Taking time to reflect on the last year I am struck that 2011 has been an amazing year in the life of the Youth Ministry of First Presbyterian Church, not only have we begun an exciting endeavor, the Bend Youth Collective, but also more of our youth are participating in the life of the church than ever before. It is an exciting time to serve as the Pastor for Youth and their Families here in Bend.
In the winter, we continued our step out in faith to do something completely out of the box with the Bend Youth Collective. After meeting with the high school students at Common Table we have found that the idea to love like Jesus is broader than our own community. We have had deep discussions of the radical teachings of Jesus Christ, we have explored what it means to feel left out, we have had a WHOLE lot of fun and the bonds between our students are growing stronger and broader every day. We look forward to more service, fellowship and learning opportunities as we continue to live into this new partnership.
Our middle school students have been meeting at the churches every Wednesday. Every week we pack about 100 backpacks of food so that children on the free and reduced lunch program will have food for the weekend. It has been remarkable to watch youth who receive these bags pack them for others. Those that are in need are providing the help for others, it is a highlight every week to watch kids help their friends. Our small group discussions are deep and thoughtful; they open up and share their joys and concerns. Our community is growing into a wonderful and supportive community of diverse backgrounds and experience.
This summer we took 38 people to Los Angeles for an Urban Immersion Trip with our high school students. We stayed in Angelic Lutheran Church in the Pico Union District of Los Angeles. We worked, played, ate, and created some magnificent space for our youth to grow. Here are some thoughts from two of them:
“The most important thing I learned, though, was that often times prejudices are forced on us by our society, religion, government, race, or our ignorance. The steps that we took on our trip to really immerse ourselves in other cultures were life-changing. I wish that everyone in the world could try doing it for a week. I have always thought of myself as an open-minded person, and I still learned so much about things I thought I knew all about.”
-Jasmine Wright, Senior Summit High School
“Overall this trip was an amazing experience. I grew close with those around me, and I feel like I came back carrying a great amount of knowledge and love. I am looking forward to spending time with the friends I’ve made this summer, as well as accompanying them on the mission trips to come.” -KT Ainsworth, Senior Bend Senior High
We also took 9 to CITY CAMP, a middle school camp in Salem, Oregon. For several days, we played, prayed, worshipped, sang, and worked. There were amazing experiences at several different organizations that feed hungry people, there were laughs had at the North Clackamas Aquatic Center, there were holy moments in the youth room at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Here are some quotes from the week:
“I saw God today!”
–Manuel Ponce, 8th Grader Pilot Butte Middle School
“Greg, when we get back I’m going to do your job!”
–Elijah Tucker, 6th Grader Cascade Middle School
We also took 13 high school, college, and young adults to Nicaragua. We spent most of the time in Condega, a small town in the Estelí region of Nicaragua. Condega is a Sister City of Bend and created the foundation for us to start to build relationships for our brothers and sisters in Central America. I think one of our college students sums it up best:
“Before we left, Ron [leader at Nativity Lutheran] said that he didn’t have a doubt in his mind that this trip would somehow change every one of our lives and he was right. Being back home is amazing, I love being able to drink from the faucet and not having to soak myself in deet every morning, but I can’t help but wish I were still in Nicaragua with all of the other amazing members of our Team.”
-Caitlin Jarvis, Senior University of Oregon
As you can see, we are very busy! In my own ministry, it has been remarkable to learn and grow with you all over this almost four years of ministry.
As I sat in worship one Sunday singing with the Praise Team and looking around at all of the college students returned from school, all the youth singing, helping with worship, all the families smiling and singing I was struck about how blessed I am to have a church family that gives me space to grow and helps me along the way.
The only words I have left are, “Thank You!”
Rev. Gregory G. Bolt
Pastor of Youth and Their Families
First Presbyterian Church—Bend, Oregon