Our mission consisted of work, play, work, work, and more play. We plastered and painted walls, pulled weeds in gardens and manicured some former empty lots into gardens. Besides the physical labors we experienced, we got to really experience this mission trip several different ways. It had several aspects that consisted of Relational, Educational, and Spiritual.
It terms of being a relational aspect on this mission trip, with the Puerto Rican/Latino neighborhood, we had the assistance of our Leader and Pastor Tomas Sanabria, who comes from Chicago, (born and raised) and is of Puerto Rican ancestry.
He is President and Pastor for Ekklesia Ministry of Helps– a neighborhood outreach program involving work projects.
Pastor Tomas shed light on the life of the neighborhood – the issues he sees with violence, drugs, gangs, and overall attacks on his ancestry for some being undocumented persons. He offered many opportunities for the team to go and reach out to those on the sidewalks, in the alley’s, and in the store fronts. We were introduced to Mikey – a young child next door who rode his bike and did foot races in the street against Marissa, Hannah, Claire and others. Mikey claimed no one could ever beat him – pretty good for a 7 year old. We met Emmanuel – a young teen who had gotten into some trouble with the police that Pastor was trying to help with his leadership. Emmanuel had to do some Community Service, so he worked side by side with our youth and he was a very sincere teen who will be successful with the example of Pastor Tomas in his life.
The youth met many other people that we shared faith time and play time with. Johnny and Estefan came to meet us and we played Alley Ball (which is played with any kind of ball in the Alley where the Garbage Trucks use to pickup garbage).
Natasha and her little sister came to help in the Garden and play Four Square.
The parents of EUMC and the EUMC Sr High Youth should be very proud of there children. They are an amazing bunch to watch them work unselfishly with Christ in them as they spoke, worked and played with these kids all week; simply amazing!
We also had the privilege to meet Flor (Spanish for Flower), at a UMC church that is a ‘Sanctuary’ for her. She is what we people in the USA most likely would tab as an ‘illegal immigrant’, but after hearing her talk, she is what I would like to call an undocumented person. It was an eye opening experience for all us as we sat in that ‘sanctuary’ of hers, listening to her words of why she is doing what she is doing, seeing her tears of joy and pain through her travels, and seeing God in her eyes as she spoke of the reasons why she is doing what she is doing. This experience and time with Flor will undoubtedly have a big influence on the opinions our youth will form on the present day situation with undocumented persons. To quote what the Pastor of this Sanctuary Church says on this situation (from Fox News): The church’s pastor, Rev. Walter Coleman, has defended his recurring choice to provide shelter for illegal immigrants running from the law: “I fear God more than Homeland Security.”
An article / opinion on Flor from the Chicago Tribune and Fox News are linked below. Please read and then discuss amongst your youth as it brings up some good conversation: Please remember we were on a mission trip to serve ‘unselfishly with open spirits and open heart’. Not too many times are we like this when we hear words.
Pastor Tomas led us each morning in devotion with a Bible verse and a personal reflection. He shared some of his own faith and that led to some personal sharing times from the Senior High youth regarding where they stood in their daily faith. We had some great tie-ins to the message from his personal experiences during his life in Chicago. He spoke of many friends and family members.
Take for instance Boco, who was gunned down in a gang related target. The gang members expressed piety due to Boco’s death by creating an Alter at the corner of the street where he was killed. This was a block away from Pastor Tomas’ home. They had made a little bench with candles around and other objects such as empty whiskey bottles and crafts made of yarn. Pastor called this Gangland Piety, and he came out of his home to pray and minister to the Gang members and there Alter they had built without a church.
Then there is Tommy Soto, one of nine children from his mother Margariutte. She was a woman who had tough times staying with the same partner or choosing her partners. Anyhow Tommy Soto grew up without a father and had many siblings with different fathers. He came to find an adult mentor at a Florist in town at the age of 11 where he worked. This mentor took Tommy in and did all kinds of good deeds for him. He did well up until they had a falling out when he was 17. Tommy then joined the Marines and off he went to Viet Nam. Then he had an incident where he punched an Officer of the Military and was given his Dishonorable Discharge. So, where does an 18 year old who was in the Viet Nam War with a Dishonorable Discharge go when they weren’t welcomed back home to the states? He turned to drugs and alcohol and a lost for God in his life. He succumbed to eternal life at a young age of 22, with Pastor Tomas being the last one to see him take his last breath. Tommy Soto was Pastor Tomas’ little brother. It is Pastor Tomas’ creed to fine those Tommy Soto’s in the world to help and minister too, and share together the love of Jesus Christ and his Father.
Lastly, this should not end without saying the YouthWorks organization did a great job with the evening activities they had planned.
Sr High Youth Team Leader
Epiphany United Methodist Chuch