OK, so I don’t expect everyone who reads my blog (or really anyone, hardly) to know that June 11 is the feast day of St. Barnabas. Most Christian readers of my blog are fellow Adventists or evangelicals who are not so much into the saint thing, and presumably my non-Christian friends aren’t so much into saints either. Even if you’re Catholic or Anglican and actually follow the calendar of feast days and saints’ days and such, you’d have to be pretty hardcore, I think, to celebrate a Biblical footnote like St. Barnabas.
But Barnabas’s day is the one I really do care about, because I’ve sort of adopted him as a personal patron saint. He’s not actually listed as the patron saint of anything except Cyprus, although apparently he can be invoked for protection against hailstorms. However, in my unilateral protestant way, I’ve decided Barnabas should be the patron saint of teachers, youth leaders, and anyone who works with at-risk youth, and it is as such that I have adopted him as my personal patron.
In case you’re not all down with the Biblicals, here’s the story on Barnabas: after the conversion of the considerably more famous apostle Paul, Barnabas was sent out as a co-missionary to the Gentiles along with Paul. They had a great road trip, making converts, preaching the word, getting stoned and run out of town, etc. The book of Acts explains that Barnabas’s young cousin Mark was along on this tour — until he got tired of the whole persecution routine, at which point he said, “This sucks,” and went home.
Later, Mark rethought the missionary deal and figured, “It didn’t suck THAT much,” and asked if he could accompany Paul and Barnabas on their next road trip. Paul put his foot down and said, “No way, Mark’s a loser, he flaked out on us before and I have no intention of trusting him again.” Barnabas said, “Dude, he’s just a kid. Cut him some slack. Let’s see if he’s really dedicated this time.” (I’m paraphrasing fairly freely here, I hope you realize. Scholars of New Testament Greek will, I hope, forgive me).
Paul — a great apostle but not a famously flexible person — refused to budge. At which point Barnabas said, “Fine then, I’m going to take a chance on Mark. We’ll go off and do our OWN little missionary journey, and you can find a new partner, Saint Paul.” And they went their separate ways.
And this is why I love this guy, Barnabas. He gave up a gig as part of the greatest evangelistic team in history to take a second chance on a loser kid who’d already proven himself unreliable and unsuccessful. Later, even Paul admitted that Mark was “helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). So apparently once Mark had proven he had the right stuff, Paul was willing to work with him again. But he probably never would have had the chance to prove that without Barnabas.
I have spent most of my life working with teenagers in some capacity or another. I have been a high school teacher in three church schools, one public school, and now in an adult-ed centre for former high school dropouts who are returning to complete their coursework. In church, I’ve been a junior Sabbath School teacher, a youth leader, and of course (see yesterday’s blog) a Pathfinder leader. And I have to say that in all those years I have never met one kid — not one — who I would label hopeless or worthless or without potential. As long as somebody (it hasn’t always been me) has been willing to see the good in a young person, take a chance on them, be Barnabas to their Mark, they have the capacity to grow. No matter how they’ve messed up in the past, every kid is worth a second chance.
I [heart] Barnabas because I’ve committed my life to doing for kids what he did for Mark — seeing the good in them, seeing past their mistakes, trusting them with a second chance. And as a parent, I hope to do that for my own kids. I’ve also recognized that when kids get to a certain age, no matter how loving and supportive their parents are, they also need someone outside the family circle — a teacher, a coach, a youth leader or other mentor — to believe in them and respect them and mentor them. I’ve been privileged to be that person for several young people over the years and I pray that when the time comes, there’ll be someone around to do that for my kids too.