Article originally posted on the Challenge Youth Ministry website and submitted by Corinne Kirkpatrick, Challenge Saskatoon, SK club leader.
Challenge Girls have been serving the Diocese of Saskatoon, Canada for the better part of a decade. The 2015-16 Challenge season brings the club to its ninth year, and we have never been more excited on where our ministry is going and who it is touching.
Nine years’ worth of enthusiastic hearts for Christ is difficult to condense into a few paragraphs. The adage “the only constant is change” well describes the growth and development of our local club into what we have become for our community.
Nine years ago this fall I, along with my long time Challenge co-director Jo-Anne, began working with four girls to form the club as we now know it. Although slightly discouraged that only four girls showed up to our very first meeting, it quickly grew. As more girls joined, the program morphed and developed, conforming to the needs of the girls and the diocese. At the peak of 80 girls meeting every week, we knew that the program, and the girls, needed more than just a couple of moms organizing a meeting and service projects. We began to ask more moms to become involved, and started the search for a facility that could easily welcome such a large number of girls.
Just as we realized that Challenge required a serious relook at infrastructure and diocesan/parish support, the National Directors for Challenge and Conquest began to develop the programs as primarily ones that could easily run directly from a parish. With a little more morphing and molding, Challenge Saskatoon has become a parish run program offering a comprehensive youth ministry and formation to youth from all over the diocese, who, under the direction of the parish priest and parish council, are working hard to serve those in need around us.
What has not changed, however, over all of these years, is the girls’ enthusiastic hearts for Christ. The heart of a young girl is a precious gift to anyone encountering her, and when given tools of formation to grow into authentic discipleship, people cannot help but notice the joy of such a heart in love with and working for Christ. I have often been asked what we have that makes the girls so happy, what we do to make the girls want to gather together every week for prayer and reflection, or what we offer them that allows them to become leaders in their schools and within their neighborhoods. The answer is always the same; Jesus, we give them Jesus.
Jesus calls the girls through the Challenge program – I have witnessed it for eight years. He binds them to each other and to Himself. That part of the Challenge program will never change, no matter how many girls join or what facility we use, no matter what service projects we do or how we mold to fit in with our parish. The Challenge program is built around this concept: Jesus is the center of our lives and He wants to be our best friend. The girls are looking for Him. As one Challenge girl described: “Our hearts are meant for Jesus. There are so many girls searching. They are looking for something, but they don’t know what it is. It’s Jesus. We find Jesus in Challenge.”
There is another adage: “I am as constant as the northern star.” William Shakespeare wrote this for Julius Caesar, and scholars have attempted to pin down exactly what it means in its poetic context. If I can attempt to put it into a Challenge context, it would be the quote that best describes the goal of the program for a Challenge girl: to know who she is in Christ. With Christ as her constant, a Challenge girl knows who she is, and when a girl knows who she is, she is ready to take on the world. Our girls will face unknown changes and challenges in their lifetime. They will have good and bad experiences, and it is impossible for us to know exactly what the world will give them. But I know that a girl who has had the benefit of Challenge formation is equipped and ready to meet the world in a special way, using Jesus as her foundation.
Just today, Pope Francis encouraged us to leave room for God in our children’s lives. Of course! He is correct. But let us understand this fully within Challenge parameters. We must not assume that children don’t already have that space for Him, and that our job is to carve it into each child and then fill it with the Challenge or Conquest curriculum. Our job, as parents, as lay faithful, consecrated or clergy is to provide the worldly space for the children to encounter Christ. It is our responsibility to provide time in a child’s schedule, to provide a ride to a meeting or a building to host them. The Challenge program is the vehicle to allow the encounter. We cannot control how God encounters each child, how Jesus meets each child in the space He has already created for Himself in them. Our job is simply to allow the encounter and let it occur in a way that speaks to a girl’s mind and heart.
There is so much more that I could write about all of the fun and friendship we’ve experienced, all of the encounters with Christ that we’ve had and all of the service projects we’ve done over the years. It would take paragraphs more to tell you how blessed I personally have been to be a part of this spiritual endeavor. But perhaps a ninth year privilege of place does give me the right to create my own saying, a motto of sorts that is derived from eight years of trials and difficulties, joys and triumphs; something that would explain our experience in the Challenge world and the characteristics that I see developing in the girls. If I was someone to be quoted, though Challenge girls are never focused on fame or prestige for its own sake, I might say something like this: “These are the girls I know and love, the ones who are meeting change with the constant love of Christ.” Meeting change with the constant love of Christ. May God bless them all.