Teens hear unique message at ReachKCK event
By Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s a safe bet the group of teens gathered at ReachKCK (Blessed Sacrament campus) here had never heard introductions quite like this.
“My name’s Cindy, and I’m not perfect.”
“My name’s Evangelyn, and I’m not perfect.”
“I’m Shawn, and I’m definitely not perfect.”
Then again, the audience had probably never experienced a presentation like this, either — and for some, it really hit home.
Together, Cindy Wittman, Evangelyn Smith and Shawn Gaupp introduced teens to the message of their organization, Not Perfect, on March 19 at ReachKCK as part of the outreach’s Spring Break Extravaganza.
“We all mess up. We do things we shouldn’t do or say things we shouldn’t say,” Wittman told the teens.
But what they aimed to do on this chilly Wednesday of spring break was help them find a deeper love inside themselves, accept others as they are — and accept themselves for who they are. The quest for perfection can be huge in young people’s lives, she has found.
Gaupp defined perfect as “being entirely without fault or defect.”
“I only know one person that is perfect, and that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he said.
And when anyone else strives to be perfect, it can result in placing unrealistic goals and expectations on themselves and on others, Gaupp said.
“What’s worse is, it can lead to self-harm,” he added.
“It can also lead us to drugs and alcohol, which are really just temporary escapes from reality,” he said.
Smith shared that an assault at a young age left her questioning why a loving God would allow such a thing to happen.
She struggled for years with hatred, lack of self-worth, deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Then, at a teen girls’ session at a religious camp, she connected with a woman who shared her own testimony. For the first time, she shared what had happened and what was happening in her life.
She saw that the other woman still believed in God.
“She just showed me the love of Jesus, and she told me that he was my creator, and she told me that the way he created me was the way that he desired for me to be made,” said Smith.
“We are not perfect, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Wittman emphasized to the crowd.
“Fearfully” in the biblical context means to have respect for God, she said, and “wonderfully” means distinct and unique.
“God doesn’t make mistakes. He made us just the way he wants us,” said Wittman. “Everybody, look around the room. Look at each other. You weren’t made like that other person. You’re not meant to. He made you just the way you are. He doesn’t place people down here randomly, going, ‘I need a tall one here and a short one over here.’”
Instead, God wants people to take comfort in the way they were created and to not put undue pressure on themselves, comparing themselves to others.
And God wants people to open their hearts wide and let him in, allowing him to replace fears, worries and anxieties with peace and love.
“And you will feel that peace and joy. You’ll be on fire with it,” said Wittman. “You’ll be jumping up and down, and people will go, ‘Wow, I want to be like that.’
“And that’s Jesus.”
Putting God first
Wittman shared her story of what she described as “adult bullying” in a dating situation, and the fears she has had to break free from in her life in order to put God first.
Every morning, she leans on a Scripture passage that tells her, “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.”
And she encouraged the teens to “get your strong on in the morning.”
Gaupp also shared some of the struggles he has faced, including breaking free from an addiction to pain medication.
“Every day, I treat it like I’m lucky to be here,” he said.
And he has learned to listen to God and to let God lead.
“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners,” Smith told the group, talking about redemption.
Gaupp stressed that change comes from within and it’s possible to control emotions and actions. Donisha Dabner, 17, was one of the local teens who attended Not Perfect.
She was raised in church, and has really returned and reconnected with it in the past several years, she said.
Programs like those at ReachKCK, she has found, “are helping me realize who I am inside. It’s helping me to realize that I can be who I am. I don’t have to be ashamed of myself. And the program that we did today — Not Perfect — it speaks a lot.”
The words “We are not perfect but we are breaking free” decorated a life-size door at the front of the room.
At the end of the session, attendees wrote on the door something they planned to break free from in their own lives.
“We believe when you write something down, it can no longer have power over you,” said Wittman.
Not Perfect is already planning to work with ReachKCK in the future.
And organizers of ReachKCK are excited about that and other upcoming events.
ReachKCK followed up its public outreach kickoff — a “One Thing Remains” night of eucharistic adoration for youth of the archdiocese in December 2013 — with a Spring Break Extravaganza.
The week opened with a St. Patrick’s Day party that ReachKCK director Liz (Halfmann) Miller described as a blast, and a good chance for attendees to get to know each other.
The week also brought a girls’ night out with Zumba, pizza and games; a Spoken Word workshop, along with time in the coffee shop; and a perennial favorite with the young men — an open gym in which to display their mad basketball skills.
Miller believes ReachKCK is sharing the church and its message with people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be touched by it.
“The archdiocese has been the one that’s been behind us the whole time 100 percent,” said Miller. “It’s really exciting to watch the seeds be planted and watch the ministry begin to blossom.”
And many of the teens who might visit ReachKCK don’t have cars or driver’s licenses, so it was important to create a center to which many could walk, Miller believes.
Micuela Wright, 17, attended Not Perfect and the St. Patrick’s Day party. She had seen events advertised at school before spring break and was enjoying what she found there.
And every Catholic who gives at his or her parish contributes to youth outreach — in both urban and rural settings — through a special assessment that each parish pays expressly in support of ministry to youth.
“Everything that we’re doing ties back to that,” said Miller, grateful to everyone who helps make her ministry possible.
“It’s my firm belief the youth are not the future of the church,” she said. “They are the church.”
Stay up-to-date on the happenings at ReachKCK by visiting its Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/ReachKCK; or Twitter page at: www.twitter.com/ReachKCK.
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