For Youth Workers Post

I’ll Be There

Will Penner

For use with devozine meditations for March 11–17, 2013.



“Meeting Sam was the most poignant part of the mission trip to Jamaica. He was one of the few remaining members of a leper colony that had been established many years ago. While leprosy has been treatable for almost a century, many people in third-world countries don’t receive treatment until much disfiguration has already occurred. What used to be Sam’s fingers were now nubs; he was completely blind; and while he had two nostrils, there was no protrusion where his nose used to be. I’ll never, ever read the biblical passages related to leprosy in the same way.” —Will



Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous books and youth ministry curricula. Most important, he is the husband of Christine Penner, Children’s Minister at First United Methodist Church in Dickson, Tennessee, and the father of five children ranging in age from three to twenty-one. Check out Will’s blog.





  • To set the stage for how widespread disease is around the globe, consider picking a few highlights from the World Health Organization’s photo story: “2012 in Review: Key Health Issues.”



Ask group members to raise their hands if they have ever

  • caught a cold
  • had the flu
  • contracted strep throat
  • developed athlete’s foot
  • had diarrhea (some may not want to admit this one)


Point out: “While these diseases may seem mild to people in developed countries today, for many years they killed people all over the planet and many still die from them today. Much of this is due not only to the lack of medical care but also to the lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitary ways to dispose of waste.”



Scripture: Matthew 25:31–46


The parable of the sheep and the goats is Jesus’ most vivid description of judgment. He is clear about what he expects his followers to do: They are to feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, clothe the naked, visit the captive, welcome the stranger, and care for the sick.

Jesus is also clear that when we help “the least or these”—the poor, the marginalized, the people mainstream society has forgotten—it is as if we do the same for Jesus himself. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NRSV). Of course, the flip side is also true. When we fail to help “the least of these,” it is as if we have failed to take care of Jesus himself.

Sometimes, after we’ve worked at a soup kitchen on a Saturday morning or delivered meals to shut-ins during a school break, these words are comforting to us. But what about “the least of these” who surround us every day? What are we doing to minister to the people God puts in our paths on a daily basis? Who are the sick among us?

Consider the kids at school who have physical disabilities. What can we do to ease their burdens?

What about people whose mental or emotional states are different from ours? people who have trouble controlling anger or who suffer from depression? How can we minister to them?

[NOTE: Try to let the awkward silence linger until some truly useful, practical suggestions emerge. Chances are that in their schools, church, or neighborhood, the youth know kids with physical, mental, or emotional problems. Chances are that most of the youth avoid contact. Now is the time to allow the Holy Spirit to prompt them to pay attention.]

Jesus was always willing to hang out with the sickest of the sick. Many people shunned those who were sick out of fear or disgust, but Jesus never did. Matthew 25:31–46 makes it clear that Jesus expects his followers to spend time with the sick.



Close the session with this prayer (or one of your own):

“Lord, help us to notice those around us who are sick in body, mind, or spirit. Help us to overcome our prejudices, disgust, fears, doubt, laziness, and selfishness. Propel us into action. May we see your reflection in “the least of these,” and give us grace to respond as if we were caring directly for you in Jesus Christ. Amen.”



  • Rivers of the World targets populations in river basins and assists with their physical, social, educational, and spiritual needs. Take group members on mission trips through Rivers of the World, partner with them in their ongoing efforts (providing fresh water wells, distributing Bibles—check out the website), or have Ben Mathes keynote a missions conference—he’s great with youth!
  • Nothing But Nets is a campaign to help reduce the spread of malaria by providing bedtime mosquito netting to children and families in Africa.
  • The Hospice Foundation provides end-of-life care to terminally ill patients and their families. It’s a great place to practice the ministry of hospitality in a way that is unlike any other.
—from devozine In the Habit (March/April 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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