Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Take Your Best Shot

Why do we expect so little from our youth? As a pastor, I often struggle to find meaningful ways of engaging our young people, to keep them interested and active in church. So, the church tries to keep our kids entertained, an extension of what they get elsewhere. Music they can relate to, games, retreats - and the occasional bible study or service project thrown in to keep our programming churchy.

But Austin Gutwein has shown in his book Take Your Best Shot: Do Something Bigger Than Yourself that young people care about the world that God made and are eager to provide meaningful solutions to human suffering. Young people have both the compassion and the know-how to alleviate the agony of others.

Challenged by a World Vision video telling the story of an AIDS Orphan in Zambia named "Maggie" (He calls this his "Maggie Moment"), 9-year-old Austin Gutwein was moved to help her, and others like her. After sharing his concern with a World Vision staffer who told him to "...use basketball to change the world" Austin Gutwein decided to raise money by shooting free-throws. Since there were 2057 children orphaned by AIDS each day, he would shoot 2057 free throws, at a dollar per throw (but not basket).

Of course, he reached his goal. And later he decided to try it again, this time with 1000 people shooting free throws. And "Hoops of Hope" was born.

What I found unique about his story wasn't his success (which made for a good read) but his ability to reflect on what God was doing throw him. He was able to integrate biblical passages about the poor and suffering into his work with AIDS orphans in way that wasn't trite or condescending. Too often, these stories have a "isn't it so great that we wealthy North Americans can help these poor, underdeveloped Africans" feel to them. Not this book. For young Austin Gutwein, it's a story of one kid just trying to help other kids, because that's what Christians do.

But as a parent and a pastor, this book was a challenge to expect more from the young people under my care, to help them grow and push their limits. Youth do not need more entertainment, especially not from churches. Young people need to know that they have gifts and passions that can help change the lives of others. For me, Austin Gutwein's book was a helpful reminder that everyone plays an important leadership role in God's unfolding kingdom. This book would make an excellent gift for the young person in your life who is struggling to find his/her place in church and the world. It is a wonderful affirmation of the giftedness of all God's people.

(Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now at your favourite bookseller)

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