Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good News (and bad news) in Honduras: Partnership and Child Refugees

Our team was packing for our morning flight when friends from Tegucigalpa popped in for an evening surprise. They wanted to cap off a week of service, play, worship, and shared learning with some cake and conversation. As we celebrated year four of the growing youth-to-youth missional partnership between the Presbytery of Honduras and the Imago Dei Youth Ministry, one of the leaders offered an honest reflection and bold request.

"When your family and friends google Honduras they will learn about murders, poverty, corruption, and difficulties with education. Please share with them the good news about Honduras, too."

So, here's the good news.

Honduras is a beautiful country. The landscape and vegetation begs the question, is this what Eden was like?

Honduras is saturated with passionate churches whose members demonstrate what can and should happen when God's people share the burdens of one another and hold all things in common.

The youth of Honduras are eager to engage broader visions of what it means to be called a community and congregation at the forefront of God's mission in and for the world. These same young people are even asking questions about how to begin conversations about justice advocacy, peace making, and social development.

I also have strong friendships with Hondurans who long to become pharmacists, oncologists, engineers, and social workers so they can improve the country they call home and the livelihoods of those whom they call neighbors.

Hondurans also know how to have a good time. Want evidence? Just check out the video of our week together.

Now for the bad news, in case you did not already know.

Honduras has become synonomous with instability, injustice, drug trafficking, police corruption, economic distress, political perversion, and a national government unable to make significant dents in any or all of the above. This beloved nation, and my home away from home, has even earned the dreaded title, "murder capital of the world."

You could say Honduras is a developing nation whose socio-political development is slow at best.

These are all reasons why unaccompanied children are fleeing at such a rapid pace. Despite the rumors to the contrary, Honduran parents are sending their kids on dangerous pilgrimages to surrounding nations like the United States not as hopeful immigrants but as desperate refugees.

While we may be tempted to once again use these young ones, to whom the kingdom of God belongs, as pawns in another political game perpetuated by the media, the issue at stake here is not immigration reform.

Well, not entirely.

We are talking about a refugee crisis. Many Honduran parents believe there is lower risk in shipping their children off to either a neighboring nation or one a flight away versus remain in their neighborhoods where violence is on the rise.

So while we may want to focus on American legislation and rash policies and procedures for deportation, you can't cure cancer with Tylenol. If we make this issue only about us as Americans and our bent in one partisan drection or another, parents of these children will not stop their pursuit of the safety and future of their children. They will just find other and, quite possibly, more detrimental alternatives.

That's because, by and large, these families are not looking for American citizenship or tax-free employment, rather praying for relief and rescue of their kids whom they love. Which means our focus as individuals and communities, churches and politicians, must become the growing tumor of violence in Honduras that breeds on internal socio-political corruption and results in unaccompanied child refugees. We must also explore ways to exercise hospitality and extend international pastoral care until a cure is found.

If we make this about anything else the result will be catastrophic, leaving thousands of children as victims of a poorly played political game.

I can't imagine news any worse. I want good and even better news for Honduras. So do my friends.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Declaration of Interdependence: Early Reflections on Honduras Youth Partnership

"If we embrace the notion that all of life is interdependence, then we must believe that everyone is our neighbor- regardless of race, social status, or geography."

Bruce Main, Why Jesus Crossed the Road

One of my greatest joys as a youth pastor is being able to learn alongside teenagers. As I type this, I sit at a table with three other youth intensely journeling about their experiences as mission partners with friends in Honduras. These three young disciples, along with the many others who have served here each summer since 2011, have taught me a great deal about love, curiosity, generosity, faith, Scripture, love, and what it can and does look like when we follow Jesus locally and globally.

They have taught me even as I have strived to teach them. We have leaned on one another.

As a youth pastor, I have learned to value interdepedence. Actually, I have declared it as an essential element of Chrisitan identity, community, discipleship, and mission. Youth and adults alike need each other as those who profess faith in and covenant to pursue a crucified and resurrected Jesus who is in the process of making all things new and right.

John H. Westerhoff is right, "One Christian is no Christian, for we cannot be Christian alone- we are created for communuty" (Will Our Children Have Faith 38).

Interdependence is one of many reasons Imago Dei Youth Ministry has been a part of the Honduras Youth-to-Youth Partnership since 2011. We hold the conviction that we not only need one another in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but also our brothers and sisters in places like Honduras. We need our "copartners in grace"* and the faithful witness of our friends who live in a cultural context different than our own. We need their unashamed commitment to the gospel, incarnations of genuine community throughout their national Presbytery, extensions of generous hospitality to visiting friends, and creative zeal as they develop new initiatives to care for their own and elevate the voice and passion of young people.

They also need us.

They need us not only to assist in fundraising for their creative projects, but also to remind them the church does not exist for self-serving purposes alone. They need us to remind them the church exists as an agent of personal, social, and systemic transformation. They need us to share our understandings of the kingdom and how we see the pursuit of justice as exercises in neighborly love. They need us to encourage their own pursuits of change within their congregations and communities who have silenced the voice of younger generations for far too long.

We actually need each other.

So this week we once again declare our interdependence. As we serve alongside one another in the construction of a retreat center and Eco-stoves, pray and read Scripture before and after soccer games, discuss critical issues of unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S.** and others facing homelessness and addiction, and contemplate what it can mean to enhance conversations beyond summer trips, we remember we belong to one another and the God who made us both.

We may live miles apart, but we are still each other's neighbors. Actually, we are more. We are an interdependent family still growing into a shared identity and purpose.

This family is a young one, mostly made up of teenagers. Their communities depend upon them. Their churches depend upon them. I depend upon them. We all depend upon one another.

We cannot be Christian alone.


"If there is no friendship with the poor and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only among equals. Any talk of liberation necessarily refers to a comprehensive process, one that embraces everyone."

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation



*Karl Barth translated Philippians 1:7, in reference to Paul's partnership with the churches in Philippi, this way, "I bear you in my heart as those who in my imprisonment, as also in my defense and declaration of the gospel, are all my copartners in grace" (Epistle to the Philippians).

**Learn more about the thousands of children fleeing Honduras in search of refuge from the violence and corruption within Honduras:

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Are We There Yet? Overcoming Ascension Deficit Disorder as those Belonging to God's Future

Sunday's Sermon on Acts 1:6-11


Full Sermon Text

Ascension Deficit Disorder: Youth MInistry as a Laboratory for Hope by Kenda Creasy Dean

"[Christians] do not merely live under the promise, which could be said of all men [and women]. They live in and with and by the promise. Tthey seie it. They apprehend it. They conform themselves to it. And therefore in their present life they live as those who belong to the future."

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV, p. 120

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What I Would Tell My Graduate: Letter to Class of 2014, 2029, & 2032

Amber and I are still new to this parenting thing. We fumble our way through most days and have yet to find a published parenting "model" that doesn't cause us to raise eyebrows and think, do any of these people even have kids. Needless to say, our parenting books have either been relegated to dust collectors or co-opted as coloring pages by our toddler twins.

We are hoping our baby boy en route, due this November, will benefit from what we have learned through raw experience in parenting this Twinado. They have found ways to make sure we have experienced nothing short of everything.

In the last three years I have discovered this profound truth: parenting is hard and exhausting. Parenting is life changing, life altering, life threatening, and life-giving madness. Parenting is simultaneously the most strenuous and most beautiful experience of my entire life.

Glennon Melton calls it, brutiful.

Parenting is also a sacred discipline in identity and spiritual formation that does not begin when children grow-up and start going to youth group. Spiritual formation begins when parents first introduce intentional rhythms and rituals like bed-time prayers and storytelling.

Yet, a parent is not the only voice or facilitator of formation. I have always known this. I have always taught this. Now as a parent, it is becoming all the more real and evident. On the one hand, we take comfort and find assurance in not being alone in this madness. We have resources to pull from in family, friends, and faith communities who claim the child as their own. On the other hand, it's a scary truth to know our children cannot be fully protected and guarded against a variety of influences and competing narratives we may may consider vain at best and destructive at worse.

So now, as a youth pastor and parent, I view my work and calling with greater significance. I also think about graduation from high school with new lenses. Every June, I wonder not only what I want to say to youth who graduate high school and head off to whatever is next for their young lives, but also what will be said to my children when they make their own rite of passage.

Who will speak to them?

What will be said to them?

Who will they listen to?

What will be their primary voices and mediums of influence?

Who and what will most significantly shape their identity and view of the world around them?

What will they invest their young lives into and how will they choose to use their time, talents, resources, passions, and what they have learned from us and others?

Will they have a youth pastor or some sort of adult mentor? If so, what would I want her or him to say to them?

So this year, I drafted a brief letter to my children and their graduating Classes of 2029 and 2032 (pending they turn in all course-work or start preschool on time). Should the blogosphere still exist, I pray they read it from their iPhone 12 while riding their hoverboard to graduation practice.

I am still holding out that Marty McFly's mode of transportation will come to fruition.

O yea, Class of 2014, this letter applies to you, too.


Dear Noah, Lily, and Baby Yet-to-Be-Named

Hop off that hoverboard and listen to me, please, for one moment before you head off to whatever is next for you. Also, hug your mother, she's probably an emotional wreck right now. I on the other hand am fine, I cried as I typed this 15 years ago, so should be good by now.

Anyway, here is a brief burst of wisdom from your old man. Most of this you have heard before. Some of it has probably stuck with you; some of it you have heard before and you may roll your eyes and think, here he goes again. Some of it (hopefully not all), you have possibly forgotten.

So humor me for a second.

You Belong. Yes, you are our kids. But really, you belong to the One who made you in an image, thankfully, far greater and more whole than even the reflections of us that you are. There is nothing that can ever take that away from you. Nothing. Even if you are reading this and one of you is not graduating in the year we thought you would- you are still made in God's image and we love you. I pray you always know you belong, especially when others tell you otherwise. Even more, I pray you would be the voice of belonging to those so often relegated to the margins of a world both good and cruel at the same time. Welcome others as you have been the recipients of welcome.

You Never Walk Alone. The Irish and Celtic Prayer says it best:

May you see God’s light on the path ahead. When the road you walk is dark, may you always hear. Even in your hour of sorrow, the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when the shadows fall—You do not walk alone.

You were created to be in community just as the God who made you is a community in and of Godself. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Rely on others to help you through seasons of struggle. Refuse to believe the myth that life is about you and only you.

Carry Your Cross: Many have probably told you life is about acquisition, success, and achieving some sort of cultural ideal about comfort and security. I pray you do not buy into this lie, for it will kill your soul. Even more, your call is cruciform. We have been instructed to carry a cross, to enter into the suffering of others and expend ourselves for the sake of those who are victims of all forms of injustice, oppression, hatred, violence, and human ignorance. Take risks for the sake of your rejected, despised, and ignored neighbors. That may look different than it did for your mother and I, so please help us to see what that looks like and means in the now. Help us remember to carry our crosses alongside you.

Practice Resurrection: I got this line from a great poet (and it's not Dr. Seuss). As you carry your cross, do so with God's hope as the carrot before you. When darkness surrounds you on all sides and you are tempted to fall victim to despair alone, trust God's promise of a day coming when all things and all people will be made new and right. Live now as though this is true. Be those who are willing to enter darkness and all signs of death and shed light and love, with humility and grace, alongside those who long to hear even the faintest whispers of a better and brighter day just over the horizon. Then grab the wings of God's Spirit as she draws that day into the present.

Forgive. Endless grace. It is easy to love those who return the favor. Your calling is also to love those who have wronged you and others. But be careful, forgiveness does not mean tolerance or dismissal of the wrongdoing. Forgiveness is sending away the evil and refusing to respond in the same manner that wreaked havoc on you or others in the first place. Forgiveness may also mean taking up the cause of a wounded neighbor and carrying a cross alongside them.

Fall in love with stories...and learn to tell them. I hope we have shared with you endless stories that have saturated your imagination. I pray you have fallen in love with stories, especially the story God is writing in and through and for the world God is working to restore and make whole again. I pray you have listened to the stories of great heroes and sheroes of the faith, some who may be your family members. I pray you have learned to read and engage the stories in books and movies and how God may be using them to teach you and others about what it means to be fully human. I pray you become a storyteller, especially to the younger generations. I pray you view your life as a story, one where you are not always the protagonist. I pray you hear the stories of others and learn to love them as much as your own, for to listen to someone else's story can be the greatest display of compassion and love.

I could go on and on, but you have probably started skimming by now. I could tell you that you are not what you do for a living, but living out who you are. I could remind you that your stuff is not your own, but a resource God has called you to share. I so deeply want to tell you to trust God has given you enough and to pray for daily bread- especially on behalf of those who are unsure about their next meal.

But really, I want you to know I love you. We love you. God loves you. So after you walk across that stage and begin to dream about what's next, know you are loved.

There is nothing that can ever take that away.

Congratulations Class of 20__! But you have only just begun!




Related: 10 Living Hopes for the Class of 2012