Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Is Love Banquet

I wrote about This Is Love a few weeks ago, and it was a wonderful and humbling experience to share our story. GSM also had Peter O'Chiel speak about his ministry in a leper camp in Kenya. Powerful kingdom-soaked stuff, especially to contrast what God is doing in suburban junior highers with lepers in Kenya. One of Peter's first questions he asked me upon meeting was "how is the Gospel spreading in Arizona?" I love meeting people like this.

Here's an outline of the story I shared with over 300 folks at the banquet (click on the links in the story to see more pictures and details):
I’m a junior high pastor in Mesa, Arizona, which is probably the center of the world for white suburbia. Think gated communities, big SUVs, lots of concrete and stucco, and a general obsession with stuff. For my job, I get to hang out with suburban junior highers and tell them about Jesus and His deep love for them and the world, yet they tend to live fairly sheltered lives. So a big part of my job is pointing out that last part—Jesus’s love for the world, and what that means for junior highers.
A while ago, I met Brady Keeling, one of the key members of GSM. He and I played together in a worship band in Japan, which is a long story in itself, but what’s important is that a friendship formed through that shared experience. When Brady began telling me about the beginnings of KnowThinkAct, it sent my mind spinning in tons of directions. Here was a creative idea that connected local leaders who are combating poverty in their own context with people—namely, junior high students—who were emerging out of spiritual poverty themselves. I have this passion to see students wake up from the world of consumerism and materialism and selfishness in order to embrace the ways of Jesus and love other people through sacrificial action. KnowThinkAct creates an avenue for this to happen. So this is our story:
In March of 2009, we hosted our first Dodgeball Extravaganza, a dodgeball tournament with a purpose. Junior highers created teams, hit each other with dodgeballs, all for the sake of raising money through KnowThinkAct. We raised funds for secondary school tuition, pointing out that while junior highers tended to hate school here in the States, that education is extremely important in changing a person’s future, so we wanted to help provide some of their peers in Uganda with funds for school.
Later that year, around Christmas time, we participated in a movement called Advent Conspiracy, which is the basic idea of giving relational presence and remembering Jesus instead of participating in the consumerism and materialism that has co-opted Christmas. Our student ministry name was The Well, so we decided to raise funds to build a well in Uganda through KTA. I remember one particular 7th grade girl who caught me after youth group one night. She sheepishly handed me a check, and turned to walk away. I looked at the check; it said $500. I called her back over and asked where the money came from. She is an incredible gymnast, and had won a tournament that past week. She gave $500 of her own prize money to help build the well. I don't know of many adults who would do that, let alone junior highers. Other students gave up their own Christmas gifts; still others baked cookies and sold them to raise funds. In the spring of 2010, the people in the community of Mukigando, Uganda built a shallow well from the funds raised by junior highers from Arizona. This is what they had been drinking from. And this is the new well. One of our junior high interns was traveling in Uganda later that year and got to see both the well and meet some of the students who were going to school because of the dodgeball tournament. Her own experience in Uganda was eye-opening, and she got to share her story with the students back home, making her story their story too.
Now two years later, we just hosted our third Dodgeball Extravaganza last week. We looked at the needs on KTA and noticed that one of the needs was for treatment for HIV-positive children. Fifteen dollars provided a 3 month supply for a child in need. So our students signed up, brought money, played dodgeball, and helped change a child’s life in Uganda by providing funds for the medicine they need. Since starting with KTA, we’ve raised around $3000 as a junior high youth group. Students without jobs, without drivers' licenses, many who have literally never traveled outside of the city of Phoenix, have transformed communities thousands of miles away, and thus been transformed themselves.
We love KTA in our ministry for a myriad of reasons, partly because it’s so simple to use—you see a need on the website, you sign up, you send funds, that need is met—and partly because it fosters generosity and creativity in junior highers, giving them opportunities to change the world. But what is most compelling is that Global Support Mission and KTA create community. This isn’t just about sending money off to some random place, or charity work. This is about two communities—junior highers in Arizona and leaders in Uganda—becoming one. It is about building bridges between people through sacrificial action, empowering both local leaders to change their communities and young people to realize that they can actually make a difference in the world when they are compelled by the love of Jesus to compassion. Lives are being transformed both in Arizona and Africa. That’s a beautiful story that GSM is telling, and it’s one I know we’ll continue to share.
Go to Global Support Mission, KnowThinkAct, and Red Earth Trading Company to see what this amazing organization is doing. Check out a picture gallery of the evening here. And see the video below:

This is Love Banquet - 2011 from Global Support Mission on Vimeo.

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