10 years ago today, some long forgotten office minion processed my paperwork and I officially joined Generation Joshua. Little did they know! Actually, little did I know. It is impossible to imagine the past ten years without Generation Joshua. I can’t even imagine the past year without it, and I have been “graduated” for quite some time. Gen J influenced every part of my life. It provided friends, mentors, and answers during the tumultuous years of teenhood, and the early chaos of college. Even now, as I begin my career, I find I owe an unpayable debt to the organization that provided me with vision and experience before I realized I would need either.
I used to tell people, in a rush of words so fast most listeners gave up trying to understand, “Generation Joshua is an organization that gets young people, ages 11 to 19, involved in civics and government. It is awesome. But, you know, it does so much more.”
Generation Joshua taught me a lot of things. I did everything offered: camps, clubs, conferences, the chat room, book clubs, the Benjamin Rush Awards, Student Action Teams, and later the Leadership Corps. Above all, though, I spent my teen years on the Generation Joshua forums. All those things, but especially the forums, taught me some important truths about life.
I learned…my teen years were a blessing.
Even before my teenage years began I wanted them to be over. I carried a vague notion that all teenagers had boyfriends, wore skimpy clothes, and did drugs. No matter how desperately my Mom pointed out perfectly ordinary and well behaved teenagers, I refused to believe it. I knew what was up. Nothing good came of turning 13! The teenagers on the Generation Joshua forums quickly disabused me of that notion. These students were intelligent, funny, and friendly. They discussed everything from relationships to current events to coffee! Sometimes they goofed off; sometimes they were serious. For me, it was all amazing. I learned the teenage years did not automatically mean delinquency and rebellion. It could be a wonderful time for growth and friendship.
I learned…online friendships last.
Because so many of my friendships began online, they continue to thrive online today. The neat thing about being an adult is that nowadays I get to travel and visit people in person. However, for many years I could have passed my closest friends on the street and not of known them. It made for the most awkward conversations! “My friend Dr. Black, well, I’ve never met him, but anyway he said…” or “Coolweather and I were e-mailing and we think…” Gen Jers learned to be very creative. My friends Tori (CatCrazy), Lydia (LidBiz) and I started an online girls’ bible study using a chat room and blog. It was a wonderful experience, spread across many time zones. Tori lived in Montana and Lydia in Senegal, Africa. We were joined by girls in California, Minnesota, and Rhode Island. Today, I still consider both girls dear friends. Whether through the forums, Facebook, or even “real life”, my friendship with Gen Jers last a great deal in part because we first learned to be friends far away.
I learned…my voice mattered.
Once upon a time I caught sight of the first post I ever wrote, and it made me want to cry. The spelling, the grammar, the content! I flinch to think of it. But you know what I remember even more clearly than the post? I remember TexasCowboy and Pippin welcoming me to the forums and engaging with what I had to say. That meant a lot to me. I also learned that I could put action behind my words via the Student Action Teams and iGovern Camps. Not everyone finds spending a week of grassroots campaigning fun, however it was the highlight of my year. I couldn’t vote, but I could act. I learned I could make a difference, even at age 14.
I learned…disagreement is okay.
God bless all the moderators who kept an eye on us on the forums! They eventually shut down the Civil War thread because it got so heated. Place two opinionated teenagers together and you are bound to have some conflict, add a whole bunch of them to an online forum and you’re begging for it. Heated discussion is not always a bad thing, though. It sharpens arguments and provides a broader point of view. I learned a lot by simply reading the back and forth of others. I saw that you could be friends with people you disagreed with.
I learned…God answers prayer.
The statement almost sounds trite, but it meant a great deal to me in high school. Before I ever heard of Generation Joshua, I begged God for friends like me. I didn’t want a robot…but someone who shared my interests. And God provided. A few years later, I prayed again, this time for closer friends. Not long after, I got to travel to Generation Joshua camp with Danielle (jcfreak) and Sara (Lightning). It was wonderful to have the friends in person and online! Being a part of Generation Joshua grew me spiritually. I saw God’s hand at work in so many ways. I saw faith in the students around me, in the counselors and leaders at camp, in the discussion on the forums. I saw pain and hurt and brokenness. And I learned that God worked in it all, that He was not an afterthought but the very foundation.
Most of all I learned…I was not alone.
There were teenagers like me. People who loved learning. People who paid attention to politics. People who read like crazy. C.S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, “Friendship…is born at the moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one…’” Indeed, I thought I was the only one. And then one momentous day, on January 6th, I joined something greater, where I learned I was not alone. Generation Joshua was so much more.
This is a thank you. I have written many before, but I can only repeat my words again. Thank you to those Gen Jers who were older than me, who mentored and offered me friendship when I first joined. Thank you to my peers, the Gen Jers my age who remain some of my closest friends. Thank you to all the kids who have come after me, it is a delight watching you discover the same thing I did. That you are not alone.
Most of all, thank you to the leaders of Generation Joshua. When I first joined, that meant Ned Ryun. Then Douglas Price. Then Will Estrada. Now, Joel Grewe. Thank you to all the leaders like Jeremiah Lorrig, Lucas Mason, and Michael Zeller. Thank you to my SAT leaders, Noah Oberlander and James Flath. Thank you to the parents who helped get the club going in Wisconsin, people like Mrs. Aguilar, Pastor Andy, and my Dad. I would never have discovered Generation Joshua without The First Generation Joshua Club of Wisconsin. Thank you for all the people who have engaged and mentored and spoke into the lives of the Gen J community. There are countless names I could mention. I have only named a few of the ones most involved while I was a teenager. What you all do cannot be quantified in words. I am ever grateful for the role you all have played in my life.
I hope every teenager has the opportunity to find a place where they discover they are not alone. Generation Joshua was that for me. Thank you, Gen J, for helping shape me into the woman I am today.