very natural and engaging, and for the most part, the viewer feels like a participant in the cohort style of lecture.  Throughout the 13, half hour sessions, Chap condenses his best teaching on adolescent development, parental responsibility, changing culture, and the role of the community in the faith development of teenagers into a format that is very accessible.

This DVD set is really the highlight reel of all that Chap and his colleagues has worked on during his time at Fuller and the Fuller Youth Institute.   There are 5 main sections that are explored in this curriculum.

Section 1: Widen the Circle

"Chap talks about the importance of inviting other adults into the life of your family - adults committed to your child for no other reason than because they care.

Section 2: Imagine the End

"Chap challenge us to rethink what the goal for our children is as parents and how we can encourage them as they discover their place in God's kingdom."

Section 3: Fight for the Heart

"Chap gives us insight into the developmental changes an adolescent goes through and urges us to parter with our kid as they spend these formative years figuring out their core identity."

Section 4: Create a Rhythm

"Chap gets really practical, unpacking, the importance of natural, organic practices we can engage in with our children that help them relate to God of the universe."

Section 5: Make it Personal

"Chap begins to draw some conclusions from earlier material and prompt us to ask the tough questions for what this new way of parenting will mean for our own families."

Why You Should Drop $129 For This Curriculum:

Over the years, I have taken a seminary class from Chap, heard him speak a dozen times, and read most of his books.  I figure I have spent in the thousands of dollars for the opportunity to have learned what I have learned from Chap.  So for 5-10% of that cost, there is a tool for youth workers and parents to have access to the very best of this information in a format that is really easy to consume.

For youth workers and parents, this information is amazing.  Chap's knowledge and passion are evident and keep the viewer engaged.  The discussion questions make this a tool that can and should be shared with the parents of students in your youth ministry.  And the practical suggestions offer a real way forward to carry out the ideas presented in these DVD's.

One of the reasons I am such a believer in the Orange strategy and curriculum is that everything is designed to be done in partnership between the church and the family.  If we really want our students to have a shot at developing a healthy faith and connection to the church, they must also have a healthy and strong relationship with their parents as they work this all out.

There is plenty of information presented in each session.  Chap reviews the topic and take aways from the session previously, before jumping into the next topic.  While Chap is teaching, there is a power point presentation that highlights the important points and significant quotes.  For being a highly produced curriculum, the total lack of graphics or attempt at making the power point presentation engaging was a little sad.  For the most part, it doesn't matter and the simplicity is actually kind of nice.  But when Chap explains how the task of adolescence and the illustration of a tightrope, the simplicity becomes a liability.

One of the new pieces of information that stood out to me as a parent is about the true desire adolescents have for relationship with their parents.  Chap, rightly, points out, that it is a myth that teenagers want less involvement in their life from their parents.  The truth is they want more interaction, more conversation, more empathy and compassion.  What they want less of is to be treated like babies and given edicts from on high.

As you consider this curriculum, check out some of the preview videos that are available here.

This curriculum gives any adult who loves students a broader understanding of the sociological, theological, and developmental issues that are surrounding adolescents and a map to help us, parents, and specifically students navigate through it.  I highly recommend it and have already passed on my copy to the parents group at our church.

Some day Chap might be my friend.  But until that day, I will take his HD face on my television and soak up all that one of the best practical theologians out there has to say.

what if chap is right?

There are two compeating truths that are attempting to live together in the youth ministry world. Truth 1) The process of adolescence is lengthening.  Tn the 1950’s most sociologists agreed that by the time someone was 16  they had completed the process of individuation.    And in the 70’s it was around 18, in the 90’s early 20’s and now late 20’s. Chap clark has done a ton of work in helping youth workers and parents understand this process.  Even time magazine is on board with this truth.

Truth 2) That students today are so over having youth ministry be fun and light.  They are ready for deep theology, emerging worship practices, justice ministry, and being missional.

As I have been trying to bridge the gap of these two truths, I have been coming up short.  and over the past year or so I have been intentionally wrestling with these competing truths, and am coming to an un pc conclusion:   I firmly agree that while adolescence is lengthening, students are not developmentally prepared or ready for some of the deeper things of christianity.

I have written an article developing this view here:

Because youth workers are doing youth ministry longer, it makes sense that we have our spiritual growth overflow into the heart of our ministry.  But as the developmental gap widens, we have to be so much more thoughtful and aware of differentiating our issues and growing edge with those of our students.

Which leaves me wondering: Where are the books that actually equip those of us in the field who work with middle school and high school students that address this phenomena on the front end?

Because, if this lengthening is real, then the implication is not just that students are behaving like adolescents well into their 20’s.  It also means that current high school students are behaving and processing the world the same way middle schoolers were just 10 years earlier.  This truth leaves me with some unresolved questions:

If that is true, then shouldn’t high school ministry today look more similar to jr high ministry of 10 years ago, then like college ministry?

If this is where our high schoolers are at, what in the world are we supposed to do with our middle schoolers?

How do we walk with students who are engaged in and exposed to very adult material and are even less able to process these experiences because they are even more developmentally delayed then we are aware of?

 

are you noticing this in your ministries?

student ministry is changing at break-neck speed because students are becoming more and more complex.  they are exposed to more complex and adult issues at a time in their lives when they are becoming less developmentally prepared to deal with them.  while this is very overwhelming, i am committed to figuring it out.  i want to walk well with students through this crazy season of their lives.  i so want god to use my feeble efforts to be part of the redeeming process, not the part that needs to be redeemed.  thankfully, no matter what, god uses all of it; the good, the bad, and the ugly, as part of his authoring and perfecting of their faith.  thanks be to god!