Here’s a few pictures (and captions) that summarize our feelings at the end of our season in Allendale:
A Taste of Heaven (Rachel Verughese): “Restoration is not only focused on the restoring of our souls and spirituality, but also a restoring of creation, including the communities around us. Before this Summer I never thought the restoration of a community could be an expression of the Gospel.”
Broken, then Restored (Michael Zuch): “Through all of these experiences God showed me He wasn’t only restoring these communities, but He was also restoring my broken view of missions. More than anything, healthy change can only happen when you place Jesus at the center, and that is something that I continue to learn this summer.”
And if you want more special memories, check out these older posts, from previous interns in Allendale:
On July 31, 1995, I meekly prayed to God, surrendering my life to the Lordship of Jesus. I was 19 years old, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Before then, I fell somewhere between the states of being agnostic and atheistic. (And I am Jewish, too, just to complicate things.) All things considered, I was an arrogant fool.
That is why the words of “At Calvary” mean so much to me now:
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
That’s nineteen years I spent “caring not my Lord was crucified,” and now nineteen years that “I gladly own Him as my King.”
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Or, as I tweeted the other day:
I am thankful that God loves me & pursues me more than I love & pursue Him.
— Joey Espinosa (@EspinosaJoey) July 26, 2014
- Remembering My Salvation
- From Forgiveness to Service
- Why I Chose to Be Baptized
- Realizing That I Am Proud
**image courtesy of mimwickett via rgbstock.com
(OK, how many of saw the title of this post, and are now singing with Peaches & Herb in your head? Or out loud? You’re welcome.)
Last month I was having lunch in the local elementary school, and I was sitting with a school staff member and with a mom who helped lead this year’s spring break camp. The mom was telling the other person about when she volunteered at the camp in 2013.
“I was touched by the spirit of love that was in that place. Those volunteers from Greenville, they showed so much love that it filled the air. I know that all Christians should love others, but I’ve never seen it like that.”
Did you catch what she said, or what she didn’t say? Not once did she mention how much better the campers got at soccer, or how great of a job I did leading the camp. (That’s OK. Really. Sniff.)
What encouraged and inspired her was the love shown by the families and teenagers from Grace Church (Greenville, SC).
Beyond the Camp
We have loved being a part of the Spring Break Camps, but it’s not because we really care about teaching kids soccer, or doing arts and crafts, or playing games. Those were fun bonuses, but not the goal.
I wanted to be a chemist since I was in elementary school. Originally, I wanted to work in forensics (and this was before CSI made forensic chemistry so popular), but in college I found myself drawn to bio-organic synthetic chemistry. (I use fancy, technical words to make myself look smart.)
After graduating, I did research and synthesis for a small pharmaceutical company. I left that company within three years, and went to work for Michelin, in their chemistry lab. Some folks in the pharma industry said I was making a mistake by leaving that field, explaining that pharmaceutical research is more profitable, intellectually challenging, and cleaner than petroleum chemistry. They were mostly correct, but I didn’t hesitate or think it was a mistake.
Years later, I left Michelin to join the staff at our church. Again, some thought I was crazy, but that was tempered by encouragements that I was “becoming a minister” and “answering God’s call” (their words, not mine). Some family and co-workers thought it was a mistake, or at least a waste of my education.
And in 2010, when I was transitioning off of staff at Grace, I thought I would go back into chemistry, but God had other plans. I soul-searched, and I was humbled. I realized that one day I may go back into chemistry, but even if I didn’t, the years of education and experience in chemistry would not have been a waste.
Last fall, I was talking to someone who works for Allendale County Schools. We got on the topic of camps that we’ve done, and how we kids from other places come here to make new friends. (The relationships formed are the biggest reasons why we consider the Elevate Spring Break Camp a success.)
Then she asked me, “But have kids from Allendale gotten to go there?” Thanks to the support of many others, I was able to answer, “Yes!”
You may remember that more than $2000 was donated last summer to support students from Allendale going to a variety of camps. You may have even donated to that cause. If so, thank you for being a part of a life-changing opportunity.
Why Summer Camps?
Although we will be moving this summer, we will be involved with a few local camps. Local summer camps are an easy and effective way to engage children when school is out. However, there is a huge value in children attending out-of-town camps.
Don’t give me credit for the following insight. The main idea I heard for the first time last month, in a preparatory meeting for the Eleuthera Mission Trip. It was insightful to me, and I wanted to share it with you.
How many of you can recite the “Great Commission”? Most of you, I’m sure, know it from Matthew 28:18-20:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
A few things to point out (things I’ve learned over the last 19 years or so):
A couple of months ago, I was asked to share part of our story at Community Bible Church (in Savannah, GA). As you may remember, this church has been a part of our ministry in Allendale, helping with summer activities in 2012 and 2013. I was glad (but nervous) to have this opportunity, but I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, since I was the one who asked for opportunities to speak to others.
I had 12-15 minutes to talk, and here is the core of what I shared. (I know it’s a lot. Good thing I talk quickly.)
Context of This Community
We moved to Allendale (SC) three years ago. There’s a bunch to that story, but let’s just say that God forced our hand, since moving here was not what we ever imagined ourselves ever doing. But we are so thankful that He did.
I don’t want to talk about all the negative stats about Allendale (although my scientist and pessimistic natures want me to do just that). But here is an overview, so you understand the context of what we are doing:
- In 2010, Allendale was listed as the 10th most impoverished county in the US.
- About 75% of the population is African-American, so my family is in the minority.
- Most white families, and some black, don’t have their children in the local schools.
- Over 70% of children are growing up in single parent households. (For more about this, see my posts about the Fatherless Generation, with respect to boys and girls.)
- About 12% of the population of Allendale is incarcerated.
- There are over 100 churches, but there is mostly a famine of God’s word.
Again, I’m not focusing on the negative aspects, because the rest of this talk will be on the great things that we’ve seen. I just wanted to set the context for how we have worked with children in this community, in our after school programs, day camps, coaching, and more.
Three years ago, we barely understood poverty. We (like most of you) saw poverty as a lack of money. Now, we see it more as broken relationships – broken relationships with God, others, the world, and ourselves. In that context, we are all experiencing poverty.
We can talk a lot about poverty and all the effects of it, but I want to focus on one word: HOPE. Poverty involves a lack or imbalance of opportunity, and even a lack of awareness that there are opportunities.