By Krissa Rumsey

I believe it is universally the case that one’s friends are of supreme importance in the lives of pre-teen and teenaged youth. As a youth who was growing in her relationship with my new friend, Jesus, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to integrate Him into my peer group…my besties. Be sure to check out Part 1 to hear the beginning of the story.

I wanted my friends to know Jesus and Jesus to know them. Being an “outsider” in a community of Mormons, I gravitated to other outsiders. My besties consisted largely of an unchurched to minimally churched group of girls.

They were wonderful, kind, and intelligent. They had great taste in music, a fantastic spirit of adventure, and killer senses of humor. I was blessed and the only thing missing was that they weren’t being introduced to Jesus in the same way I was.

My church youth group consisted of two, sometimes three people. My pastor understood this to be a problem and suggested we plan youth group activities for me and my outcast friends. We lived in a small town with nothing much to do but ski (which we did frequently). So, when I suggested to my group that we all gather at my church for a lock-in , they were game. Being locked in a church all night with your best friends in the whole wide world was a new concept for all of us and it sounded amazing.

My group of six or so friends brought sleeping bags, plenty of Ruffles and Doritos, and we listened as my pastor led us through a Bible study. Maybe it was because he had two daughters of his own, but he had this knack for getting us to talk about real stuff.

He told us about how Jesus knew our struggles navigating a very awkward period of life, and that Jesus loved us through all of it. In that group of friends, at least two had parents in the midst of divorce, and all of us felt insanely self-conscious and unsure just about everything except that we loved the band Tears for Fears and stirrup pants and leg warmers were here to stay.

Through my church, I also learned about a Lutheran summer camp in the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho where kids my age could canoe, hike, go whitewater rafting, you name it. Once again, my same group of outcasts was game. One set of parents drove us three hours to this camp in the wilderness on the banks of Perkins Lake surrounded by high mountain peaks. One week later, another set of parents picked us up. And in between we played, we danced, we had Bible study, we sang around a campfire and I grew more deeply and madly in love with Jesus.

We inscribed the words “Jesus freaks” on our bodies in permanent marker and discovered a new identity. I’m not sure if my friends boldly proclaimed this new identity because it was completely counter-culture and a form of rebellion and civil disobedience in our community, or if they really believed it. And I was never sure to what extent faith took hold of their lives because the day after we returned from our third year of summer camp together, I moved across the country to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We inscribed the words “Jesus freaks” on our bodies in permanent marker and discovered a new identity.

I was 16, and despite a period of furious letter-writing and phone calls, I became disconnected to my friends. This was long before the internet, email, Facebook and Skype. It was hard to stay connected. And over the next 25 years, I managed to visit my friends maybe two or three times.

Then one day, 25 years later and out of the blue, I received a phone call from Janel, one of my friends in the group. Though we hadn’t spoken for nearly 20 years, we picked up our conversation as if we had seen each other yesterday.

She called to tell me she and her husband, Pete, and their six daughters ages 6 months to 14, were headed to China for a year-long mission trip. She called to say she and Pete were passionate Christians and this was the second mission trip she was embarking on with her family. She called to ask me to pray for them as it was going to be a challenge. And she called to say thanks. She asked me if I had any idea that I was responsible for introducing her to Jesus when we were 13?

He had quite literally changed the trajectory of her life. When I first met Janel, her parents had just announced their divorce. She was the “worldly” one in our small group of friends. She was pretty, outgoing, always had a boy she was dating, had older siblings that were a bit on the wild side. She spent a semester of high school “at sea” where her father was a college professor on board a ship that traveled the world. But Jesus had hooked her.

She asked me if I had any idea that I was responsible for introducing her to Jesus when we were 13?

As a young adult she became a counselor at the camp we went to in the summer. She joined the Baptist church in town, met a young man there, married him and proceeded to have six, beautiful daughters. They remained in our small town of Utah and see it as one of their mission fields.

I have never been more of an evangelist than I did when I was in middle school. I often look back and wonder what changed. Why am I not as on fire about sharing Jesus with everyone as I was when I was 13? He was new and spoke messages of acceptance and love, something that I remember was so important for middle school kids to hear, and we loved hearing it.

Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to work through you, no matter who you are, whether you are 7 or 97. I see in my own 12 year old how important her social relationships are. God created relationships and created us to be in them. So, it’s no wonder that those relationships can be the most powerful tools to introduce others to Christ.