When You Lose an Entire Youth Group
We've all had those moments when a student goes missing, usually only for a few moments thank God, but anxiety inducing nonetheless. I remember one being in the bathroom just as our train in North Wales was about to leave an everyone else was on board, and the time we left one in a concert crowd as we trekked back to the bus at Alton Towers theme park. And yes, he was the only one without a cell phone out of 40+ people.....
But yes, I did once lose a whole group, of about a dozen or so if I remember. In pre-cellphone days. I'd brought a group from Bury, England over to my home patch in Dublin, Ireland for a few days, and this was towards the end of our time, they knew the locality well enough. We packed our lunches, agreed we would stop at a store to buy snacks/goodies on the way to the station to catch the train. Karen and I counted them out of the building to make sure we didn't lock anyone in. All good so far. We locked up and walked to the church gate. No sign of them. They knew the way to the station, so we figured they were around the next corner. It's only a 600 metre walk with 3 corners.
We got to the first corner. No sign of them. Ok, we'll carry on and keep an eye out for them, they'll probably get to the station before us. We were fairly calm at this point, they were all together as far as we knew, and it's not far. We got to the station. They weren't there. My stomach sank. Oh crap. Karen stayed at the station in case they turned up there, I started retracing my steps. Imagining the call back to the pastor.... "Not sure how to best explain this, but we've, ah, lost them. All of them...." Not one I wanted to make! Mid imagining-the-worst, I glanced up. And see a dozen teenagers walking towards me with hardly a care in the world.
It turned out they had all gone into the first shop they saw to buy drinks and things. All of them. Not one waiting outside for us to let us know and then go in. I was mightily relieved, but also, lets say, a little mad. Thankfully, I no longer had to imagine that call, and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day.
Moral of the story? Communicate better and more clearly with groups and don't get too worked up in the first moment or two of a potential crisis.