For those of us who spent our childhood in the same town, whatever is there may have just felt like the unchanging backdrop of what defined our hometown. We grow accustomed to issues, problems and people in need in a way that allows such problems to just persist. It’s the classic ‘frog in the kettle’ example.
Part of what happens when youth groups visit our hometown, Nashville, is that we show them what needs exist and how they can meet those needs, so that they can return to their hometown inspired to recognize and take action to meet needs appropriate to that place.
We were pleased recently to travel to Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, to help facilitate a Hometown SLAM experience where long-time ministry partner Irma Chon, working with Serving Our Neighbor (SON) Ministries, has been reaching out to the immigrant and refugee population in the area.
Members of G.O.D. Stephen Ownby, Rylan Aaseby and Sara Davis joined Irma’s youth group from Cornerstone Christian Fellowship and two other groups from Iowa to help facilitate children’s camps that include free lunch for over 600 immigrant and refugee families at three different locations in the Columbus suburb.
In addition to the children's camps, youth also got to help work in the garden on a one acre plot that goes towards providing fresh, healthy produce to immigrant families in the nearby area.
According to peoplegroups.info there are over 120,000 immigrant residents in the Columbus area, and more than 82% of new residents are foreign-born, with an average of 105 moving in per week.
According to Irma, many of the youth participating in the SLAM week from Hilliard had no idea that people from other countries lived around them. Without opportunities like Hometown SLAM, the youth would not be aware of the pockets of apartment complexes where the immigrants would live.
Stephen, Rylan and Sara spent the week teaching the Bible, leading worship and hosting late night fun and fellowship opportunities for the youth.
In addition to hosting the camps during the day, the youth were also able to participate in an English Language Learning event where they split up and conversed with those non-English speakers who wanted to practice the English they have been learning. Such opportunities are challenging to come by for some of the participants who aren’t regularly around fluent English speakers.
Some of the youth were also able to participate in cooking a traditional Middle Eastern meal with a few ladies from that region. They helped prepare a meal for the entire group. As they helped, they learned that the women they were assisting wouldn’t be eating the meal because of Ramadan, but were only there to cook and serve. The young ladies were impacted by such a selfless display of hospitality and kindness. And they even recognized how small moments of selfless service can be a source of inspiration for others to serve.
Such exposure that leads young people to better understand the plight of their vulnerable neighbor is always a valuable lesson to learn. These young people are being challenged to allow the LORD to cultivate a sensitivity to the needs in their own midst and to respond to it with appropriate service.
And we are eager for the young people from Iowa to carry such an opportunity back to their hometown to begin meeting similar needs. Kathy Eilers, a youth leader from First Presbyterian Church in Iowa commented on the value of these times during a share time, “This is what’s it’s all about for me. These times keep me going throughout the year. When I am just getting tired, these weeks bring me back again.”
When these young people see their hometown, they won’t just see a backdrop of things that will just always be. They will be curious, they will see opportunities, and they will know that by organizing themselves and with some support of mentors along the way, they have the power to do a lot of good.