Hopetown Highlight #7: 7th-8th Grade

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“You have forgotten who you are.”

It was one of the most pivotal moments in The Lion King, when Rafiki took Simba to the water to see his and his father’s reflection. And it’s a moment we went back to over and over with the 7th and 8th graders this week.

In 7th and 8th grade, it is next to impossible to remember who you are—you’re still just trying to figure it out. And, in the midst of trying to figure it out, it’s easy to become a whole lot like Simba.

You remember the story. Simba is playing around and gets himself in trouble with a stampede of wildebeasts. When his father comes to his rescue, Mufasa ends up getting killed by his own brother, Scar. Scar, however, manipulates Simba into believing it’s all his fault. And then, when Simba turns to his uncle for help on what to do next, Scar’s response is, “Run. Run far away and never come back.”

So, in the midst of Simba’s running, he does, in fact, forget who he is—or make every effort to Hakuna Matata himself out of it. Sounds a lot like 7th and 8th grade, doesn’t it?

We jumped right into the story and didn’t just talk about it, but experienced it all week long. We started with Scar’s message…and how easy it is to hear the same kind of messages in our own lives. In fact, we chose five characters in the Bible who did their own form of running. (We inserted a little emotion with all of five, helping connect them to 7th and 8th grader…you get the point).

We called them “runners.” Jonah ran from God’s call on his life and his mission to go to the people of Nineveh. In his refusal, Jonah was defiant, stubborn, sulky and angry. And his consequence was that he hurt others and was swallowed up in the whale.

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was another runner, but only after he requested his share of the inheritance. We can guess that he was demanding, entitled and spoiled. His consequence was that he found himself lonely, starving, and isolated in the pig pen.

Moses was another famous runner from the Bible. He was reactive, aggressive and judgmental. (See Exodus 2:11-22). His consequence was living in fear and hiding.

Elijah ran, too, from Jezebel, who was trying to take his life. He sat down under a tree and fell asleep. We can just imagine that he was a bit dramatic, mopey, and a martyr. His consequence was that he found himself in a downward spiral, discouraged and depressed.

Finally, John Mark ran from his mission with Paul and Barnabas. The mission got hard and, we don’t know a lot, but we know he stopped. The other two had conflict because he removed himself. We could say that he was irresponsible, selfish and a quitter. And his consequence was the he missed out, caused division among his friend and was left in turmoil.

We all run. We feel guilty…or afraid…or a whole host of emotions that keep us from stepping into who God has created us to be. And so, we run…like these famous Biblical runners and like Simba.

And then Rafiki hits us on the head to lure us to the water. “I know your father,” he said to Simba. He’s alive. Come on. Follow me.” Rafiki leads Simba to the water, where he sees his reflection transform into the reflection of Mufasa, his father.

Mufasa says to Simba, “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba? You are more than what you have become. Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king.” 

Simba’s story turns at that point and becomes one of redemption, as do ours. We went back to the redeemed runners of the Bible to remind us, too. 

Jonah 3:3 (MSG) says, “This time, Jonah started off straight for Ninevah, obeying God’s orders to the letter.”

Luke 15:24 says about the Prodigal Son, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. So they began to celebrate.”

God says to Moses in Exodus 3:9-10 (MSG), “It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to the Pharaoh to bring my people, the people of Israel, out of Egypt.”

In 1 Kings 19 and 2 Kings 2, Elijah found Elisha, his mission companion and later, God took Elijah to heaven.

2 Timothy 4:11 says, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

And, in regard to the Hopetown campers and in reference to Proverbs 28:1, “They went home relaxed, confident, and bold as lions.”

We look down into the water and see who we are so that we are able to look up and see the glory of God in and through us. And it sure helps to look out to friends who offer encouragement, as any 7th and 8th grader knows.

And so our 7th and 8th graders had the chance to encourage each other. One by one, they sat in front of the room. They each said I’m ____ like ______. Would you help me remember who I am?” “I’m entitled like the Prodigal Son” or “I’m aggressive like Moses”, for example. Each one of them came forward and were honest. And then each of them received from the group a vision of who God truly has made them to be.

This week, Melissa reminded us to look down, to look out, and ultimately, to look up. Isaiah 40:26 says, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

On one of our last nights, we all went outside to look at a meteor shower that just happened to be taking place this week. We talked with each other and sang worship skies under the glorious Kentucky sky. And we were reminded. We remembered who we are and we remembered whose we are. Our Father is alive. He is the One true King. And he brought a brave, honest, compassionate group of 7th-8th graders together for our last camp of the summer to stop running, take each other to the water and remember.

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