Two months to change the world

Youth in Mission: Following a Nazarene tradition begun in 1964

Joey Cash was $300 short. Joey was one of about 30 Southern Nazarene University (SNU) students selected for Youth in Mission (YIM), a summer ministry program of Nazarene Youth International. Joey was excited about his summer plans, but in early May he faced the YIM payment deadline lacking $300.

Joey had agreed to speak on a Sunday morning in a little church about 90 miles west of his hometown of Garland, Texas. He knew they might take an offering for him, but he also knew the Mineola church averaged just over 30 in morning worship.

That morning Joey spoke of his hopes and dreams for the summer he was eager to spend ministering in South Africa. When he finished speaking, Pastor Larry Kromer did take an offering for him. When it was counted, the total came to almost exactly $300.

Joey's sense of being on a faith journey as he participated in Youth in Mission reflects the experience of other SNU students who spent the summer of 2002 on the mission field through the program. Those 30 young people were divided among small teams with students from other Nazarene universities and, after a week of training in California, went out to assignments around the world.

Their ministries during the summer varied. Jessica Bohn of Pflugerville, Texas, outlined a typical day for her team in the Caribbean: "Wake up, travel to the next town, arrive at a church full of children, do a children's rally (like a one-day Vacation Bible School), eat lunch with a family from the local church, do friendship evangelism in the form of a trip to the beach with local youth or basketball games in the neighborhood, get cleaned up, eat supper with a local church family, and then conduct seminars on NYI, Bible quizzing, and local church Impact teams."

The challenges her team faced included holding one district Bible quizzing tournament without electricity. "Thank goodness for flashlights and candles," said Jessica.

The routine was different in Tonga. After their first week, Lacey Williams of Brentwood, Tennessee, and her teammates had already appeared on a TV show, Good Morning, Tonga. They had ministered in schools, homes of handicapped children and adults, a prison, and hospitals and had worked with a Salvation Army youth program.

From Uganda, Eric Pertl of La Porte, Texas, reported preaching to a crowd of 150 under a shelter of banana leaves. Even before they got to their assignment in Brisbane, Australia, Eric Godfroy of Johnson, Kansas, and Brent LaVigne of Adamstown, Maryland, got a chance to witness to fellow airplane passengers. They reveled in being a part of God's divine appointments.

Teams in Italy, Russia, the Balkans, and a creative access area were involved in prayer walks. Missionary Joel Mullen, who is planting a church in Palermo, Sicily, said he wanted to use the prayer walks to "surround our neighborhood with a fortress of prayer."

In Sydney, Australia, Gavin Fothergill of San Antonio and Shauna Mullins of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, helped move a Sudanese refugee family into a new home.

Sometimes the young people confessed to feeling a bit over their heads. But they were "willing vessels," as the team in Italy put it, and in early July Jessica Bohn wrote from Puerto Rico, "I don't have much to offer, but God is taking my willingness and moving mightily."

From Moscow, psychology major Laura Larpenteur wrote to her parents in Hamlin, Texas: "Tomorrow we're going to scope out parks and see if we can play sports there or take a guitar or something. We're not exactly sure what all we're going to do. Pray for us and our non-sports-orientedness!"

Though it was a busy summer, the young people also learned that effective ministry is more about relationships than programs. In the middle of the summer, Tiffany Schafer wrote to her family and friends in Lake Charles, Louisiana: "My biggest prayer is that my life and the lives of my teammates would be reflections of God's love and grace.... We pray that the Slovenes see our relationship with Christ lived out by the way we treat each other."

During their two months of ministry, the SNUers and other young people were overwhelmed by the hospitality of their hosts: "Sometimes they have very little, but they offer it freely as unto Jesus," said Alma Flores of Houston. "In every town we have been made to feel as if it were our home. It has been a humbling experience for me."

Not everything about the summer was perfect. "Please keep us in your prayers," Alma E-mailed her friends. "Each of us on the team has at one point been discouraged and frustrated as well as disappointed in ourselves."

There were other problems too. Some students endured bouts with dysentery. Then the Ukraine team, which included SNUers Randy Stowe of Bentonville, Arkansas, and Zina Zander of Avalon, Texas, was asked to leave a village where they had planned a day of ministry including a showing of the JESUS film. The village leaders "didn't want us talking about Jesus there," they reported. In another Eastern European country, Youth in Mission team members encountered young people who were afraid of what might happen to them if people found out they had become believers.

Tiffany Schafer was on Youth in Mission's Slovenia friendship evangelism team. Many of the Slovenians they encountered were religious relativists; that is, they believed that all
religions are basically the same; all are striving to know the same Supreme Being. Tiffany's desire to "communicate that Jesus is everything He says He is" led her to an intense reading and rereading of the Gospels.

The summer had its light moments. For instance, the Moscow team went all out in a Fourth of July celebration for their Russian friends. Birthdays were also celebrated far from home. In Slovenia, Tiffany Schafer's birthday included a slumber party for Slovenian girls. Alma Flores was sad about celebrating her 20th birthday away from friends and family. The sadness disappeared, she wrote, "after seeing the beautiful cake they got me."

One of the most humorous tales came from Moscow during a Vacation Bible School held at a public school. Christyn Lauffer of Oklahoma City described it in an E-mail: "We had our recreation time outside on the playground where cows and goats roam freely. There was a cute little calf tied up near the soccer field. As Laura Larpenteur and I were trying to pet it and feed it grass, I noticed one of its legs was caught in the rope. I decided to help the calf get untangled.

"I tried to be very gentle and not scare it, but it freaked out and started to run in circles around me. Before I knew it, I was on the ground with the rope wound around my ankles. My teammates like to refer to the fact that I was cow-tied by a cow."

Overall, the summer was a resounding success. In one of their weekly reports, Mindy Brooks of Bethany, Oklahoma, and her teammates wrote: "The Italians' desire to know what and why we believe constantly amazes us. Their questions and their willingness to listen is clear confirmation that God is working and speaking to their hearts. Pray that we will have wisdom and that God will put the right words in our mouths."

Their time seemed short and their task huge. Yet these young people had a chance, said Laura Larpenteur, to see "God doing some amazing things in front of our eyes." Youth in Mission was, said Mindy Brooks when she returned home, "life changing" -- for them and for countless others whose lives they touched for Christ.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of Holiness Today. Used by permission.