“We have an army of youth today who can do much if they are properly directed and encouraged. We want our children to believe the truth. We want them to be blessed of God. We want them to act a part in well-organized plans for helping other youth”(Ellen White, Manuscript 139-1901.30).
Noon is 17 years old and a sophomore in high school. I first met her at church in 2014. Before I was introduced to her, I saw her sitting in a pew by herself. My first impression was that she looked completely unengaged, bent forward slightly and typing on her phone. I couldn’t blame her. There wasn’t really anything going on that would attract the attention of a teenage girl. To be honest, I was feeling bored myself. Like her, I was a spectator with no real part to play.
Months passed. I would see Noon in church and say hello, but not much else. She would come in, sit down, and stay in the same place for the whole service. Her long, black bangs were always down in front of her eyes, like a curtain she was hiding behind. Sometimes she would stay for potluck lunch, but usually she would slip out quickly as soon as church was over. She just didn’t seem that interested in anything that was going on, or in anyone there. In her defense, I never really saw anyone try very hard to connect with her, myself included.
Though people didn’t seem comfortable talking with Noon, they felt free to talk about her. “Why doesn’t she come to Sabbath School and church every week? Why doesn’t she get involved more? She’s probably not really interested in church or spiritual things. She’s just a typical teenager who is only concerned about worldly things.”
Then something started to change. Maybe it was Noon, or maybe it was me. Every time I saw her at church, I would try to sit next to her. Sometimes we would play a game on my phone, quietly taking turns and passing it back and forth. I would show her funny pictures I had found online, and we would stifle giggles. I tried to make some kind of connection with Noon, no matter how small.
She also started to engage more with our family, especially with Justus and Jon Marc. She would play with them quietly in the pew, help them do quiet activities or look at their Bible storybooks. She always seemed genuinely happy to see them, and they were much calmer and more relaxed at church with her.
Later, we started a Thai youth Sabbath school. I was happy when Noon began to attend. She came on time every week and seemed very interested. We were slowly going through stories from Genesis and Exodus in English and Thai with several high school and college-age students. After reading a story, we would share and ask questions. Noon always had something meaningful to share, and her questions were thoughtful. I remember thinking how unfair and completely wrong people’s comments about her had been. I was excited to be getting to know her better.
At that time I was teaching an introductory-level ESL class every Sunday afternoon at the Adventist language school. Noon was one of my students. She always came on time and was prepared. Her English improved quickly, and she was probably the best student in the class. When other students were having trouble, she would help them patiently and attentively. It was a pleasure to have her as a student.
One day after class, I got a phone call from an AFM missionary in another part of Thailand. A family member of someone from their church had passed away. That family member had lived near Ubon. The missionary had tried to contact one of the pastors in the Ubon area, but they were all away for meetings in another part of the country. They wanted to arrange for someone from the church to go and meet the family, and they wanted to know if I could help. I glanced around the classroom. All the students had already left, except for Noon. She was listening to my conversation. After I hung up, Noon asked me if there was anything she could do to help. We talked, and she offered some helpful suggestions. I was beginning to see a depth of character in her that most other people didn’t seem to know was there.
Last December, Noon helped us get our children’s church ministry started in the village. Truly, we couldn’t do what we’re doing without her. She works closely with Tonya every week to create resources like crafts, games, memory verses and other activities in Thai and English that go with our Bible story curriculum. She helps us connect with the kids and their families, and she is willing to do whatever is needed to make the ministry a success. She is quick to give praise when we try something and it’s effective, and she’s not afraid to make suggestions where we need to improve or adjust our strategy and methods. Over time, we have come to see that Noon is the future of the work here. She is already becoming a leader, and we sense that we have a sacred responsibility to support her and help her be successful in reaching the Thai Buddhists of Isan for Christ.
“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. You have a part to play. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Tim. 4:12 NLT – words in bold added).