How has God been your Amparo? This was the question I asked participants to consider at Among the Wolves, the NJ Synod middle school youth gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. About 200 Lutheran youth and adults gathered from all over New Jersey each bringing their own sass and faith and burdens. I served as the chaplain of the event and as such, I was invited into people's hopes and fears and longings through prayer. I was shocked by the depth of the darkness that many of our young people carry: depression, stress, grief, loneliness...
This gathering was a retreat: a withdraw from some of life's struggles; a drawing into refuge, into amparo. We all need refuge from the pressures of this life. At Among the Wolves, we learned that refuge could be a place, but it could also be found through relationships, communities and even events. I saw amparo all over the place over the weekend, though I experienced amparo most deeply at the table.
On Saturday night, I sat around a wooden table with a couple of middle school youth, a high school youth leader and a young adult, during worship--during the message. Instead of preaching about amparo, I invited my companions to share how God has been amparo to them, in their lives.
For Carlos, his church was his refuge. Growing up in Camden, it was the only place his mother let him go on his own because she knew it was safe.
For Tor, a youth gathering was her refuge. She finally experienced God's wide welcome and grace through the event. There was a place for her, a gay, black teenager at God's table.
For Adam and Maddie, God's amparo came through friends who stood by them when they were bullied at school.
God is and always will be our amparo. Our strength and refuge. Our very present help in times of trouble.