Nancy Donat works in the Lowell community in Fresno, California. She very intentionally brings people together to help the oppressed. Here's a recent example of how she's connecting the youth in her neighborhood with today's refugee crisis in Europe.
Most of the youth I work with have a very limited view of the world. Most of them have not been out of California and many haven't even been out of the Central Valley. Some of them had heard of the refugee crisis in school or on television, but most had no idea what it really meant.
The mission of our youth group is to love God, love others, and love ourselves. We know from the story of the Good Samaritan that "neighbor" isn't geographically bound. It's really anyone in need, so a Syrian refugee is our neighbor that we have a responsibility to love.
It is difficult though to talk about a huge problem and then walk away and do nothing about it. The Empty Plate Campaign gave our youth group something to embrace. Most of the kids don't have much money, so I thought we could participate in a few ways to bless and encourage the refugees fleeing their homes.
Almost every one of our youth has had a difficult life. Many have had to move suddenly taking very little with them. Many have lived in shelters and know uncertainty and chaos. Though their lives are vastly different from the refugees flooding into Europe, I thought they might be able to relate in a fairly personal way and bring encouragement and hope.
Because I can email my co-workers with ITeams who are working closely with the refugees in Europe, we decided that we could write notes of encouragement to share specifically with the refugees. Here are some examples of the words our youth and adult leaders wrote to them.
"You are an encouragement to me! I am across the world, but your story of not giving up and doing what you need to do is inspiring. Thank you for hoping for a better future. I am hoping with you! God is with us in our darkest times. I pray for His blessing on your family!"
"It's okay to be scared or to move somewhere very fast. It is okay."
"Greetings! Know that God is near you and cares for you so much. Hold on to the promise that Jesus is your hope and salvation"
"You are strong and loved!"
"Stay strong, keep your head up. May God be with you at all times."
"I am praying for you to have strength and hope. God is with you during this hard time. I don't know your name, but you are in my heart, my thoughts and my prayers. I hope that you will find peace while you are away from your home."
"I grieve with you for all that you have lost. It is hard to imagine all that you are going through. I am praying for you and loving you from far away. God is not unaware of what you are going through. I am praying for safety, for food, that you will get to go back to school, and that you will know the presence of Jesus with you every step of the way. I am praying for peace and the rebuilding of Syria."
On Tuesday nights we have discipleship group, and we always have some form of snack. This week, though, I didn't prepare any snack, and we remembered the refugees and left an empty plate. A couple of the youth brought money, and together we have raised $23. That's a lot of money coming from these kids who don't have many financial resources.
One of our adult volunteer leaders is actually a youth pastor at another church in Fresno. He loved what our group did, so he did this with his youth group as well. So now there are two youth groups who are writing words of encouragement and saving money by not buying snacks, coffee, or soda in Fresno. It's our way of being with the refugees in this crisis.
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