Clutching the robo-baby

I was in high school when I saw my first robo-baby.

This probably dates me, but at the time, it was some new attempt at teaching girls in home economics about caring for a baby. (If you are older than me, you probably remember girls carrying an egg around for a week. If you are younger than me, schools probably have you downloading some iPhone app that turns it into a virtual baby… call it iBaby.)

Girls were made to carry the electronic baby everywhere they went for a week. It went to class with them, it went home with them, and it cried recorded sobs at night instead of sleeping. These girls had to feed it imaginary food and change its make believe poopy diapers.

What is creepier still was the little black box inside of robo-baby. It monitored everything. The little bundle of joy had sensors that would tell the teacher if you dropped the baby, how often you held the baby, and what you did when the baby started crying. At the end of a week, the data was collected and turned into your grade.

At my school, fourth period was sports. Not one specific sport, all of them, at the same time. No matter what team you were on, all athletes congregated in the gym during fourth period. Some, like the basketball team, actually practiced. Others, like the soccer team (of which I was a member), played ping-pong on the gym balcony.

On one particular afternoon, the soccer team was in the middle of our regular ping-pong regiment when one of the cheerleaders walked over with her robo-baby. With a devilish smile on his face, one of my teammates told everyone around the table to watch, and he walked over to the poor, unsuspecting cheerleader. Feigning interest, he was soon holding robo-baby. What happened next will forever be etched into my memory, for he proceeded to punt robo-baby off the balcony. It arced 30 feet or so through the air and descended with a thud onto the hardwood basketball court.

She failed that class, and he got in-school suspension.

But from that moment on, girls in home economics held on to robo-baby as though their life depended on it. It became the most precious thing in their world for that week.

When something becomes precious to you, it is hard to let go of it. Perhaps you are afraid it needs you, or perhaps you are afraid it will forget you. Perhaps you feel like you have to protect it so no one kicks it off a balcony. Whatever the case, people clutch to the things they value the most.

I had a great reminder of this yesterday.

In the five years prior to my term in Africa, I led a college ministry at my church. As a matter of fact, I helped start the college ministry. In the beginning there were two or three kids who wanted to do a Bible study, and we started to meet together. We never imagined it would blossom into a big, vibrant ministry, but it did. And it changed my life. As a matter of fact, it was this college ministry that redirected my life’s course and God used it to show me who he wanted me to be.

Week after week, for years, I taught my students, I prayed with them, I listened when they were hurt and life was hard, I played with them, and I watched them grow up. We lived life together, and it was my most valuable thing.

Then God asked me to leave.

At first, I did not really understand why. The ministry was continuing to grow. As a matter of fact, my last year leading it was probably our most significant gains in ministry. I felt my involvement benefited the group, so I could not understand why God was telling me to leave. But I knew I must; I knew that season in my life was over, and that God had other work for me. It was hard too.

I wanted to clutch to that ministry. I did not want to let go of my leadership over those students. What if it fell apart? What if no one would care as much as I did? Can they do it on their own? Those were the questions that kept running through my head. But I left, and from the other side of the world, I continued to pray for those students and the work in front of them.

Yesterday, I sat next to a swimming pool, staring at dozens of faces I had never seen before. They were all college students, students that were part of the ministry I had started six or seven years ago. I watched as kids that were freshman when I left stood up and led this new group as though they were completely confident in the work God had trusted to them.

I realized something yesterday. It was not my ministry anymore, in fact, it never was. It had been God’s the whole time.

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