More than 100 youth and sponsors from nine Mennonite Brethren congregations teamed up April 13-16 for “Together Spring Break Mission,” a service project that targeted three communities in California’s Central Valley — Fresno, Selma and Traver.
Organizers partnered with three Hispanic congregations that have distinctive ministries to their communities.
A primary goal is to facilitate relationships between the congregations through their youth groups, said Trent Voth, a planning team member and youth pastor at College Community Church in Fresno.
“The more often we do this event, the more we see youth from the various congregations developing friendships,” Voth said.
The three Hispanic congregations — United Faith Christian Fellowship of Fresno, Templo de Oracion of Traver and Selma MB Church — hosted more than 80 youth and sponsors from Bethany MB Church, College Community Church, North Fresno Church and Mountain View Community Church, all of Fresno; Dinuba MB Church and Kingsburg MB Church.
Mornings were spent in personal devotions and a large group session. For the rest of the day, teens divided into three teams that served at three ministry sites. Evenings included games, activities and a worship session.
The four organizers — Voth, Jordan Ringhofer of Kingsburg, Matt Ford of North Fresno and Ken Wilkinson of Mountain View — shared speaking responsibilities. Their messages, based on Mark 14-15, were aimed at preparing the teens for Holy Week and Easter.
Fresno: area advocacy
For more than two years, United Faith Christian Fellowship has been working to transform its urban Fresno neighborhood.
After researching their area, the congregation’s youth and college students discovered there are 35 alcohol distributors and no grocery stores within one mile of their church. The young people developed a neighborhood advocacy campaign under the leadership of UFCF youth leader Yammilette Rodriquez that encouraged stores to discourage underage drinking and to carry fruits and vegetables.
The UFCF teens took their experience a step further by training 25 to 30 people from multiple congregations in how to conduct a neighborhood study, develop an action plan, anticipate support and opposition, implement the plan and celebrate success.
Youth met with Fresno city council members, encouraging policy changes to make the neighborhood safer and healthier.
“The work we were able to partner with was meaningful and aimed at long-term, systematic change,” Voth said. “It was incredibly valuable that the UFCF youth were the ones conducting the training and conversations with elected officials.”
Selma: camp activities
The focus at Selma MB Church was providing an activity camp to neighborhood families.
Brad Issak, who with his wife, Delilah, is responsible for children’s and youth programs at Selma MB Church, estimates at least 70 children participated.
“We were able to meet several new families, serve them in Jesus’ name and invite them into the life of our church,” he said by email. “We thank God for the work that was done through the camps and anticipate further opportunities for ministry.”
Selma MB rented the facilities at the local elementary school for the soccer and craft camps. Mountain View youth led activities, shared testimonies and prepared and served lunch.
“Our students hung out with the kids, talked to them about Jesus and gave them the chance to respond to the gospel, which 22 of them did,” Wilkinson said. “That’s a highlight right there.”
Traver: work and prayer
At the Traver site, volunteers worked at Templo de Oracion, the local school and the Traver Community Assistance Programs and Services. Teens pulled weeds, cleaned up trash, trimmed trees and bushes, planted a flower bed, patched the church parking lot and installed a new floor in the church’s youth room.
Teens were encouraged to become familiar with the community and share their faith. Volunteers did a prayer walk through the neighborhood both days. On the second day they knocked on doors to ask if they could pray with the resident or offered to pray with people who were outside.
“It’s my hope that this Pacific District event will foster deeper connections between our congregations, especially the English- and Spanish-speaking ones,” Voth said.