"I cannot do this" -- Youth in Mission

“I cannot do this,” Jenny Stevens said to herself not long after she arrived in Los Angeles last summer.

Jenny, who is now a junior at SNU, grew up in the Woodward church. The summer of 2000 held some different experiences for her. Jenny spent eight weeks of it, not back in Woodward, but in the inner city of Los Angeles, California. Through June and July, Jenny found herself being bombarded by sights, sounds and smells to which she was not accustomed.

A big part of Jenny’s time as a Youth in Mission member was spent working in an after-school program run through the Central City Nazarene church. During the day Jenny and her Youth in Mission teammates preparing themselves spiritually, making snacks for the after-school program and passing out flyers advertising various church’s programs. Then, when school let out, the children came by the church to be tutored by the college students and to “just spend time” with them.

Jenny’s decision to apply to Nazarene Youth International for a spot on the 2000 Youth in Mission team began last fall. One day she was eating lunch with friends in the SNU cafeteria when some of those at her table began talking about giving volunteer service time to missions. The Youth in Mission program was mentioned. “How much would that cost?” was the question Jenny started asking.

Though cost issues seemed important to Jenny at first, they did not become the huge obstacle that she had feared. The Woodward church in which she grew up wound up providing the major chunk of her funding for the summer. The rest of the needed money came from Oklahoma City First Church and from relatives.

Ask Jenny what she did this summer and she’ll say: “Had fun with kids.” She discovered that offering to take inner city kids walking was a big thing for them. The “welfare hotels” into which they and their families were crammed were a totally different world from what Jenny grew up with in Woodward.

In some very poignant moments Jenny saw how important relationships are. Jenny remembers playing with a little boy in a swing. It didn’t seem like a big deal to Jenny until the little 8-year-old said, “We’re having so much fun,” he said to her. “You make me laugh.”

“I was just overwhelmed that a child would say that to me,” said Jenny.

Another Youth in Mission participant from Northwest Oklahoma was Heather Robinson, an SNU junior who grew up in Oklahoma City First church. Heather spent her summer In Long Beach, not too far away from where Jenny was. Well, at least the two young ladies were close in terms of miles. In terms of culture, however, Jenny and Heather spent the summer in two different worlds. Heather’s ministry was with a Loatian congregation that began four years ago with members from Long Beach First church.

Heather spent most of her time in June and July working in a community drop-in center for Laotian youth and children. She also helped run a children’s activity at the Laotian church on Wednesday nights.

Toward the end of the summer, the Laotian youth group went on their own mission trip . . . to a Navaho reservation. They took Heather with them. So, Heather who had gone to Long Beach to minister to the Laotians, wound up leading them to a ministry to the Navahos.

How did the summer go for Heather? “I got really, really attached to them,” she says. “I felt like I was part of a family.” When it came time to return to Oklahoma, “I felt like I was leaving my family. I cried,” she said.

One of her best memories of the summer is about sitting on the steps of a Navaho church listening to the Laotian youth group sing a goodbye song they had written especially for the Youth in Mission team.

The young people and children in the church were all bi-lingual. Still, Heather tried to learn some Laotian. “They laughed at us when we tried to speak Laotian,” said Heather.

Laotian is a tonal language, which means that the same word spoken in different pitches has
different meanings. “So,” she said, “we usually wound up something something totally different from what we meant to say.”

The Loatian church is the outgrowth of a bus ministry that Long Beach First Church was running 15 years ago. One of the neighborhoods into which the church began sending a bus to pick up children was filled with Laotian immigrants. Some of those immigrant children were converted and then some of their parents turned to the Lord from the Buddhist beliefs.

Eventually there were enough of the Laotian believers that they could start their own church.
They now are continuing that the cycle of outreach as they have started sharing their building
with a smaller, fledgling congregation of Cambodian Nazarenes.

Julie Bley, an SNU junior from Bethany First church, spent her summer more than 2500 miles to the east of Heather and Jenny. Julie’s Youth In Mission assignment was in Washington D.C. where she worked in an inner city day camp as well as doing some homeless outreach, Vacation Bible school ministry and a day care center.

“I’m not usually good with kids,” says Julie. “So, I had to depend totally on God.”

Getting involved in Youth in Mission was not a long term dream for Julie. “I hadn’t thought ahead of time about doing this,” she said. The Youth in Mission leaders came to the SNU campus last fall to recruit participants. They spoke to the student body during a campus chapel. During that chapel hour, Julie found herself saying, “I have to do this.”

Looking back on that decision to spend a summer ministering in the nation’s capital, Julie says, “I needed a different perspective. I needed to spend my summer doing something that wasn’t selfish.”

About 75% of Julie’s funding came from family and friends. The remaining amount came from her own pocket.

One of the ministries she was involved in was taking meals to the homeless. “We had
one stop right in front of the White House,” she said. “There’s a park near there where a lot
of homeless people live.”

The day camp for children ran each day for three weeks from 1 to 6 pm. Because the camp was a full three weeks long, “We got to know how and what they were feeling. We got to know something of their home life. We got to know many of their parents,” said Julie.

Julie was born on July 20. That means she was going to celebrate her birthday about a week before she left Washington, D.C. When the church found out about her birthday, they threw a party for her. At one point during the party Julie was sitting by herself, thinking about her family back home and missing being with them.

At that point, a little 8-year-old boy came over and asked her, “Are you sad?”

“At that moment,” said Julie, “I learned that building a relationship bears fruit both ways. We can gone to Washington, D.C. to care about people in the inner city. That day that boy showed me that he cared about me,” says Julie.

In addition to these three, one other young lady, Angie Gray (Piedmont) and two young men from our district, John Mendenhall (OKC First) and Curt Luthye (Perry) also spent the summer with Youth in Mission. Angie, John and Curt were also in international assignments. John was in Africa for the summer, Angie was in Croatia while Curt led the team in Slovenia.

Having six participants made the Northwest Oklahoma YIM group larger than the total
number of Youth in Mission participants from several of the Nazarene colleges and
universities. In all, of the just over 100 Youth in Mission team members this summer, 25 of
them came from SNU.

Youth in Mission is a program of Nazarene Youth International. While participants must raise funds to participate, the program is subsidized with some World Evangelism Fund money.