Blog: August 2011
There is something significant about a really nice night out—especially for kids whose parents don’t have resources to dress them up and take the family out for dinner occasionally. Tonight UrbanPromise Honduras sponsored a fancy dinner for 30 teens and their family to celebrate a remarkable summer of ministry.
People might frown and say, “You could have used that money more prudently. You could have spread the resources and impacted more kids. Instead of serving 30 kids chicken, you could have fed 60 with peanut butter sandwiches.” Maybe. But people who make these comments are often the same folk who take nice vacations, enjoy a good bottle of wine, and send their kids to soccer camp. Kids remember special nights.
The teens waltzed into the Restaurant Llama Del Bosque on the main street in Copan about 6pm. Usually frequented by tourist, not by those who serve tourist, tonight it was rented by UrbanPromise. The young woman dressed in the Sunday outfits, the young man sported slacks and Oxford Shirts. Each teen was allowed to bring two guests—some brought parents, some a brother or sister, others their sweetheart.
The teens had been part of the UP Honduras StreetLeader Program—teens who are hired and trained to counselors, mentors, and coaches for younger children who attend the UrbanPromise day camps. Tonight they were honored. Tonight they were praised. Tonight they were given their pay” check. Tonight they ate rice, beans, chicken, beef and drank Coca Cola.
Erlin, a sixteen year old, brought his mother and baby brother. Erlin is one of 6 boys. His mother is a cleaner at one of the local schools. I could tell he was proud—proud to accompany his mother to such a nice restaurant, proud to bring home a paycheck, and proud to have made a difference in his community.
“The children love me,” he beamed. “When I’m leading games they flock around me and listen to me. I’m like a big brother.”
But Erlin’s smile got a little bigger when he picked up an envelop with his summer paycheck. Of course, it’s not about the money. Kids like Erlin are drawn to UrbanPromise because it’s fun and it offers hope. Yet sometimes hope needs to be able to buy an extra bag of rice, or another bottle of baby formula for your little brother. Sometimes hope needs to be able to buy a mother a new dress, or a trip to the beauty salon. Sometimes hope needs to be deposited in the bank for a rainy day.
My son Calvin—a 21 year old college senior—is finishing his service as an intern with UrbanPromise Honduras for the past 8 weeks. With 11 other college interns from across the US and Canada, Calvin has lived in Christian community, run day camps for children and teens, and has met some remarkable people who have taught him much about Honduran life and Myan culture. The work has been challenging, the living conditions far from ideal, but it’s the happiest I have ever seen him. As a dad I couldn’t be more encouraged.
This morning Calvin was leading the “Smooth and Creamy” skit at Camp Peace. Of course the kids in the crowd went nuts when he was smeared with Whip Cream. With each additional spoonful of cream in his hat, cream in the nose, and cream in the ears the kids screamed with delight. Just a silly skit. No moral to the story--an opportunity for kids to laugh and forget about the realities of life for a few brief minutes.
For years I have recruited and hosted college-age students to do short-term mission work during the summer. Sometimes people ask if it really makes a difference to bring a bunch of college students for a few brief months to underserved communities. I believe it does. I see children connect in meaningful ways with caring young adults. I see children—who are constructing guiding dreams for their lives—creating relationships with future doctors, engineers, school teachers, entrepreneurs, and film makers.
But besides the impact these college students have on the children of places like Copan, these students are transformed themselves. Living and working with other students who share similar values, commitments, and faith inspires growth, reflection and a reassessment of vocational choices. Being part of a community that begins each day with prayer, shares common meals, and then spends the day looking beyond their themselves—that’s healthy for any 21 year old.
My son will leave Honduras a better person. He will return to his college campus stronger in his faith, a bigger vision for his life, and with a new network of some really great friends. Nothing could make a parent happier.
The teens came out in full force for the second annual “Copan/UrbanPromise Video Scavenger Hunt." Adding in the staff and a visiting workgroup, about 70 young people were divided into 6 teams, handed a list of things to film in the town, and then given 30 minutes to record as many items on the list as possible.
Groups sang songs in the town Plaza, had to pet a stray dog, piled in a one seat taxi cap, and danced the “Funky Chicken” in a local restaurant. Silly stuff.
When I was a youth leader scavenger hunts meant collecting things—bottles, hubcaps, cans of soup, pieces of clothing. Sometimes we got in trouble for “borrowing” other people’s things. We ran through neighborhoods, knocked on doors and begged store owners to give us a needed item.
With the advent of IPhones and palm sized video cameras, scavenger hunts are now about capturing ‘moments’ on film.
I asked Gizelle what she thought of the event. Gizelle grew up in San Pedro Sula, one of the major cities in Honduras. She’s interning with UP this summer.
“The teens love this kind of stuff,” she began. “We never do these kinds of things in Honduras. Most teens stay home, watch TV, play video games or play soccer.”
When asked why she thinks these kinds of activities are important for teens she replied, “You know, our teens need hope. They need to have fun.”
In an abandoned school, just off the town plaza, we gathered to watch the short films. Kids laughed at themselves, ate chips and beans, and tallied up their points. More important, people came together –building bridges across race, culture and ethnicity. A new community is being birthed in Copan—a community where teens have can have fun and experience God's love in tangible ways.
At 10:55 am this morning people started arriving. Everyone carried a dish of food—a dish of fried Plantain, a bowl of fruit, a few boiled eggs, a bottle of Soda, a loaf of bread. Upon entering the make-shift sanctuary, these pilgrims placed their food on one big, wooden table. Grace was shared. People made up their plates, sat with friends, and shared God-stories from the past week.
This is church in Copan.
There is something wonderful about preaching to people who have just eaten a good potluck lunch. Food breaks down barriers. Food creates laughter. Food relaxes people. Maybe this is why the early church gathered around meals. Simple: food puts people in a better mood. And instead of thinking about what they’re going to put on their plate at The Grand Buffet after church, they can focus on the….sermon.
Church was special this morning. Gathering with young people, who live in community and seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus is a breath of fresh air. Beyond the denominational debates, the general sessions, position papers on how to slice and dice certain nuances of scripture, there are these small communities who worship, serve, and enjoy fellowship through the eating of a common shared meal. Church becomes the place to gather and celebrate what God is doing—through them, in them, around them.
Today is the feast of St. Ignatius. In 1540 Ignatius founded the Jesuit order. His challenge was for followers of Christ to be “contemplatives in action”—finding God in all things. Growing up Baptist, I never got to celebrate guys like Ignatius. Too bad, I think we could have learned a few things. We could have learned that church is not always about stain glass windows and reciting creeds. Church can be about eating a potluck lunch and sharing how we’ve seen God at work in our lives during the past week.
Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.
St. Ignatius, Prayer of Generosity