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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
In the United States, young people are often on the receiving end of donations in congregations. However, the 16 youth participating in this year’s Learning, Exploring and Participating (LEAP) group found it better to give than to receive.
The LEAP participants donated $1,470 to the New Millennium Church in the slums of Barranquilla, Colombia, part of their visit during a nine-day trip this summer.
The church, which feeds 50 displaced children during the week, had walls but no roof. For the visit, church leaders had constructed a make-shift roof from a tarp.
“As we drove to the Barranquilla suburb where the church was located, it was clear that we were in a low economic area,” recalled Lonnie D. Yoder, an EMS professor involved in LEAP.
“We exited the bus several blocks from the church and walked over bumpy and rocky dirt streets to the church where we were greeted by lively worship being led by a young woman in the church,” Dr. Yoder said.
“In the church” meant four concrete block walls without a roof. A large banner welcomed the LEAP group.
The group had been told that they would help serve the meal to the children served by this church. But upon arrival, they discovered the food had been spread for them instead.
“We were so warmly received by a group with fewer resources than we’re used to,” said Yoder. “Yet, they were so much more hospitable than we often are.”
“The juxtaposition of our relative wealth and the overflowing grace and hospitality of these people touched each of us deeply,” Yoder stated.
When the youth returned to the United States, some couldn’t stop thinking about the church without a roof. When the summer program ended, those who had stayed in contact through Facebook decided that they wanted to help finish the unfinished church.
One persons suggested that if they each raised or donated $100 they would have $1,600 to give to the church. While the group didn’t quite reach its goal, the money raised will have a larger impact than they could have imagined.
“It was exciting to think we could help that church in such a dramatic way, knowing that better facilities would make it easier for the church to serve the community,” said Krista Rittenhouse of Mt. Pleasant, Pa.
Rittenhouse hosted a baked potato bar at her church to raise money. “I also created a small display of pictures,” she noted.
Some youth made presentations in their home congregations; many wrote checks from their personal accounts.
“The initiative to raise money for the church came entirely from the youth,” said Marvin Lorenzana, LEAP program director. “They were deeply affected by their visit to this church and by its ministry in that community.”
LEAP, is a year-long mentoring program for high school youth, is hosted by Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Students come to the seminary for three weeks in the summer and participate in a cross-cultural experience. They return to their home congregations and enter a structured mentoring program. The following summer, they participate in a service project either through their home congregation or through mission agencies.