Youth learn 'communal hospitality'

by Jewel Showalter, EMM

Alberto Buster Thirteen youth and Pastor Alberto Buster (center) from Iglesia la Familia pose with the gifts before distributing them at the Cooper Children's Regional Hospital.

CAMDEN , New Jersey – Alberto Buster’s Study and Training for Effective Pastoral ministry (STEP) studies, love of energetic teens, and compassion for hurting people inspired him to step out in an unusual act of communal hospitality last Christmas eve.

Buster, a youth and associate pastor from Iglesia la Familia (The Family Church), a Koinonia Fellowship church in Pennsauken, New Jersey, rallied 15 teens to raise money, hand out gifts, and visit children and their families at Cooper Children’s Regional Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, and in the surrounding community.

“We really had a blast serving God by serving our neighbor, right here in our backyard,” Buster said. “All of the kids in our youth group come from urban settings, and our church wants to build socially responsible Christian leaders that champion the cause of the poor and under-served so that Christ can be praised. This type of learning needs to start young!”

As Buster continues his second year of studies in the STEP program he knew he wanted to translate his studies into fruitful action. “We want to develop young Christians who act on their faith, and not only profess it,” he said.

“I was greatly impacted by an excerpt from a book that was assigned reading,” Buster said. “Marjorie Thompson writes in Soul Feast, ‘Hospitality is essentially an expression of Love. It is a movement to include the guest/others in the very best of what we ourselves have received and can therefore offer. It is the act of sharing who we are as well as what we have, LOVE.’” 

He said, “I realized in a fresh and powerful way that true hospitality calls us to seek the total well-being of all people, to share God’s love with the world, not isolating ourselves due to differences of faith, race, color, creed, gender, denomination, theological understanding or socio-economic status.” 

It was these thoughts on hospitality that led Buster, and the teens he pastors, to the hospital visits. He remembered his own difficult growing-up years and those who reached out to him in healing love and hospitality. He never wants to forget other children who are facing loneliness, pain, brokenness, and separation from loved ones.

“It was wonderful to be able to make the kids smile,” said 13-year old Enalilz Santiago, a teen from Buster’s group. “It brought tears to my eyes.” Bridget Bermundez, 14, added, “It was awesome to do something that makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Buster said, “My life was turned around and I’m called to give back and share God's love with others. I’m glad that what I’m learning in STEP continues to make an impact in my life and on those around me. May it all be used for God's glory and the advancement of his kingdom.”

The STEP program (Study and Training for Effective Pastoral ministry) provides training for people, who are licensed for pastoral ministry or who have been encouraged to consider pastoral work, but may not have had college, Bible school, or seminary. It is a partnership between Lancaster Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite University.

posted 2/20/09