Something I’m thankful for is our youth group.
Recently, the youth group at Peakland UMC went Trick-or-Treating-So-Others-Can-Eat. One Sunday they left bags with flyers explaining what was needed by Rivermont Food Pantry with about 85-90 homes near the church. The following week, they went back on a “hayless hayride” to collect any bags that were left out on front porches. Some family homeowners brought their bags to the church. All together a total of 45-50 bags were collected.
Rivermont Food Pantry was so impressed with the huge collection of Thanksgiving-esque food, that they sent an email out this week to other churches and individuals telling them what our youth did and encouraging other church groups to do something similar. The email went on to say that a Kroger order was placed, as it is every year by Rivermont, to fill the 48 Thanksgiving Bags they do each year, and thanks to the collection by Peakland Youth, their order was much smaller!
A few Saturdays ago, our youth went to Parkview Mission to help them with cleaning and other renovations. This is what Glenda Fort, the new Executive Director at Parkview had to say in an email that was sent out to Lynchburg District leaders and clergy:
What a pleasure it was to have . .. youth from Peakland. These young people sorted and bagged the coats collected and we will begin distributing them soon. Surplus school supplies were packed and sent to Bass Elementary and UMCOR. 250 pounds each of onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots were bagged and distributed. Donations were shelved, brush and branches were picked up and disposed of and cleaned up when they were finished. It may have been a “just one day” mission effort but I sincerel hope that these fine kids will bless Parkview again in the future.”
Just in the last few weeks, our youth have made a difference in our community that has left an impression on others in the community, some we have never met. I hope you join me in being thankful for these young people who so willingly gave of themselves.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Lee Ann Powers, a candidate for ministry on the deacon track and a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Lee Ann lives and worships in Lynchburg, Virginia.
What is Park View Community Mission (PVCM) on Memorial Ave /Wadsworth St in Lynchburg? Please read and become a part of God’s love and shalom.
Park View’s mission is to offer help to people for their present life, offer hope for a better life and offer Christ for eternal life.
A relationship with Jesus, as the parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates, is defined not by being a neighbor in the passive sense but by finding ways to cross boundaries and to be a neighbor to the impoverished and broken in ways that will enhance their success. It’s about working to make practical improvements in the lives of individuals, families and communities.
PVCM is following Jesus in the most basic way – by loving and caring for the economically disadvantaged, the excluded, the outcast, the unwashed and the unwanted. These ‘unwanted’ are men and women with drug and alcohol addictions; without homes or stable housing; non-English speaking immigrants; the unemployed and those working several low-income paying jobs; the elderly on fixed incomes; multi-generational families raising kids whose parents are no longer in their life due to jail, death or desertion; and those who have just made bad choices in their lives. These are not statistics but real people who are a part of our community and are struggling daily just to survive.
PVCM strives to model hospitality, compassion, love, forgiveness, the power of acceptance and a faith without conventional church walls. For struggling households, PVCM is an extended household that comes together for worship and meals. For kids from dysfunctional homes and drug infested neighborhoods, PVCM is a sanctuary and a place to learn alternatives so they can grow and thrive. PVCM is hearing the cries of those suffering in our community just as we hear the Word of the Lord as a summons to make the world better by making known more fully the Gospel as Good News for our community.
The early Christians defined themselves by a faith that aligned them with the sick, the hungry, the excluded, and the broken, moving across every ethnic and cultural barrier to bring healing and hope. In the book of Acts we read that when the church shared its life and possessions, thus demonstrating that God’s Spirit was in their midst, the result was dramatic: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The early church grew dramatically because its members reached out to others in love and compassion. The costly demands of the Gospel were related to their understanding of a merciful God. The church shaped by the Spirit must always extend itself in sharing and caring beyond its ‘membership.’
The church and its belief in God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and a new world provide the basis for people to believe that things can change in both their personal life and within their community. PVCM’s presence and spiritual commitment to the community makes it a true leader for this change. It provides the support people need to keep going, the inspiration for courage that is essential to moving forward, and the structure through which to accomplish it.
PVCM is not about ‘having or being a ministry’ so much as it is a community of people who worship and read scripture together, who share in the hope of the Gospel and who share joys, tragedies and resources in Christ. There is ‘one Lord’ and we are all ‘one people’ celebrating the Gospel in this broken and divided world. Reconciliation, as well as forgiveness and grace, are a gift from God. As recipients of God’s grace, PVCM strives to promote hope and healing, and to patiently nurture reconciliation by being incarnational within the community it is blessed to be a part of.
Shalom (peace) is God putting back together a broken people and a broken world. Embody Christ and be personally transformed by helping PVCM offer shalom to individuals and the community by:
- offering help for the present life (food, hot meals, clothes, funds, tangible goods; yourself thru servantship, leadership),
- offering hope for a better life (love, acceptance, grace and mercy) and
- offering Christ for eternal life (the Gospel in word and deed).
To learn more about the Park View Community Mission, click here.
Here’s my final tip: Make it Relational. I attended a mission training a few years ago and the leader of that training said quite simply, and yet profoundly, mission (service) is relationship. At the center of all that LebCamp is is building relationships. This means it is less about the work being done and more about the people. When it’s about the people, youth tend to not care what the work is, because the focus is on the people.
Kendra Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, in their book The Godbearing Life, point out that most of us don’t remember the Sunday school lessons of our adolescents, but we remember the people who taught us. Because we were in relationship with them. Get to know the youth who are engaged in your service projects. Learn what interests them. Welcome their questions. Welcome their suggestions. Don’t shut the door with, “We’ve always done it this way.” That is the number one way to ensure that youth will not get involved.
We are transformed by relationships. Our mission/service projects are transformed by relationships. Youth are transformed by relationships. Our community is transformed by relationships.
You’ve probably guessed what the next tip is: Adult leadership = Mentoring. There is an article on the adolescent brain that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. In that article it points out that the developing brain benefits when adults “arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship.” Which, to me, implies a level of mentoring.
As adults we hold knowledge and have experiences that we should be sharing with younger generations. One of the best “side effects” of LebCamp has been the building of a bridge between the generations. LebCamp, while a part of our youth ministry, has become very much an intergenerational experience for the church and the community. It has created a space for a retired rail man to spend time with a high school senior. Or for a former contractor to spend time with a high school sophomore. And so forth.
Kara Powell, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, works with the Fuller Youth Institute. They have done a massive research project which now lives in a book called, “Sticky Faith.” In that book, Powell suggests that the new ratio in youth ministry (and I would suggest beyond youth ministry) is a 5:1. For every one youth, there should be 5 adults in his/her life mentoring them. We are all in a prime position to be one of those 5 adults in a youth’s life. We all hold knowledge about our community. We have skills in meeting those various needs. Share them, teach them with our young people.
We have skilled people working with the Crews called handymen. We match these individuals’ skill sets with the project at hand. They are responsible for equipping the youth with the tools they need to achieve their goals. I tell them that they are first a teacher and then a worker.
We see these relationships across the generations move from the mission site to the church on Sunday mornings; to the grocery store during the week. Suddenly the gap between the generations gets smaller and smaller. Older generations realize that they have something to share with the younger generations and vice versa. We can learn from each other. We can work together. We can problem solve together.
All of us are in great positions to share our knowledge about very unique aspects of our community with a younger generation. Through the years we have worked with non-profits, like ACES, Hanover Safe Place, and BARK. By building relationships with these non-profits, our youth have learned about the work of endless volunteers who spend endless hours making a difference in our community. They have learned about ACES and the huge amounts of food and toiletries that go out weekly.
This past year we did a bit of an experiment and gave each crew on Wednesday $20 to spend on their mission site. One crew had done some work at ACES that week, in fact, they finished in two days. Knowing about the $20 experiment, they took inventory at ACES on Tuesday so on Wednesday morning when they got their $20 they went to Wal-Mart and bought items that were not on the shelves and took it to ACES. Who made that decision? The youth did. Who equipped them with information and resources? The adult mentors did.
The idea of equipping goes beyond just giving them the right set of tools and materials to build a deck. It includes equipping them for leadership. That is the next tip: Youth Leaders. An important part of LebCamp is the youth leadership. For every crew of about 5 youth and 2 adults, there is one Crew Leader and that is one of the older youth campers. A junior or senior in high school, usually. These are students who show evidence of leadership skills, who have been leaders in other avenues, are mature, respectful, etc.
The Crew Leaders organize their crews to get the goals of the week accomplished. They work with the adults and the skilled handymen on making a priority list and making sure they have the needed materials/tools for the next day. In addition, each youth on the crew has a “job” each day. One day you might be the breakmaster and be responsible for the gateroade for your group, the next day you might be the devotion leader and lead the lunch time devotion, and the next day you might be responsible for the water cooler. The Crew Leader (a youth) is responsible for making all this happen.
In addition, I have a committee – for lack of a better word – who assists me with the bulk of the planning. That “committee” is made up of only youth. This is what I do: Before each meeting, I make an agenda. In the meeting, I give them the agenda and let them lead the meeting. Sometimes I don’t even attend, I leave the room. Then, they tell me what decisions they made, I ask questions, and we split up who is going to work with whom on what. This has been the most effective way to get it done.
Each evening during LebCamp I and another adult sit down with the Crew Leaders and talk to them about how things are going. We encourage them in their role, we equip them with recommendations and ideas, we engage them. Nothing about this is from the top down. We are not telling them how to do their job, we are asking them how their job is going, what their concerns are, and what questions they have. This will lead us to the next tip . . . . .
The third tip is: Equip with the needed tools.
I have participated in mission projects where the group was not given/did not have the needed tools (hammers, saws, paintbrushes, etc) to get their tasks done for the week. We don’t always realize it, but in not giving youth the tools they need to complete their achievable goals, we make the goals less achievable. We are contributing to the lack of confidence they have in themselves to be in service to others. By equipping them, we are giving them a vote of confidence. “You can do this, so I’m giving you this hammer,” and so forth.
When we equip, we empower.
The LebCamp Crew Notebook holds their to-do list. This list comes from various visits to homes. From about nowish through June a team of volunteers from the church visit homes that are referred to us by Community Resources, Senior Connections, Hanover ARC, or other local churches. When we visit these homes we are looking with different eyes. One is looking at the safety of the home, one is looking at the physical needs of the home, and another is looking at the spiritual needs of the home. Combined we make the decision if the project is one that would fit well with LebCamp, which brings us to the next tip: Set achievable goals.
I keynoted at a youth ministry event similar to LebCamp. One of the groups of youth set out to build a porch and wheel chair ramp that week. They started Monday morning and had until Friday at 4pm to complete it. They stayed until 7pm Friday night and they did not complete the project. The youth were devastated. “We didn’t make a difference,” they said to me.
By setting achievable goals, we are engaging youth to be successful in their service. And when they are successful, they are bitten by the service bug. And we have engaged a whole new generation in serving others. That’s not to say that the week of LebCamp is peaches and cream, because it’s not. There are plenty of ups and downs that make for an interesting week. When you start a project, you have no idea what you are going to find. You go in knowing you have no idea what you are going to find.
Last year we worked on a home with 4 generations living together. When we looked at this house the first time, we had a very long list of needs. We narrowed it down to what we would do during LebCamp based on two things – What was a safety priority for the residents and what could be done in our time frame. With that in mind, we set out to rebuild the back deck.
The deck was built by the homeowner’s husband before he passed away. It was never completed. In the time since his death, the boards were curling up with sharp edges exposed. In other places boards had rotten away, and they had placed plywood and rugs over the holes. Rails were never built on this 12X12 deck. Our youth went in and took up all the rotting boards so that all that was left was the frame, and then they worked the rest of the week putting down new decking boards and building rails and steps.
It was a tall order, but achievable.
If crews reached their goals, as some do, then you can establish a new set of achievable goals.
I was invited a few weeks ago to share with nonprofits in Hanover County tips on what makes a good service project and will keep youth engaged based on my experiences with our LebCamp. This was in preparation for Global Youth Service Day. I’ve decided to share these tips here in a 6-part series.
In 2005 I was faced with a programming dilemma. Our ministry was growing and we were unable to take all of our students on the same mission trip/workcamp without taking up the majority of the spots. In an effort to let other churches get involved, we began looking for alternatives. Other workcamps didn’t work out for us scheduling wise. After weeks of pondering, I walked into the Pastor’s office one day and I said, “What if . . . .”
And LebCamp was born. LebCamp is a week-long mission and retreat experience for the youth ministry at Lebanon UMC which usually takes place the last full week of July. Youth are divided into crews of about 5 youth. 2 adults are assigned to each crew, and we have a host of skilled individuals who work with the crews. At the beginning of the week each crew is given their Crew Notebook that holds all the knowledge they will need for the week – well, kinda. It holds their to-do list for the week. After a full day of mission and service, the youth gather back at the church where we have Bible study and worship – the retreat element.
Here’s my first tip: Be a “what if” thinker. Over the course of the last 7 years these collections of youth (rising 7th – graduating 12th graders) and adults have worked on 30 houses and with 11 projects with non-profits in Hanover County. None of that would have been possible if there wasn’t a “What if. . .”
Asking “What if..” invites us to think outside of the box. And if we want to engage youth in service, we need to think outside the box. An essential piece of what makes LebCamp LebCamp is that all of the service projects are done in Hanover County. There are a lot of groups go to Mexico, Central America, New York, Philly, or DC in the summer and that’s all great stuff. We decided to make a difference to stay home and we had to be “what if” thinkers to vision such an undertaking.
In our recent mission trip to Costa Rica, our mission team adopted a theme of walking in the Light. One of the songs we sang as a team was the gospel song “Jesus, the Light of the World.”
When living in darkness, it is often hard to find light, and even harder to walk in that light. We see poverty in various forms. We hear stories of prostitution, gangs, and massive drug use. And we see darkness.
Yet, we are reminded:
“You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, CEB).
Jesus said that. While we follow the Light that is Jesus Christ, he tells us that we are the light. We carry the light with us. So, it is our responsibility as followers of Christ to bear the light in the midst of darkness.
We met a boy around the age of 8 or 9 named Andres in Los Diques. He was shy and uncertain about coming back to the Bible school. But, after we got started the next day, he showed up. He and Megan bonded from the very beginning. We learned as the week went on that Andres lived with his mother and step-father, and that his step-father made sure that his biological children were feed first, before Andres was fed. Andres got especially close to Megan, and Megan to him.
The light was shared in the relationships that were formed.
Here is a video of the gospel song, “Jesus, the Light of the World,” featuring the late Jessy Dixon:
A sermon preached January 1, 2012 at Lebanon United Methodist Church on Matthew 2:1-12 and Ephesians 3:1-12.
This week our church will be a part of the 7th mission trip to Los Diques, Costa Rica. I have had the privilege, by the grace of God and the generosity of others, to be a part of all 7 mission trips. Since the first trip in 2006, my experiences in Diques have influenced my preaching and my teaching in various ways. It’s not uncommon for me to share a story about Don Victor, the pastor at the Church of the Light of the New Day in Diques, or his family. Or about different children we’ve meet over the years and how their stories impacted our lives.
Don Victor and his story came to mind as I pondered today’s worship service. About 25 years ago, Don Victor moved his family into Los Diques, leaving behind a comfortable lifestyle to live in a place with no electricity, no running water, and streets and floors made of dirt. Why? That’s the question that so many Costa Ricans and Americans have asked for years. Why would he do this?
Don Victor saw something in Diques that few others did, and few still do to this day. Where others saw prostitutes and drug dealers, Don Victor saw children of God. Where others saw a collection of run down shacks, Don Victor saw the Kingdom of God. Even with this new perspective, Don Victor’s story is not a warm, cuddly one. He was met with a lot of resistance. He received very little support from other Christians because he was doing ministry in such a ghetto. During worship services, neighbors would play loud music or run loud machinery. At times rocks would rain down on the building during services. There were days when dead dogs were thrown at the building, landing right at the front gate.
As Don Victor was welcoming the outcasts of Diques into the Body of Christ, he was unwelcomed.
The Apostle Paul knew something about not being welcomed. It is believed that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians while in prison. Paul’s preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ was not welcomed. Yet, the gospel was not the only thing not welcomed in the first century church. There was a major controversy in the first church, something I know we are not accustomed to today. Luke documents the controversy well in Acts 15. In Paul’s day, there was one major division among people – Jew or Gentile.
In the simplest definition, a Gentile is a non-Jew. The Acts 15 controversy centered on whether Gentile Christians should go through the same rituals that the Jewish Christians did. In a sense, it became an issue of membership. The Jewish Christians were not recognizing the Gentile Christians membership in the church. The issue was not limited to just Acts 15. It was a problem that would rear its ugly head throughout the early church.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s major theme is that God’s plan of salvation is evident through the unified – the oneness – of the body of the church – the body of Christ. Many of the mission trips to Costa Rica have had the theme of “Somos Uno” – We are one. Don Victor preached about how we are all different, different languages, colors, and hair styles, with different abilities, skills, and gifts, and when we come together we make up the Body of Christ and together accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God.
This idea – this theology – is sprinkled throughout Paul’s letters, including in Ephesians. Yet, there is this division between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, in essence, tells the Ephesians what he tells so many others, “Get over it.” Yes, there are differences. And that happens. But don’t let those differences become stumbling blocks to doing Kingdom work. What Paul is saying is that we all – Jews and Gentiles – can live together in this new Christian community to do the work of the kindgom.
Yet, the notion that Gentiles were to be included and participate on an equal basis with Jewish people was still quite controversial at the time. Paul had a goal to unite Jew and Gentile in equal grace. The bottom line for Paul is this: Christ simply HAS been made manifest to all, and the good news about him WILL go out from all who are committed to him and to all the world, including the Gentiles.
Including the unwelcomed.
This is just one of the themes we uncover in Matthew’s birth narrative, where the final pieces of the Nativity Set – the arrival of the wise men – are put into place. Iraqi or Iranian star gazers were not normally seen waltzing into Jerusalem looking for a newborn king. “If they did,” as one observer has noted, “they would have known enough protocol from their own culture that they wouldn’t normally start by asking common people and maybe a priest or two where this child might be. Matters of state like this would usually have been handled by an official delegation working through all the ‘right’ channels. In short, what these men were doing in Jerusalem and how they did it was bound – and maybe even intended – to draw suspicion from the powers that be.” And suspicion it did draw.
Here are men most likely dressed in clothing that is very different from the cultural norm of Jerusalem, they probably have different facial features, and the gifts they bring with them suggest they are of a higher economic means than the average Jerusalem citizen. These men are different.
Of the four Gospels, Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish. It’s possible that the faith community that Matthew is writing his gospel for is the first Jewish Christian community in the first century. There is a strong sense in this gospel to follow the Mosaic law; to hear Jesus teach in the tradition of the great Hebrew rabbis; and the importance of spiritual practices. In Matthew’s view, this rich tradition of the Jewish faith are items that should be continued in the Christian faith. Yet, with all this Jewishness, Matthew’s birth narrative has the least amount of Jewish characters.
It seems that the Jewish-Gentile tension is present in this early faith community as well. I don’t think that it was a mere chance that Matthew includes the Magi in his gospel account. Matthew is saying that there are traditions that are important and will guide us to growth, but that does not mean that we should keep Gentiles out, because they don’t fit into that tradition. Mike Slaughter, a Methodist minister, points out that it was these nameless travelers who are the committed ones in Matthew’s narrative. It was not the Jews, the ones inside the faith community, it was the Gentiles, those outside the community of faith. Upon arrival, they bow down and worship Christ; they open their treasures and present them to the King; and they leave by a different way – transformed – changed.
From the beginning, Matthew is telling his faith community that tradition is important and valued, but that does not mean we exclude those who are different from us. Christ is for all. That is the message of the Manger. The Christ child was not born in a palace with plush pillows, but rather in a barn surrounded by manure. The Christ child was not visited by great political leaders, but rather was surrounded by barn yard animals, smelly shepherds, and foreigners. Christ does the unexpected, and welcomes the unexpected.
The shantytown that is Los Diques is a place where people with no other means go. Families escaping abusive fathers. Mothers addicted to drugs. Grandmothers raising her grandchildren. Young boys whose only way out is to join a gang; young girls whose only way out is to sell herself. This is a place the government would rather not exist, which is why they have been so reluctant over the years to provide the basic necessities for these people.
Yet, none of this matters to Don Victor. Never has. People are people. And all people need grace.
I remember once walking through Los Diques with Don Victor and we came upon a teenage boy, who was 15 or 16. Don Victor looked him right in the eyes and began to rattle off in his mumbling kind of Spanish. I couldn’t understand a word Don Victor was saying, but I did know from context clues he offered earlier on our walk that we were in the area of Diques where pot was being grown – marjurnia. While I couldn’t understand, I knew from the young man’s facial expression that he understood what Don Victor was saying. I noticed his arms abused like a cutting board from the drugs he had been taking. Don Victor knew this young man, knew that no matter what he had done that day, he needed to know that there was a place for him at the church, that he was valued by Don Victor and Jesus, and that grace was for him too.
The fact that these Magi, studiers of the stars from a foreign land, visited the Christ Child is a bit of foreshadowing into the ministry of Christ. Jesus welcomed all. The tax collector that nobody wanted to have lunch with; the children everyone wanted to keep in their place; the leper that no one dared touch; the bleeding woman everyone had forgotten about. And Jesus stills welcomes all, no matter where you have been or what you have done.
Whenever we gather around this Table, Spencer (or any other Elder) will say that this table is not Lebanon’s table – it is not the UMC’s table – it is Christ’s Table, and as such, all are welcomed. All are welcomed at Christ’s table. The bottom line of Paul’s message to the Ephesians is the bottom line of Christ’s table: Christ simply has been made manifest to all, and to all there is equal grace.
That’s the lesson I have learned from Don Victor – that all are welcomed – all receive grace. That is the message of Paul’s ministry and the message of the Manger. . . and the Cross. And we who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to follow in those footsteps to welcome all to share the good news of an equal grace to all.
A few weekends ago some of the guys in our youth group got together for a Mantreat. Our first ever such event. It was a Friday night through Saturday afternoon retreat. We stayed overnight at the church where they played a nurf gun game, from which we are still finding nurf bullets in random places. Before the evening was over the guys wrote questions down and put them in the “mantreat question jar”. I randomly pulled questions out of the jar and read them aloud and then we discussed them as a group. There was nothing off limits.
The next morning, after a manly breakfast, the guys loaded up in the church van adorned in their flannel shirts to throw fire wood around. The original plan was to deliver fire wood to some needy homes in the area and then spend the rest of the day splitting wood for the Methodist Men’s fire wood ministry. However, the rain that day spoiled some of those plans. We still headed out to deliver fire wood with assistance from some of the men in the church.
After loading a trailer full of wood, we headed out to deliver it. After driving down pass the Hanover County Courthouse, we turned off the main road onto a broken road. We passed houses that looked more like cinder block shacks. It was hard not to notice as you drove down this “street” the scattered porta potties in the backyards. Most of these homes are heated only by the generous acts of the men who help with this firewood ministry. This is their only means of heat in the cold, winter months. It’s a very stark difference between what most of us are used to seeing in Hanover County.
After an evening of fun, these guys set out to do good in their community. It’s hard to be this “manly.” For more information about Lebanon UMC’s firewood ministry, visit the church’s website.