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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