An Interchange of Inner Change

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What happens when you take a group of white kids from small-town Illinois and mix them up with a group of first generation Central American immigrant urban kids from the DC Metro area (Chirilagua)? Quite honestly, we didn’t know the answer to this question but with much prayer and planning we were willing to take the risk and find out.

For a week in July, the Community Church of God youth group of Danville, IL (aka “The Drive”) and the Casa Chirilagua Teens Club (aka “TC”) partnered in an interchange program to plan and execute an outdoor VBS in Chirilagua. The Drive showed up on a Sunday evening. In an effort to get to know one another, we gathered together to eat, play games, sing songs, pray and study the Bible. One of our TC students later admitted that she brought her prejudice to the table that evening, “When I saw those white kids get off the bus I thought, oh no, they are not going to be any fun!”

On Monday, students gathered in the morning for games, prayer, devotions and singing. Then students were given a planning time for the vacation bible school (VBS) that afternoon. Upon arrival to the neighborhood, TC kids hosted their guests from The Drive on a tour of their neighborhood. After the tour, it was “go time” and the students successfully launched their first day of VBS with 45 neighborhood students in attendance. The two groups built relationships as they worked together as “station leaders” or “student group leaders.”

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Throughout the week, we followed a similar schedule of devotional time and planning for VBS each day but added fun morning or evening activities to let the students spend time together in a more relaxed setting. During their time together, the leaders noticed some of the hard exteriors of the students melting away as they worked together and loved each other through their differences. Walls began to fall down and over time there was less of a divide between “The Drive” kids and “TC” kids and instead they melted into one unified group.

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We had to cancel our last VBS effort on Friday afternoon due to an extreme heat warning. Students walked through the neighborhood to announce the cancellation some had the opportunity to pray with a few families. On Friday evening, our last time together, we planned a barbeque, a few debriefing events and an opportunity for the students to say good-bye. None of us were expecting what would transpire that evening. After dinner, we engaged in a “Web of Encouragement” activity. When people spoke encouraging words over one another, some smiled, some looked down in embarrassment and some began tearing up. Something beautiful was happening as the healing balm of love and encouragement washed over our souls and bound us together.

Then it was time to say ‘Good-bye’ and a Spirit of love came over the group like rushing waters. The room was filled with tears of joy and sadness, words of love and expressions of gratefulness. Surely the presence of the Lord was certainly in our midst unifying us as one body. It took almost an hour to say our goodbyes and we ended our time with one last song, “I will Love the Lord with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and all my strength.”

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The drive home, though relatively peaceful and quiet was filled with thoughtful reflection from the TC students: “Ms. D, I have never built friendships like that before, especially in such a short period of time. Can we go to Illinois? We want to see where they live and what life is like for the Danville kids. How much will it cost? The Danville kids said it cost $300 per student. We can raise that!”

Another student commented: “It felt really great to do something for our community. We are just a bunch of teens and we pulled off a week-long program in the neighborhood that the little kids really enjoyed.”

The stories of fruitfulness go on and on. And so, I ask the question again: What happens when you take a group of white kids from small-town Illinois and mix them up with a group of first generation Central American immigrant urban kids from the DC Metro area? When they let God enter in and transform their hearts, a love-centered, Spirit-led reconciliation leading to unity. More easily put, the Kingdom of God on Earth!