Young people need our encouragement to be great

What year did these events take place: Alcatraz Prison is closed, Aretha Franklin releases “Laughing on the Outside,” Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, and Kellogg’s Froot Loops is introduced. Have you figured it out yet?

Here are some more hints in the same year: Stevie Wonder releases “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius,” Gateway Arch is built, Michael Jeffrey Jordan is born in Brooklyn, New York, Loyola (Chicago) Beats Cincinnati in the Final Four, “The Birds” Alfred Hitchcock suspense film is released, Jack Nicklaus wins the 27th Masters Tournament, Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, Pope John XXIII dies, Paul VI is elected Pope, and President Kennedy delivers his “Ich bin ein Berliner” Speech at the Berlin Wall. Do you think you know now?

It’s the same year that the St. Augustine Four is jailed for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church occurs and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference leads a protest that clashed with police in Birmingham, Alabama. Bill Clinton meets President John F. Kennedy, the Great Train Robbery takes place, James Meredith becomes the first African-American to graduate from the University of Mississippi, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens in Canton, Ohio; the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series, the second spy film in the James Bond series is released (“From Russia with Love”), The Beatles released their “With the Beatles” record, Roger Stauback wins the Heisman Trophy, the movie “The Pink Panther” is released, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I Have A Dream Speech,” President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as US President. The answer is 1963.

Think of all the changes that have taken place in the last 50 years. It was around 1963 that the Vietnam War went from 800 advisers to 16,300 soldiers. It is a controversy as to what would have happened if President Kennedy had lived. Still, we honor our veterans from then and now who served to make our world a better place. Many of us who were young people then are much older now.

Today’s young people may have more material possessions than previous generations, but they suffer unique pressures, as well. Statistics on youthful crime and suicide in developed countries show that money is not buying happiness for today’s youth.

Chicago researchers surveyed 1,381 teenagers in the 1960s and a similar group in the late 1970s and 1980s and beyond. Their conclusion? “Over approximately an 18-year period, the self-perceptions of American teenagers apparently have become decidedly less positive.” The study describes today’s teenagers as being less secure than before, with lower ethical standards. About one-fifth of them say that they are empty emotionally and confused most of the time, and that they would rather die than go on living.

Why the change? The following letter from a 19-year-old is all too common today: “I come from a broken home, as many of the youths do in today’s society,” writes Robert. “The whole family was always fighting and bickering. Very little love, if any. Each individual going his own way. Very little parental guidance through the difficult stage of adolescence. It was very hard for me. With no discipline and no up-building remarks on my accomplishments. Instead, criticism was given. It led me to feel unloved, rejected, very hurt and unhappy and not knowing why. I grew up as a vine on a picket fence. When I wandered off the fence, there was no one there to guide me back on the right course.”

Political disillusionment has also affected youths. “In my heart, I believe the world will not last another five or 10 years,” says a young street fighter from Amsterdam. “We have come to the stage where we refuse to take responsibility for a system we do not approve.”

What is this creating in youth today? Basically, a sense of alienation — a feeling that nobody cares if they live or die. Add to this alienation a feeling that the world has no future, and the results can be frightening.

It was a spring day, a few years before the Civil War in America. A boy in search of work came to Mr. Worthy Taylor’s farm in rural Ohio. The farmer knew nothing about the boy except that his name was Jim. However, since Mr. Taylor owned a large and prosperous farm and help was hard to get, he gave young Jim a job.

That summer, Jim spent his time cutting stove wood, bringing in the cows and milking them, and making himself generally useful. He ate in the farmer’s kitchen and slept in the hayloft.

Before that summer was over, young Jim had fallen in love with the farmer’s daughter and her with him. However, Mr. Taylor refused to allow them to marry because, he said, Jim had no money, no name, and no prospect of ever amounting to very much. Jim packed his belongings in his old carpetbag and disappeared.

Some 35 years passed, and one day Mr. Taylor was pulling down an old barn to make room for a new one. On one of the rafters above the hayloft he discovered that young Jim had carved his full name — James A. Garfield. He was then serving as the 20th president of the United States!

During those intervening 35 years, Jim had graduated from college at the top of his class, had served as president of Hiram College, had been commissioned a major-general in the U.S. Army and served with distinction during the Civil War, had been elected to congress for eight consecutive terms, and had gone on to capture the presidency of his country.

Who knows the potential of young people who come under our influence? We may view them as persons with no name, no money, and very little prospect of ever amounting to much.

But only God knows their true potential.

More important than becoming president of the United States, they may be our future inventors, scientists, attorneys, doctors, missionaries, pastors, evangelists, community activists — channels through which God can work to accomplish wonderful things.

It doesn’t matter how you start, only how you finish. Remember that the expert in anything was once a novice. Encourage young people to be great. Hopefully someone encouraged you.

Guest columnist Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton.

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