By David Yeagley, Sunset Lake Camp Director and Washington Conference Young Adult Director

Amy came to camp because her grandmother forced her.

Amy was dressed all in black, with dark lipstick, and a sullen look on her face. Her grandmother told every staff member she met at registration,

Amy is a troubled young lady. Don’t be surprised if she tries to run away. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Amy’s grandmother went home and waited for the phone call from camp that she knew was coming. “Amy is in trouble again. She’s run away again. There’s nothing more we can do.” But the call never came.

The following Sunday she drove back to camp to pick up her granddaughter with an uneasy feeling inside. Something had to be wrong. She arrived at the cabin and looked around, but Amy was nowhere to be found. Her heart sank, “She’s run away again, and the camp never bothered to tell me,” she thought. But then she looked again. There in the center of the cabin was a group of girls laughing, crying, hugging, and talking excitedly about the adventures of the week. And in the middle of all that commotion was Amy. The black clothes and dark lipstick were gone. Her sullen face was alive excitement and joy.

“The change was so unexpected, I didn’t even recognize my own granddaughter,” she told the counselor.

The Relate Project, a recent study of adolescents conducted by Young Life, found that 40% of Gen Z, ages 11-26, don’t feel they are worthy of love. Young people between the ages of 16-19 are at the highest risk. Yet what these teens crave the most is authentic relationships.

According to the study, one of the leading indicators of adolescent flourishing and wellbeing is a sense of belonging.

Jesus was a master at building communities where everyone belonged. He ate with tax collectors, touched the incurable, welcomed hurting and abused women, and loved hanging out with children. When questioned about this in Matthew 9:12-13 (MSG), Jesus said,

Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means. ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.

His words continue to challenge me to create inclusive spaces of belonging. My prayer is that we will strive to shape our homes and our churches to look more and more like Jesus. We live in a fractured and divided world, but belonging can change everything.