Friday, 9 August 2013

Finished to Start

(from the desk of Miriam)

The last day of LAAC Assembly on the redemptive role of youth has drawn to a close, and so we sit tiredly at gate 4—leaving the organized chaos of Central America for the chaotic organization of its northern neighbor.
Although my weak gringo gastrointestinal tract celebrates how quickly our time in Honduras has passed, my weak gringo heart isn’t quite so sure how to feel.
The assembly wrapped up yesterday afternoon with a chance for country representatives to gather and discuss next steps. Country teams returned to share inspiring action plans, most centered around the introduction of IMPACT clubs to their areas. 

The North American team, consisting of 12 younger adults, mostly from the states, conversed in a predictably North American fashion about theory and value before settling on concrete next steps that focused on beginning conversations. It is ironic that most Central American teams returned with great confidence in tangible action plans, while we North Americans have a somewhat half-assed sounding commitment to further conversations.
I found this to be, upon first consideration, extraordinarily frustrating and stereotypical of North Americans. It seems a reality however, that church politics—while globally sticky at best—have a particularly powerful way of distracting the North American church from its purpose in North America.  This means that if something like IMPACT clubs are to be successful in North America, they must therefore be carefully rethought for a North American context in order to satisfy congregational grumblings and/or find any sort of commitment from our overly busy youth.
Cultural differences make IMPACT clubs very successful in developing contexts, while they struggle to gain a foothold in the Northern Americas. For a large part, youth in Romania (where Dana Bates first developed IMPACT clubs) “get into trouble” because they have no structured activities. Youth in North America (I’m speaking here of the typical American youth group member) are kept so busy by concerned parents that they “get into trouble” to deal with their stress.   When we consider how to adapt the successful IMPACT model to many places in North America, we must therefore remember that we are attempting to address two very different roots of issue.
A North American context also challenges the adoption of IMPACT principles into existing programming because the majority of youth programming in churches and NGOs remains overwhelmingly a consumptive model. We wondered (as the North American contingent) whether it would even be possible to import the principles of IMPACT to our programming without building a new skeleton of programming from which to work.
We may need to find a balance between our important discussions of the challenges of implementing empowering youth programming in North America, with the courage to try (and perhaps fail) to serve youth with more wisdom.
Hopefully frustrated,

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Loving Fearlessly

Dan Muthui

 In my previous entry, I highlighted the many issues our society and in particular the youth face. It appears darkness is on the increase by the day and that our places of habitation have become so treacherous. Men, women and children live in perpetual fear from daily threats and possibility of harm. Hoping for flourishing communities seems a vain venture.

Not even government machinery has the capacity to promise and realize safe communities. Here in Honduras (so is the case in other jurisdictions), murders and other forms of violence happens on a daily basis under the very gaze of government apparatus. I heard several references to the city of Tegucigalpa as the ‘murder capital of the world.’ The dysfunctionality of security, education, economic and social system is so pronounced that turning to the government to address the systemic causes appears unfeasible.

The frail social conditions are worsened by the fact that the church has been apathetic to the suffering of the vulnerable. Much of it is faulted for its cold and removed attitude towards social justice, or where justice is pursued, it is confined to the walls of the church in ministries such as prayer and individual spiritual experience.

I must note that such a critique is not only limited to Honduras or the countries of Latin America, but it is my guess that each jurisdiction (including North America) in one way or another locates the church’s lack of bold plunge into the messy world of justice. But, the scenario is not a hopeless one. Christ has called us into the broken world to bear the burdens of others in love. Here in Honduras, i have seen this fearless love expressed by some believers who have boldly stepped out of their comfort zones to confront injustices head on.  Such action is visible in the works of Association for a More Just Society (AJS).

Yesterday, we visited ASJ offices to hear the accounts of the staff and more about their work. The organization works for justice at an individual and systemic level. They carry the cases of victims of crime through the legal and the criminal justice system but also work to effect policy at a national level- a very difficult work given the context. One of their lawyers was murdered a while back for taking up a sensitive and prominent case. Employees receive threats of harm on a regular basis but this has only served to fuel their passion and pursuit for justice.

I could not help but think deeply about the expression of faith in North American context. In our environment, we do not have to walk in the constant and gripping fear of being harmed, neither do we have to stretch our faith for things that others struggle to have on a daily basis: food, safe neighbourhoods, health care, functional public service system among others. Our faith and trust can lack the stretching that makes us strong bearers of the burdens of others. Yet, this visit to Honduras has served to awaken me to the harsh realities of our neighbours even if they’re thousands miles away from my residence.

Our world is filled with brutality and we have no excuse for escaping or turning our backs towards the plight of our fellow men. To love one another and our neighbor in days of gross darkness calls for a bold faith. We at least ought to pray for the capacity to be brave and to be able to leap off the safety of our spaces and by trust plunge into the broken world that God seeks to heal and restore even if this may come at a huge cost. The one who has called us will be with us to the end.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Day 3: Hope is Contextualized in Reality.

(from the desk of Miriam)
My hope is both increased and absolutely stumped after today’s presentations and visit to a local IMPACT club in Honduras.
As I reflect back on the day, memories of contagious laughter linger in my heart—remnants of an informal soccer match against some Honduran girls who attend the IMPACT club we visited. After some young men from the Honduran centre versed the older male youth pastors, the young women coaxed five reticent female LAAC representatives onto the pitch perched above the centre for a round of rather ungraceful shoe kicking amidst fits of laughter.

It is heartening to be reminded that, despite being cultural kilometers apart, some of the humorous and inspirational traits of youth remain the same across borders. It is perhaps equally frustrating to see that many of the difficulties faced by youth remain the same as well.
I wonder about cultural differences that would affect the success of a program like the IMPACT clubs in North America: the youth in Latin America come from a more relational culture to begin with, while North American youth are (perhaps) handicapped by a consumerism that saturates almost every aspect of being. My experience with North American youth programming, at least in the church, leads me to believe that our culture tells youth leaders to entice youth into “buying” in to a program, instead of working with youth to build structures they really want and need; structures that will really equip them for faithful lives.
As I begin to think about next steps at home, I look forward to engaging in conversations with youth projects in Edmonton (especially 118 ave), seeking to promote youth empowerment in the programming I have touched base with already, seeking to understand youth/family relations in correlation to this programming, and surveying some of the youth resources available around my home.
I wonder about the feasibility of using a model like the IMPACT clubs to connect various class spheres: could youth in my church, young adults at my university, and youth in the suburbs be connected with the youth who live on (or close to) the streets around where I live and work? What would that look like?
How can youth work be done in a holistic context—and how many/which resources (i.e. psychological, legal, social services) are necessary to turn a well-intentioned youth club into a helpful and valuable community resource? 

When hope finds a context, it is hard pressed not to become inundated by reality.

Today leaves me wishing I had more years of experience and wisdom under my belt, but also grateful for the inexperience that inspires hope, dreams, and a desire for change.

Day 2: Restless Provocation

Dan Muthui

The day was characterized by an enriching exchange between participants from various jurisdictions. The Assembly brought together representatives from the countries of Guatemala, Haiti, Dominican Republic, USA, Canada, Nicaragua Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Costa Rica and of-course the host, Honduras. 

What is striking from the presentations and conversations we had is that regardless of the context, youth everywhere are experiencing identical challenges. While some challenges are predominant in some regions than they are in others, the challenges experienced by the youth in our days are plenty and often, the mountains they form appear enormous and insurmountable.

One example: members of a group discussion I was leading went on to describe the challenges in their respective contexts. They cited varied issues facing the youth ranging from identity crisis, violence, gang association, fractured family units, contemporary pop culture which has been globalized through the media, use of illicit drugs, teen pregnancies, under-age prostitution, high unemployment rates, low educational attainments, deficient criminal justice system, immigration and an array of other social, economic, cultural and spiritual concerns. While these did not strike us as new, the sharing reminded us of the grievous reality of youth struggles. Sadly, there was a sense of frustration that the church has not responded as it ought to, and where it has, its approaches have not been inviting or engaging.

Listening to the myriad of challenges could easily evoke feelings of helplessness that could lead us to slide to the ‘undisturbed’ security of our individual, community or church spaces. Although this may be an easier and safer option, we felt challenged and inspired to take the hard route of creatively confronting them knowing very well that the God who has called us to build the kind of communities He envisions will equip us with the tools we need to succeed; this assembly is serving that purpose. We awake to each day of the assembly with heightened expectations, open minds and hearts, and restless provocation.   

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Impressions from day 2.

 Mirriam Mahaffy

The first day of the assembly draws to a close as echoes of inspiring presentations fade into subdued conversations between old acquaintances and new, and CRC politics are discussed in English and Spanish amidst rousing rounds of phase 10.

The first day of the assembly is really our second day of impressions: Dan and I arrived in the early evening yesterday, and  (after a harrowing reminder of central American driving) entered our armed and gated conference villa.

 Simply being back in Latin America--even if confined to a gated community—has been an equally refreshing and frustrating reminder for me. Such contrast to North America’s incessantly sterile organization reminds me that our (life, and especially our) youth programming is perhaps too “safe” to be real—we cannot continue our attempts to construct sanitary, controlled environments, expecting our youth to find meaning and value within them. The solution to death on the streets is not a dead program.

Our keynote speaker, Dana Bates, arrived today to share his work with I.M.P.A.C.T. clubs in Romania. IMPACT clubs aim to develop local problem solvers, rather than continually trying to recover from losses. The clubs run meetings based on three priorities: fun, spiritual/moral teaching, and community service learning projects. Youth choose and design their own community development project. Through team building activities, conversation, and service, participants grow in key skill sets to become more empowered and employable.

After sitting for several hours of meetings, my bottom may have been sleeping but my mind was racing with hopes: could a modified IMPACT club framework be embodied on 118 ave in Edmonton with success? How would the model need to be adjusted to fit a North American culture? It seems like a distant unreality.

 IMPACT clubs inspire me with hope because they offer (often) consumptive youth ministry in North America the possibility of redemption by the active ownership embodied in service learning. 

 So this hopeful head and a frustrated heart, while somewhat overwhelmed with questions and unknowns, are excited to visit the IMPACT club in Honduras tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Assembly

By Dan Muthui & Miriam Mahaffy 
The title of this blogs is informed by the theme of an assembly we are attending in Honduras in August that is organised by Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA) which will bring together regional young leaders, missionaries, and representatives from partner organizations and churches in Latin America to explore the subject of social breakdown, youth involvement in violence, crime, and other harmful behaviours, and engage participants in sharing about creative responses that are being carried out in their jurisdictions as well as conceive and birth other redemptive actions that the youth can take to tackle the challenges facing them.

The gathering presents a valuable opportunity for cross cultural exchange as representatives from North America engage in rich dialogue with their counterparts in Latin America. We have created this blog in order to share our reflections on the subject as well as invite friends and strangers alike in the conversation. Our hope is to move the insights gained from the gathering into our communities and to involve our communities in responding redemptively to the plight of the youth.