In July 2014, a team of adults and teenagers from Crossroads United Methodist Our Bible School Pilgrlfridge Church in Ashburn, Virginia spent four days with the children of New Community for by Robin Devenish Children, Crossroads and New Community have along-standing relationship shrough The Cornelius Corps, and each summer Crossroads sends a team to provide Vacation Bible School. There are new and returning team members every summer. The team from CUMC brought along a Vacation Bible School program with typical activities, such as music, games, Bible stories and craft projects. The children were divided into grade-level groups and rotated through the stations, working with 2-4 team members at each station. Most of the 2014 team had not participated in VBS before, and there were more teenagers than adults this time, which was a different experience. The teenagers in particular had few experiences outside of their affluent, suburban environment, but joined in with enthusiasm and open hearts.
We spent the mornings in Bible School singing, playing, and story telling with the children, who ranged in age from 4 to 11 years. After they left to go back to their regular summer camp routine, the CUMC team shared lunch and discussion with Pastor Jim Melson. Jim led us through Some reading from the book A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson, discussing topics such as pilgrimage and compassion. Discussing pilgrimage as a life perspective, as opposed to just mission trips outside our homes, was a powerful way to help the group think of our week as more than just a quick service project. In the book, there is a very clear distinction made between observing a group or community, and entering that group or community. Our few days there introduced the children to people different from themselves, and introduced our team to people different than ourselves...and we were all reminded that we aren’t really that different after all. Children of any community need people to care for them, listen to them and share valuable time. The teens on our team expressed their joy in discovering these children. It was as if they had tunnel vision when they arrived, and now had a wider lens through which to view the world. For a brief few days, they did enter the community and found friendships.
The other important piece of the week’s experience was Pastor Jim's walking tour to share the history of the Shaw neighborhood and the role of the civil rights movement on the families that lived there. The majority of the CUMC team had no idea they live soclose to an important area and how the neighborhood history is so closely linked with people they have learned about, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. The current gentrification pattern of the neighborhood also gave them a lesson in current politics, economics and how trends in these areas have day-to-day consequences for individuals and families. It is easy for Northern Virginia residents to tune out the media's constant political and economic “noise” relative to the Shaw neighborhood--which is why this neighborhood tour was so eye-opening. The team also visited the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. At the end of that visit, we prayed together; and as we disbursed, a woman approached and thanked us for publicly praying. As the team leader, it was wonderful to hear a positive reaction to public prayer when so much of society’s pop culture and media culture often has a negative spin on Christianity.
All of these experiences-Vacation Bible School with the children, thoughtprovoking reading with Pastor Jim, and a neighborhood history lesson-were brought together to create an unforgettable week in the lives of the CUMC team. It is life-changing to realize the connection between Bible teachings and the need for communities to interact and become care takers for each other. God made us to care for each other and to live in communities. In the eyes of Jesus, we are all one community; it is a human impulse to separate ourselves based on Superficial characteristics. It is important to recognize, however, that there is a fine line between making connections between communities and one community bringing a service to the other, with the thought that the receiver is the only one in need. It is arrogant to believe that only one group has needs. The team from CUMC quickly discovered that the “service project” went both ways; that assumptions can be wrong, and that everyone carries a burden or a pressure in their lives. More specifically for this week, children are children no matter where they live. They all need love and acceptance, positive experiences, and to hear the message of Jesus. Sharing Jesus' message of love can be within our own families and groups, but what a different world we would live in if we reached out in pilgrimage and love to the wider world.