Preteen -

Holding a student’s hand can change everything —

By Cindy Branton

Being available to students is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do for them. 

They need the security of knowing we are right there in the moments when they are paralyzed by fear or doubt. When they see how faithful God has been in our lives, it gives them the courage they need to put on their flippers and snorkel masks and join us in the deep waters of God’s love!


I was reminded of this during a recent panic attack I had in the Pacific Ocean.


I have a “Things I Won’t Do” list, which is very closely tied to the “Things I Can’t Do” list.


GETTING INTO THE OCEAN is at the top of both of these lists.


Any time my family enjoys the ocean, I do pretty much everything except ACTUALLY experience the ocean. The beach and I are best friends. It’s safe there, the view is lovely, and I’ve never seen a shark swim up on the beach and drag away a sunbather.


It’s not the water that scares me, but the creatures that lurk beneath. Have you ever watched one of those Netflix documentaries about the animals in the ocean? After just a few minutes, the film will draw you into the creativity of our God. However, it simultaneously instills terror into your soul as the world’s most bizarre and hideous creatures are featured in all of their horrifying glory. Don’t believe me? Google blobfish or anglerfish and try not to have nightmares.


When our best friends invited my husband and me to join them in Hawaii, I was beyond ecstatic for obvious reasons. I had plans to eat my weight in fresh pineapple and take awesome pictures of my friends swimming and surfing.


But there was a problem.


My dear friend Lindsay refused to acknowledge the existence of my “Things I Won’t Do” list and smiled at my “Things I Can’t Do” list. She excitedly signed the four of us up for a snorkel excursion OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN. I tried explaining to her that snorkeling seemed great for some, but if it meant I had to get into the water, that would be impossible for me. I had lists. The lists gave me rights. Those rights meant I didn’t ever have to get more than ankle-deep in the ocean. Her husband described the two of us as Moana and Belle at the beach … I’ll let you guess which one I am.


Despite all this, the next morning as the beautiful Maui sun crept up, erasing the inky Pacific night sky, I found myself on the second story bow of a boat heading out to a beautiful cove known for an abundance of vivid sea creatures. It sounded like a panic attack in the making.


My husband and friends patiently treaded water while I figured out how to coax myself off of the boat. I can’t imagine how ridiculous I must have looked and sounded waddling around the back of the boat, talking through a scuba mask and letting out occasional screams of terror. But eventually I belly flopped into the crystal blue water and the adventure began.


The only thing that gave me confidence to jump was a promise from my precious friend. She said, “I will hold your hand for as long as you need me to. We will do this together.”


And she did … For 45 minutes she held my hand and I screamed through my mask.


She pointed out God’s remarkable creatures swimming just feet below. She would point, I would scream, and we would both smile. Because of her willingness to be patient and her promise to be by my side, I was able to conquer my fears and experience a thrilling new world.


This is a beautiful picture of our roles as parents and youth workers. There are students who are terrified at the thought of following Jesus. To give up the life they know and the comfort of their own safety and happiness can be so overwhelming that it keeps them “in the boat” and prevents them from living the life to which they are called.


That’s where we come in. We’ve made the jump, we’ve experienced the joy of following Christ, and we can promise these students that if they choose to trust us we will hold their hands as long as they need us to. We will do life together and be there when they need us.


Truly living for Jesus can be absolutely terrifying. “In this life you will have troubles …” doesn’t exactly work as a convincing recruitment slogan. But when students can see us living for Christ despite our circumstances, and when we create a community to which they can belong, it’s so much easier for them to take the plunge and go all-in. They can be the Kingdom workers that God has called them to be.


Cindy Branton is the social media manager for CIY’s Believe and SuperStart programs. She is also the proud parent of Brielle, Braelyn and Briarly. Her email is