KINGSBURG – Erin Pasillas knows what it means to be brave.
“It’s having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear or difficulty. Having or showing courage.”
As Pasillas read the definition straight from the dictionary, the nearly 190 girls listening at Kingsburg Community Church were getting more than an English lesson that day. Organizers of the first Brave Girls Gathering on Nov. 15 said they were hoping to sew a seed of God’s love for the girls from ages 10-18.
“We want you to be brave because this world tells you some horrible lies,” organizer Staci Young told the audience. “No matter where you come from, remember this, you have a God that loves you.”
At this first session, they touched on peer pressure that can lead girls to exclude others to be popular, the negative influence of social media and the cruel reality of bullying that goes on at school and online.
“How many of you have every experienced that? Maybe you have friends and they have certain rules you have to follow to be their friend. Or maybe you make the rules and you expect others to follow them?” Young asked. “Tonight, were here because we’re going to break those rules. We’re here because there’s a God who loves us and who’s chosen us.”
Local faith leaders lead an all-woman worship team as they sang praise songs and then a skit demonstrated the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story is found in Luke 10 in the Bible where a man who was robbed and beaten but was finally helped a Samaritan.
Pasillas said in sharing this parable, Jesus was making the point that the people we’re expected to love - our neighbors - are more than just the people we identify with or already like.
“We want to be friends and neighborly to the ones who are easy to be friends with, but that’s not exactly what we’re asked to do.”
She also shared Micah 6:8 that reads in part: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Pasillas reminded the youth that while the rest of the world puts the focus on themselves, God’s asking them to focus on being just, merciful and humble.
“Where it asks us to love mercy, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly, how many of those things are talking about what we should feel? Is ‘do justice’ telling you to expect justice for yourself?”
Like the Good Samaritan who did those things and went the extra mile to take care of the stranger’s needs, Pasillas said that’s what they too are capable of doing with God’s help.
“That goes back to having moral strength to face danger, fear or difficulty. You might be thinking that sounds really great sitting here, but when I’m at school, it’s just not that easy.”
She asked the girls to not focus on their friends’ opinions, but simply how they can do it.
“The real question is, ‘how can I do this even without my friends?’ See the difference? Think about this verse at John 15: 4, 5 where Jesus is the vine and we’re the branches. ‘A part from me, you can do nothing.’ Do you need your friends to act kind, be just, or walk humbly? Who do you need? Jesus.”
She went on to share promises in the Bible about their potential and had the girls read some of the phrases aloud.
“I am a friend of Jesus,” one girl shouted out.
“God loves me and has chosen me,” another girl said.
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“I am a new creature in Christ,” yet another said.
“I am complete in Christ,” Pasillas repeated of one of the phrases. “I really like that one. That means he’s it. He’s enough. He’s all that I need. Do I need everybody to like me? No.”
Before they went into break-out groups based on their age levels, Pasillas drove home one more point to help the girls think twice before falling into the ‘mean girl’ mindset.
“What I want you to realize is that as much as those things are true for you, they’re also true for the girl who’s mean to you, for the girl you don’t really like, for the girl who is rude or the girl who doesn’t seem like she’s even worth your time.”
She encouraged them to instead realize everyone has different talents and skills, but they could all be “part of the body that goes out to love people. If all I had was toes, or arms that would be weird. We don’t all have to be the same. We need to be different and love that we’re different.”
KCAPS Director Aida Rushing helped coordinate the Brave Girls Gathering and credited the many women volunteering to send the positive message to the attendees.
“One of our main verses is Joshua 1:9 about being strong and courageous. We based this on that because without God’s strength and courage, we can’t do this. It wasn’t just the two or three of us, it’s a whole bunch of us behind the scenes making this happen.”
Young added she hopes the attendees realize that no matter what they’ve been like in the past, they can now realize “they’rechosen, they’re dearly loved and forgiven by the grace and blood of Jesus Christ. They can live free and in that free life they can choose to be kind. They can overcome the brokenness and we can start a new pattern in this world.”
Fifth graders attending Brave Girls Gathering decorated a tumbler during their craft session. While they were getting a snack after finishing their project, some of the girls shared their impressions of this first event.
They said they not only appreciated the positive atmosphere, but were already thinking of how to put the messages to use in their everyday life.
Jasmine Vasquez said she like the message of speaking up for those who are getting bullied.
“We should stick up for them and tell people to stop bullying them.”
Bellamy Zavala said she liked the gathering’s positive vibe.
“I like that we can come here and just forget about other things that have happened. We can just be in a happy environment where everybody will listen to you and you won’t get bullied or anything. There’s a lot of bad stuff girls experience in everyday life, but you can come here and set that aside.”
Alessandra Rosales agreed.
“They taught how we can be ourselves and how God is always on our side. Girls at school can be challenging because they can be mean and expect you to be like them. You don’t have to be like them. That’s what I learned here and I can be myself around all these people because they’re nice to me.”
Kylee Reich said she’s glad been able to learn from the Bible from an early age and that she attends The Well Kingsburg with her family. For those who don’t already attend a congregation, she encourages them to do so to have help understanding the Bible.
“Church can be a very welcoming place for any age. You just have to be brave and know that you’re going to be safe there trusting God. You need to look hard [in the Bible] to learn what you have to do in life. It makes you a better person and kinder to others,” Reich said.