Y O U T H
M I S S I O N How young people are putting their faith to work If there is still any doubt that faith and works should go hand in hand in the Christian life, let us look to the lives of young people for an example of what happens when that particular marriage is consummated. For today, across this nation and around the globe, youths aged 5 to 25 are taking their faith and turning it into serious service—the kind that dirties the hands, fatigues the muscles, and (sometimes) breaks the heart even while it uplifts the spirit—embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ in a world aching for fleshed-out examples of faith. Whether teaching children in a Nairobi slum, loving a prostitute in Chicago, pounding nails into a new home in Caracas, refurbishing bicycles for prisoners’ kids in San Antonio, or nursing the dying in Calcutta, the young people serving in the ministries profiled here are making a difference on the planet. And as they share their lives with the poor and disenfranchised, they learn to walk with their Savior in a new way. In the process, their own lives are transformed. A crash course in applied theology, these hands-on experiences teach kids what no classroom ever could. What’s more, when their David-like faith goes up against some of humanity’s Goliath-sized needs, these kids are leading the way for children of God of all ages, by setting an example of Christlike servanthood. “A little child shall lead them,” prophesied Isaiah (11:6) as he envisioned the New Jerusalem.We would be wise to follow these young people into the dark places, Christ’s love our torch as we move in the world.
ARCHITECTS OF HOPE
The fifth arm of CCYP’s outreach is Youth United, a program that mobilizes young people ages 5 to 25 to sponsor fully and build a house in their community.The goal of Youth United is threefold: to have youth participate in Habitat in their communities; to encourage the children of Habitat homeowners to take a more active role in Habitat’s work; and to train up leaders from within the ranks of the young volunteers. More than increasing Habitat’s workforce, the addition of the College Chapters and Youth Programs has helped to educate the next generation in the realities of world poverty.And evidence shows that they are turning that knowledge into action. CCYP has had a profound effect on young people like Hayfa Berima, a university student who leaped at the chance to join a Habitat campus team trip to Dunavarsany, Hungary. Berima reflects,“I was ready to learn firsthand about poverty and how I could be of assistance.”When she heard about the Hungary trip, Berima knew this was her answer. “Going to Hungary with Habitat was the most meaningful decision I ever made,” she says.“I loved learning how a house was built and working as part of a team. I will never forget the kindness of the Hungarian people.” In Uganda, Pamela Ejang, vice president of Habitat’s campus chapter at Makerere University, recognizes the important contribution students are making. She says, “We are taking ownership of the task of eliminating substandard housing from Uganda by volunteering our time, energy, money, and other resources at our disposal.” Thanks to the vision of Dr. Cook, today Habitat for Humanity is building its future on the shoulders of young people. CCYP gives its members a framework in which to serve and the opportunity to be architects of hope for families in need.
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY CAMPUS CHAPTERS AND YOUTH PROGRAMS By Lesa Engelthaler Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization. Until the late 1980s, Habitat’s volunteers were mostly adults. But in 1987, when Baylor University professor Dr. Gary Cook wanted his students to experience the benefits of working for Habitat, he came up with the idea of launching campus “chapters.” Dr. Cook shared his idea with Habitat’s founder and president, Millard Fuller, and as a result the first youth-run and youth-led Habitat campus chapter was formed. Since then Habitat’s Campus Chapters and Youth Programs Department (CCYP) has seen more than 700 chapters chartered in 26 countries. CCYP’s mission is to capture the imagination, energy, and hope of young people in order to involve and train them up into productive and responsible leaders in the work of Habitat for Humanity. CCYP accomplishes their mission in five ways. The Campus Chapters Program is an unincorporated, studentrun organization that performs three main functions: building or rehabilitating houses in partnership with Habitat affiliates and homeowners; educating the campus and local community about affordable housing issues; and raising funds for the work of Habitat. The Collegiate Challenge Program began as an alternative way for students ages 16 and up to spend their spring break building houses for those who can’t afford them. Since 1989 it has expanded into a year-round program, one of the largest school-break programs in the country. In 2003 more than 10,000 students participated. The third aspect is the Summer Youth Blitz Program, which incorporates service and diversity-awareness activities, providing an alternative to the typical summer-camp experience. In two weeks, youth ages 16 to18 work on completing a Habitat house; evenings are spent in activities that focus on leadership development and team building. HabiFest is a nationwide, student-initiated day of advocating for affordable housing. It is a day designed to highlight and promote affordable housing and the anti-poverty movement worldwide.
Habitat for Humanity hosts youth chapters in 26 countries, where students spend their school holidays building homes for families who couldn’t otherwise afford them. Photos on pages 6 and 7 by Kathy Saad/Habitat for Humanity International
Global Urban Trekkers weave rugs with women and girls at the Association for the Protection of the Environment in the Mokattam garbage village in Cairo.
discovered in Manila, this can mean “giving up my rights to privacy, personal space, a balanced meal, eating until I’m full… Until a few days ago, rashes and head lice prevented me from playing too much with [my host family’s] three youngest kids. But I’m learning to give up my rights to good health and a clean bed, and the last couple days we’ve been rolling around on the bed all the time.” One student from each of the eight teams (Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Calcutta, Dhaka, Manila, Mexico City) posts journal articles throughout the summer on the Trek website, allowing family and friends a small glimpse of life in these cities. Although the Trek sends students for only seven weeks each summer, the vision is more long-term. Says Scott Bessenecker, the Trek’s founder,“The Global Urban Trek was born out of one overriding conviction: to raise up flesh-and-blood followers of Jesus to incarnate the gospel to the urban poor. The Trek is essentially about opening up an opportunity for God to call some of us to go and spend our lives among the poor as his couriers of hope.” After only three years, 100 Trek participants have committed to spending at least two years serving among the urban poor, both domestically and overseas, and the first generation is now beginning their post-college years as “couriers of hope” in some of the world’s poorest cities.
For more information call 800-HABITAT or visit their web site at www.habitat.org/ccyp. Lesa Engelthaler is a freelance writer and the mother of two teenage boys who have worked on Habitat projects.
OF HOPE AND HEAD LICE GLOBAL URBAN TREK By Heidi Williams “As I press into Kibera everyday, following the trail of sewage, I realize that what afflicts me, what is at the heart of this experience of poverty, is a blindness. I can’t see past the dead rat I am sidestepping. I pray that God strikes me and opens my inner eyes and, like Saul, changes my name, gives me vision to see the invisible winding trail of light. Without vision, people perish.”—Jackie, writing in Nairobi, Kenya
For more information and to read the students’ journals, go to www.globalurbantrek.org.
Slum communities around the world manifest poverty in many different ways, dealing with problems of environmental, economic, political, and relational injustice and sin; yet in each city, the primary issue is despair. In the midst of such despair, Jesus is the only true source of hope. Global Urban Trek takes American university students into centers of urban poverty to ask the question:What does the gospel say for this community, and what is my role here? Although they will experience poverty that goes far beyond open sewage and dead rats, each year a growing number of young men and women trade in summer jobs, internships, and vacations to follow God’s light of hope into the slums. Whether sitting with elderly women at Mother Teresa’s House for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta or assisting Sudanese teachers in refugee schools in Cairo,Trek students grow in their understanding of Matthew 25:40, that whatever they do “unto the least of these” they do unto Jesus.As Brian
Heidi Williams is a three-time Global Urban Trek participant who aims to own the world’s largest collection of public-transportation system maps. She currently works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Madison,Wisc.
RECYCLED JOY CLAYTON’S BACKYARD CREW By Linda Owen Christmas is a difficult time for the 2 million children whose mothers and fathers are imprisoned.When 11-year-old Clayton Lillard heard that the children of prisoners are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves (U.S. News & World Report, April 2002), he decided he wanted to do something to share Jesus’ love with them. A week later, while walking in his neighborhood in San
Antonio, Tex., Clayton and his mother found two battered bikes piled on top of a brush pile.“Think of the kids who’d love to have these,” Clayton said, examining a flattened tire to see if it was reparable.Then the thought hit him: He’d “fix up the bikes and give them as Christmas presents to kids who might not get any.” A fifth-grader at the time, Clayton persuaded a local radio station to announce that he was looking for used bicycles, and soon other news media began reporting on his project. When day after day dozens of bikes were dumped on his front porch, he organized a group of neighborhood kids to help him repair them. Since then, Clayton, now 15, and his friends have repaired and donated more than 500 bikes through the Angel Tree Prison Ministry, which supplies gifts for children of inmates. Each year chaplains in prisons receive thousands of Angel Tree applications from prisoners.Angel Tree screens the applicants and then sends the names of the children to Clayton and to churches in their area. By the time Clayton gets the list, he has been refurbishing bikes for months. While he replaces parts and paints the bikes, his mother busily solicits donations for bicycle helmets and locks. Shortly before Christmas, the gifts are delivered to the children’s homes. In some cases, Clayton and his mother make the deliveries themselves. But because of the large number of recipients (150 in 2003), most of the deliveries are now made by church teams whose Angel Tree ministries deliver the bikes in their vans and trucks. Like other Angel Tree gifts, the bikes are given in the name of the absent parent and Jesus.“The kids are always so excited about getting a present,” Clayton says. “Before this project, I never realized the sorrow and pain that these children go through at Christmas. They ask for things like socks or their own pillow. I now know that destitution is very real, not just something you see on TV.” Clayton has received numerous awards for his humanitarian efforts, including the Certificate of Merit from the U.S. National Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization, Governor’s Award for Volunteerism, National Angels in Action Award, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award,
and the Freedoms Foundation Youth Humanitarian Award. “People may think I’m doing something incredible for these children, but the truth is, I get my own Christmas present every time their eyes light up,” Clayton says. For more information, see www.claytonsbackyardcrew.com. Linda Owen is a freelance writer in San Antonio,Tex.
BUILDING UP OUR NEIGHBORS (Romans 15:2) MISSION YEAR By Amy Durkee This fall, approximately 120 men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 will be deployed to four U.S. cities to serve the poor.Working in teams of six, they’ll make a home for themselves in small rental units in some of America’s most neglected neighborhoods, and start making friends. Their mantra: “Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters.” They are volunteering with Mission Year, an organization founded in 1997 to bring more of the light and love of Jesus to disadvantaged urban communities. Mission Year team members rely heavily on their neighbors during their first weeks in the community, learning everything from which streets to avoid to where to buy groceries. Each volunteer devotes three days per week to a local
Clayton Lillard (far right) and his friends refurbish bicycles as gifts for children whose parents are in prison.
service site of their choosing.They assist in inner-city classrooms, work with legal-aid centers, volunteer with AIDS hospice programs, and more. Devoting a maximum of 25 hours a week to their service sites allows the young missionaries plenty of time to get involved in their church and neighborhood. Volunteers join the church choir, play basketball with the local kids, and help elderly friends with their laundry. Through myriad means, volunteers build the kinds of relationships that change lives—both theirs and their neighbors. Mission Year’s leadership knows what makes for effective ministry.Whether working in Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Atlanta, they’re careful to place each team in a thriving local church with a clear investment in the community.And Mission Year makes a point of not settling a team in the same neighborhood for years on end.“We don’t want the churches and the neighborhoods to come to depend on us,” explains Emily Corbitt, associate director of recruiting.“To be in the same communities year after year could create ‘project neighborhoods.’ We want to bless the church and neighborhood for a time, and then move on.” A year was enough time for Marcie, a Chicago volunteer,
to bless a woman in her adult literacy class. Sandra was in dire need of medical care which she could neither afford nor advocate for on her own behalf. Marcie went with Sandra to the hospital, helped her get the treatment she needed, and was able to explain the procedures and test results in a way that Sandra could understand. Through their stressful journey together, they ended up as family. Marcie says,“While I would always chuckle at the nurse’s reaction when Sandra called me daughter (we are not of the same race), I knew it was the love of Jesus that Sandra felt from me.” Then there’s the experience that Ryan, an Oakland volunteer, had with a belligerent prostitute. Twice in the same day, she made lewd invitations to Ryan (“How about some …?”) that left him feeling violated and angry. After her second attack, Ryan retorted, “How about some Jesus?” The woman softened and responded,“I need him every day.You should be praying for me,” she explained.Then she pointed to herself and said, “Mary Magdalene.” “A few days later,” recalls Ryan, “as I walked down the street, I heard a familiar voice calling out to me. ‘You been prayin’ for me?’ she asked. I crossed the street and told her that in fact I had been praying for her. We had a civil conversation in which we introduced ourselves and exchanged pleasantries. Then as I was leaving, she again caught me off guard with a comment. She said,‘Love you.’The gesture was both platonic and genuine.The simple act of praying on her behalf had caused her to love me. On the surface that sounds like someone who is starved for love. On a deeper level, however, it is also the sound of someone with a great deal of love to offer.” Mission Year volunteers are carefully equipped for the experience and sustained throughout; there are regular training sessions, team devotions, a mandatory Sabbath, and a substantial list of required readings covering interpersonal relationships, social justice, and spiritual growth. Corbitt says, “Some alumni [go on to] get jobs at their service site and stay in the community. Others go on to other inner-city neighborhoods to work as lawyers, teachers, or in community development. Some return to their suburban churches to bug them about how they spend money…but all leave
Left: By setting up house in disadvantaged neighborhoods and sharing a year of their lives with the residents, Mission Year members learn what it really means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Opposite: With both buckets and Bibles, hundreds of Life Changer teens help revitalize a different Detroit neighborhood every summer.
having a heart for the poor that only comes from loving people in those situations.”
also cleaned up a vacant lot (inspired by the youth, neighborhood residents have subsequently taken the initiative to plant flowers and establish a play area in the once debris-cluttered lot). In the afternoon the youth lead a total of 21 backyard Bible clubs for over 400 children. Life Changers is helping turn things around in the beleaguered community. Over the past seven years, they have donated more than 3,300 volunteer hours, painted houses and garages, laid thousands of yards of sod, prepared numerous abandoned and unsalvageable houses for demolition, and cleared hundreds of acres of brush and debris. By partnering with Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development and the Greater Detroit Baptist Association, they have helped tear down 38 blighted houses, replacing them with 38 new homes. But according to Vann, the most significant impact of Life Changers is that people come to faith in Christ. Referring to the 2003 event he says, “More than 70 people accepted Christ as Savior.The youth were taught to ask five simple questions in sharing their faith—for many of them it was the first time they have shared their faith.” Starting in 1996 with just 48 kids, Life Changers’ mission grew to 250 participants in 2003. Because it is such a popular experience with the teens, some of the attending youth groups return year after year. Vann plans to add a third Life Changers by 2005 that will be an all-collegiate mission.The life-changing power of this mission program continues to build as new youth groups avail themselves of the benefits of serving in a social impact ministry. ■
For more information about Mission Year, see www.missionyear.org or call 888-340-YEAR. A freelance writer living in western New York, Amy Durkee is a regular contributor to PRISM.
NEIGHBORHOOD MAKEOVERS LIFE CHANGERS by Ken Mowery Can a group of teenagers working and living together for just one week really make a difference in a decaying, crimeriddled neighborhood? Wayne Vann says they can—“when you give them the right resources and the right motivation.” Vann is the founder and director of Life Changers, a handson youth-missions project dedicated to revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods. The program touches lives through events that take place over the course of two separate but identical weeklong missions.Youth teams arrive on a Saturday and set up residence in a local school building, then go right to work preparing for activities that will involve laboring in work details and conducting evangelistic ministry projects. Outreach to the neighborhood begins on Sunday afternoon with a huge block party. Last year’s Life Changers kickoff party was held in the heart of Brightmoor, a poor community in Northwest Detroit whose history of absentee landlords and low investment by owners has created a wasteland of vacant buildings, vandalism, and crime.Throughout the week that followed, the teenage participants spent their mornings offering Brightmoor residents home repairs, painting, and landscaping services.They
To learn more, go to www.golifechangers.com. Ken Mowery is a writer/musician/minister living in Greeley, Colo. His website (www.creatorsweb.com) features reviews and interviews of independent musicians.
How young people are putting their faith to work PRISM 2004 6 Habitat for Humanity hosts youth chapters in 26 countries,where students spend...