Youth Ministry is Different in Asia: Reflections on My First Graduation Service

by Elizabeth

Last week I attended my first graduation service for one of the city’s international schools. And while I’ve been to my fair share of graduations — having literally stumbled into youth ministry at the young age of 19 — this one was different.

I had always been happy for the graduates, never sad. I knew I’d see them at Thanksgiving, and at Christmas, and again during their summer break. I would probably be at their wedding in a few years, and maybe even at their baby shower.

Not so here. Here, graduates say goodbye, and often, it’s forever. So we all say goodbye, knowing it might be forever. And every year there are those who leave, never to return, even though they’re not graduates. Students, teachers, others.

It’s emotionally draining — and people who’ve been working overseas longer tell me that the more graduations you attend, the harder it gets. Because you’ve been here longer, and you know the students better. And because each goodbye reminds you of past goodbyes, the grief piling on top of itself, crushing you under its weight. It’s almost too much to bear, this collective pain we carry together.

So of course, I cried.

But I smiled too.

Just as every wedding you attend reminds you of yours, so too, does every graduation remind you of your own. So when the graduates talked about finishing their International Baccalaureate exams, I smiled. I remember doing that too — and how the joy of graduation wasn’t so much the actual event, but the relief that those exams were finally finished. And when every single sibling in one particular family won the top academic award in their grade, I smiled, because once upon a time, I was part of a high achieving family, too.


Towards the end of the evening, the graduates performed “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United. It’s been one of my favorite songs in recent months. One of the graduates talked about how the future seems like that now, like deep water, all scary and unknown. And they’re right, it is. It’s frightening in a way they’ve never known before — for no transition is quite like this one, especially when a family lives overseas.

But what struck me that night is that life never stops being that way. Never. We are always scared of the future. We don’t know which decisions to make, which direction to take, and we don’t know how the future is going to turn out. Each new thing in our lives brings with it a goodbye to something else. Transition, no matter how dramatic or subtle, never ends in this life. And that is sobering.

It is sobering because I tire of transition, and even of the expectation of transition. But these unwelcome transitions also provide me with yet another opportunity to trust my Father in heaven. I don’t “do” transition very well, and I don’t particularly like having to trust God, yet again, with His plans for my life. I thought I had already done that. Can’t I be done with that already?? No, apparently not.

Yet I think when I’m at that place, in deepest water, surrounded by great unknowns, and forced to trust God’s hand in my life because I can’t possibly trust my own, that is exactly where He wants me to be.


You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown where feet may fail

 And there I find You in the mystery

 In oceans deep my faith will stand


 And I will call upon Your name

 And keep my eyes above the waves

 When oceans rise

 My soul will rest in Your embrace

 For I am Yours and You are mine


 Your grace abounds in deepest waters

 Your sovereign hand will be my guide

 Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me

 You’ve never failed and You won’t start now


 So I will call upon Your name

 And keep my eyes above the waves

 When oceans rise

 My soul will rest in Your embrace

 For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

 Let me walk upon the waters

 Wherever You would call me

 Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

 And my faith will be made stronger

 In the presence of my Savior


photo credit

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