Posted 2/6/2018 at 8:00am. Story by Cadance Tyler
As a student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, I had the privilege to spend thirteen days in El Salvador at the beginning of January 2018.
One requirement for the Master of Divinity program is the Mission Immersion Experience. Each semester, a group of students are led through the process of studying about a country and its history. They then spend time in the country, immersed in culture and connected to local church leaders who teach the students about where they see God working and how the church is responding to God’s movement there.
My experience in El Salvador made a great impact on me as I felt the warm welcome of our hosts, worshipped in bilingual services, learned about the country’s civil war, and heard heartbreaking stories about families forever changed as a result of migration.
I can’t possibly cover all that I learned in a short blog series, but I would like to share four stories from El Salvador with you in these posts. I believe that these stories will not only help us learn more about El Salvador, but they will also challenge our understanding of what church looks like and how we can better respond to God’s movement in our communities and world.
During our first weekend in El Salvador, we were hosted by a church in the town of Zacatecoluca. We were greeted with hugs, smiles, and plates of food. One thing that I immediately noticed was the presence of the youth during our stay in the southern town of El Salvador. Many of us in the United States would attach the term “youth” to adolescents between sixth and twelfth grade. In this community, single men and women in their twenties are still considered part of the youth. These young adults don’t just stand in the background; they are an active part of the leadership and life of the church. During our stay, one youth served as an interpreter. Another young man presented at a conference on Saturday at the church. Many youth were a part of the worship band for services on Saturday and Sunday. They also serve as leaders for church programs in the community.
One minister in the church spoke with us about the importance of developing relationships with children and youth. A reality that this community faces is gang involvement. Young people are a target for gang recruitment. The church is aware of this reality, and they are committed to responding. This minister told us about the importance of mentoring and shepherding children and youth. This church’s relationship with the youth is readily evident. I saw firsthand the passion and commitment to Christ that these young adults have. They have a love and concern for their community, and they are active in carrying out God’s mission for the world.
As a church leader, this was a reminder to me about the importance of discipleship with children and youth in my church and community. I want to challenge you to think about your own church. Where do you see the children and youth in the life of your church? Are they in the background, or are they an active part in the leadership of the church? Could you serve as a listening ear to their concerns and ideas? Could you serve as a mentor? Do they need an opportunity to lead and take ownership of church ministries?
If we truly believe that God calls people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, then our churches should be reflections of that belief. Our children and youth are a vital part of God’s family. Let us be more intentional in making space for them so that they may be encouraged to seek God’s calling and to serve others.