It’s June again—and winter in Australia. This year the annual conference for the youth groups from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth is being held up in the mountains, where the views are scenic and the temperatures frosty.
I’m sitting in the rather crowded common room. My breath isn’t quite fogging up the air around me, but I feel like it’s a close thing. Looking around I can see the other girls around me are also huddled up in scarves and coats—the open fire doesn’t seem to be making much headway so far. But everyone is cheerful, and I can almost feel the anticipation in the others as we wait for the first meeting of the conference to start.
A life of transformation
The first song is announced: “Tell me why we should not be extremely happy! We’ve a living hope that we by faith can see. Midst the battles, toils and trials we gain a vision, Of the glory that forever more shall be.” (Song 151 i the songbook “Ways of the Lord.”) I know the song well, but as I sing it I focus more than usual on the words. How many people out there, I wonder, would describe themselves as “extremely happy” people? It’s definitely something I would love to be.
We stand up to pray. Various youths ask God in their own way to bless the meeting, some calmly, others more fervently. “Speak to our hearts,” prays one of the young men, “so we can lay hold of this life.” I guess he is referring to the life described in the song we just sang.
Then Tom Harris gets up to speak. He is the only older man present, invited for the purpose of encouraging us and having fellowship with us. He looks around and smiles. “We are very highly privileged people,” he says, and explains that we have been given the word of truth in the Bible, which can save us and transform us as people.
He goes on to read from Hebrews 1, which is a description of Jesus as God’s Son.
Tried and experienced
Listening to Tom, I find it hard to believe that this is a man who once declared to the world that he would never become a Christian. But I know it’s true, I’ve heard him tell the story myself. And now I see a man with a deep love for Christ, who has dedicated the last 30 years of his life to serving Him, and to becoming as like Him as possible in every single way.
I have known Tom ever since I was born, and I can honestly say that I have never heard an angry word come out of his mouth. I have never heard a vulgar expression from him, or seen any sign of impatience. I have only seen goodness, kindness and love for other people. I know he loves each person sitting here at the moment. How is this possible? I know that as much as I would like to think that I have come far on the way of life, I am a long way behind him, from being as content and happy as he is.
A safe role model
He is not a spectacular person, he isn’t famous, or glamorous, but he is without doubt a person that any young person could safely adopt as a role model. Who are the role models for most adolescents today? Teenagers idolize pop stars, fashion icons and actors, many of whom present an exciting, care-free facade to the world, but who in reality are struggling with problems that we usually know nothing about. Except that every now and then an unpleasant fact about them comes to light: that they have a drug addiction, or have been cheating on their partner, or have injured someone in a pub brawl while under the influence of alcohol.
I’m not going to say that I have no idea why these people are so popular and so admired, because that wouldn’t be true—I can feel their charisma and attraction just like anyone else. But are they the sort of people that I want to be like? Behind the glamour and wealth and beauty, are they truly happy? When they are old, will they look back on their life with no regrets? Somehow I have my doubts about that…
Become like Jesus
Tom continues, “We are called to be conformed to [the Son’s] image. God wants to do that in us.” Somehow, the idea that I can become more like Jesus now, while I am still alive and well, is a very appealing one. Is there any life that is more fulfilling than that? And what better way to go about it than to imitate those who are already living like that?
I’m still young, and most of my life is still ahead of me. And I know how I’m going to live it!