Teens partner with Hispanic congregations to serve three communities
By Connie Faber
More than 100 youth and sponsors from nine USMB congregations in California teamed up April 13-16 for “Together Spring Break Mission,” a service project that targeted three Central Valley communities—Fresno, Selma and Traver.
This year’s project was similar to the 2013 endeavor that was spearheaded by the same group of youth pastors—but with one key difference: This time the organizers partnered with three USMB Hispanic congregations that have distinctive ministries to their communities.
Youth group interaction a highlight
According to Trent Voth, one of the planning team members and the youth pastor at College Community Church in Fresno, this collaboration made for an even better event.
“Our congregations already had (a) relationship with the hosting churches and will continue to have relationship after the event,” says Voth in an email interview. “The fact that students, pastors and youth pastors from these nine congregations desire connection, community and Christ together is alone worth celebrating.
“The more often we do this event, the more we see youth from the various congregations developing friendships,” says Voth. “That’s one of our primary goals—to facilitate relationships between our congregations through the youth groups.”
The three Hispanic congregations—United Faith Christian Fellowship of Fresno, Templo de Oracion of Traver and Selma MB Church—hosted more than 80 youth and sponsors from Bethany MB Church, College Community Church, North Fresno Church and Mountain View Community Church, all of Fresno, Dinuba MB Church and Kingsburg MB Church.
Jordan Ringhofer, Kingsburg MB Church youth pastor and a member of the planning team, was impressed with the participants’ willingness to mingle with one another.
“I was really encouraged to see how all the churches got along and just blended together during the week,” says Ringhofer in an email interview. “From the worship and lessons in the evening to the work done at the sites and even to the game time after dinner, it was often difficult to distinguish one group from the other.”
Daily schedule includes worship, service
George and Marcia Sawatzky, long time members of Dinuba MB Church, offered their ranch as base camp for the four-day event. Local ethnic restaurants catered meals served at the camp site.
Mornings during Together Spring Break Mission were spent in personal devotions and a large group session. For the rest of the day, the teens divided into three teams that served at three ministry sites. Evening included games, activities and a worship session.
The worship gatherings included music led by Austin Spendlove, an Elijah Project apprentice at Mountain View, and students from the Mountain View High School Ministry Worship Team. The four organizers—Voth, Ringhofer, Matt Ford from North Fresno, and Ken Wilkinson of Mountain View—shared the speaking responsibilities. Their messages, based on Mark 14-15, focused on the last 12 hours of Jesus life on earth and were aimed at preparing the teens for Holy Week and Easter.
In addition to speaking, each of the organizers took charge of a specific aspect of the event. Ford was responsible for food, facilities and media and his colleagues credit Ford with doing an exceptional job with the logistics.
Voth was in charge of the Fresno site, Wilkinson took the Selma site and Ringhofer was responsible for the Traver site.
The Pacific District Conference (PDC) Board of Next Generation Leadership helped to fund the 2014 trip.
Volunteers at the three sites engaged the community in a unique way, says Ringhofer. That interaction was often enhanced by the knowledge local teens shared with the visiting youth groups about the communities the students were serving, say organizers.
Fresno: Campaigning for peace and justice
For more than two years, United Faith Christian Fellowship (UFCF), a USMB congregation located in an urban neighborhood in Fresno, has been working to transform its neighborhood.
After surveying, researching and investigating their neighborhood, the congregation’s youth and college-age students discovered that there are 35 alcohol distributors and no grocery stores within one mile of their church. The young people developed a neighborhood advocacy campaign under the leadership of UFCF youth leader Yammilette Rodriquez that encouraged local liquor stores to discourage underage drinking and to carry healthy fruits and vegetable.
The UFCF teens then took their experience a step further by training some 25 to 30 individuals of a variety of ages from multiple congregations in how to conduct a neighborhood study, develop an action plan, anticipate support and opposition, implement the plan and celebrate successes.
UFCF youth not only educated the spring break mission volunteers in how to advocate with local and government officials (photo above) but gave them the opportunity to witness advocacy in action. The mission volunteers joined a contingent of young people that included youth from UFCF to address Fresno city council members, encouraging city leaders to policy changes that will make the neighborhood around UFCF safer and healthier.
Voth, the Fresno site coordinator, affirms the UFCF congregation, particularly the youth, for their commitment to lasting change in their neighborhood.
“The work we were able to partner with was meaningful and aimed at long-term, systematic change,” says Voth. “It was incredibly valuable that the UFCF youth were the ones conducting the training and conversations with elected officials. It is so much more impactful when youth see their peers working for justice and the kingdom in long-term, purposeful ways.”
Selma: Offering a free activity camp
The focus of the spring break ministry at Selma MB Church was providing a free afternoon activity camp to neighborhood families, including households the church was already in contact with as well as new families.
Brad Issak who with his wife, Delilah, is responsible for children’s and youth programs at Selma MB Church, estimates that over the two days at least 70 neighborhood children participated in the event.
“We were able to meet several new families, serve them in Jesus’ name and invite them into the life of our church,” says Isaak in an email interview following the camp. “We thank God for the work that was done through the camps and anticipate further opportunities for ministry that will come as a result.”
Selma MB rented the facilities at the local elementary school for the soccer and craft camps. Leaders from and friends of the Selma congregation promoted the event, gave rides to the dozens of students who attended and over the two-day camp helped “give structure to the actual ministry,” says Isaak.
Mountain View’s Wilkinson credits both Issak and the volunteer teens for making the camp a success.
“Pastor Brad deserves a lot of credit for the success of the camp,” says Wilkinson. “He told us what he envisioned and gave the mission team a chance to make that vision happen.”
Wilkinson also commends the youth for doing a “great job of serving.” Mountain View youth led the soccer and craft activities, shared personal testimonies and prepared and served lunch.
“Most importantly, our students hung out with the kids,” says Wilkinson, “talked to them about Jesus and gave them the chance to respond to the gospel, which 22 of them did. That’s a highlight right there!
“I left impressed by their (the volunteer’s) excellent attitudes to serve and invest in the lives of kids they’ve never seen before and may never see again this side of heaven,” says Wilkinson.
Traver: Building on pastor’s community outreach
Together Spring Break Mission volunteers at the Traver site helped to continue the community ministry Pastor Juan, Templo de Oracion’s bi-vocational pastor, has been doing for several years.
The volunteers worked at the church, at the local kindergarten through eighth grade school with the help of Superintendent Steve Ramierez and with the Traver Community Assistance Programs and Services (TCAPS).
The teens pulled weeds, cleaned up trash, trimmed trees and bushes, planted a flower bed, patched the church parking lot and installed a new floor in the church’s youth room. The host church and local school provided lunch and students and adults from the host church and even some students from school helped with the projects.
“It was a lot of fun to see the students interacting with our Hispanic brothers and sister and to have the Hispanic students teach our youth about the community,” says Ringhofer, the Kingsburg youth pastor who was responsible for the Traver site.
Teens were encouraged to not just complete the work projects but to also take advantage of opportunities to become familiar with the community and to share their faith. Several students from the local school were present the day one volunteer shared her testimony with the group.
With Pastor Juan’s blessing, the volunteers did a prayer walk through the neighborhood on both days. The first day groups of students selected a street to walk down while praying.
The next day the students knocked on doors to ask if they could prayer for the resident or offered the same to people that were outside. Ringhofer said this experience helped the students realize that first impressions can be misleading.
“One sweet elderly lady brushed the group of students off and said she already had a church to pray with,” says Ringhofer, “while another group had an individual that might be considered ‘intimidating’ gladly accept prayer.”
Ringhofer is also very appreciative of the help provided by Pastor Juan, who missed a week of work to assist with the project.
“Bi-vocational pastors don’t have the luxury of being around their church full-time like so many of us do,” says Ringhofer. “It’s a huge sacrifice to dedicate as much of the week to the project as they do.”
Bringing a diverse district together
Together Spring Break Mission is becoming a valuable experience for the churches and students involved, says Ringhofer. “I’m confident it will continue to bring us closer together.”
Opportunities to forge ties that bind are important given the diversity of the Pacific District Conference, says Voth.
“It’s my hope that this Pacific District event will foster deeper connections between our congregations, especially the English and Spanish speaking ones, so that we can expand our impact and participation with Christ in the kingdom,” says Voth. “Hopefully that translates into deeper relationship and more partnership in kingdom work.”
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