Trinidad is in the grip of a bona fide crime wave at the moment, with a spate of robberies taking place across the city over the past week. These outbreaks are known to happen fairly regularly, but are no less shocking for their frequency.
Our missionary friend, KC, was dealing with some important paperwork (somebody we know always is – this is Bolivia) last week, for part of which she was required to show her face at the police station. She arrived to a scene of total mayhem, a slew of stolen motorcycles littering the main corridor following a major bust. “Better if I come back next week?” she inquired of the copper in question. “Probably” was the reply.
The last few days have highlighted the precarious nature of youth work in this and, indeed, in any culture. I remember as a secondary school teacher back in Scotland (where I worked in two less-than-well-off catchment areas) having nights when I’d drive home, consumed with self-doubt after having gone twelve rounds with certain classes, wondering why I wasn’t making any difference at all to the behaviour/attitude of my pupils. Particularly when, as an English teacher, I had the privilege of their company for more time than any other of my colleagues, maths aside.
When the reality struck me, it was so obvious I could hardly believe I’d thought otherwise. In a school context, yes, these kids had more class time with me than almost any other teacher. Yet in the context of their week, their four hours of English teaching were but a drop in the proverbial ocean of influences at home, in the street and, yes, at school (where Christian values, inevitably, were not always upheld across the board). A galling, yet liberating, realisation.
Fast-forward four years and it’s a principle I’m continually reminded of in our youth work here in Bolivia where, if anything, our contact with young people is even more limited. And yet, as a relatively young church, we naturally place a great deal of importance on the couple of hours or so each week we have with the local youth. At times it consumes our working week, and certainly our prayer lives – meaning that when things don’t turn out quite as expected, it can be hard to take.
And yet, we need only look around us to take in the scale of the tide we are swimming against. Negative influences tend not only to be fostered among peer groups but from older relatives. Girls are largely encouraged to get pregnant sharpish so that someone else can take care of them. Fathers’ lives are, in many cases, governed by the bottle. Many, indeed, view the church with suspicion (an ever-increasing challenge in the more atheistic West) and permit their offspring to attend the Saturday night youth group meeting on the condition they don’t get involved on a Sunday. Support from schools is on the wane too, with the native Bolivian ‘Mother Earth’ religion now being promoted in primary school R.E. lessons. Idolatry by another name, therefore, is increasingly encouraged.
Saturday was the most recent reminder of the challenges we face. You may remember my mentioning last week that, as part of a teaching series on the Passover, I was charged with leading a session on what the Passover means to us as believers, which focused largely on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and its importance to Christians. In the church, we choose to observe this important ritual every week before the family service and, if you’ve ever partaken in it, you’ll know just how refreshing it is to be able to take our eyes off ourselves and our own challenges, and concentrate on Jesus.
To be honest, we don’t really get a lot of youth along to the service at the moment (owing, in part, to some of the above-mentioned factors), but I was nonetheless led to present an overview of what we do and why – with a particular emphasis on the obedience factor – in the hope that it might encourage at least some of those youth who are able to make it to the service the next day. I didn’t mince my words, really driving home the message that if we take our faith seriously, then we’ll get to the Communion service, no matter what.
Being Sunday, as usual, it was difficult to see the wood for the trees owing to my various tasks with the band. So it wasn’t until I got home in the afternoon that it dawned on me that not a single new face from the youth group made it to the service that morning.
I learned long ago not to take these things personally, especially in a culture which has major commitment issues, but it was more than a little depressing as one of the youth leaders to realise the deficit between the theory and the practice when it comes to what we teach. Naturally, much of the teaching tends to centre around less discernible matters of the heart. This was a case where evidence of any fruit borne in the hearts of our young people could be seen in their actions the following day.
And yet, as in so much Christian work, we must trust in the Father who ‘is at his work’ and the Son who, too, is working (John 5:17). As youth leaders, we seek to teach only the Word of God and, as long as we do that, we can be His word will not return empty, but will accomplish that which He pleases (Isaiah 55:11). It might not happen overnight (as it certainly didn’t in this case in a very real sense!) but we trust that our Heavenly Father continues to minister to these young people, in ways beyond our asking or imagining, in those 166 hours of non-contact every week.
- For the Lord’s continued work in the hearts of our young people, and for endurance for their, at times, impatient, youth leaders!
- For our documentation situations! Craig is still waiting on his visa to be processed (now two weeks behind Amanda’s). Amanda, now on to the post-visa stage of renewing her ID card, has hit a minor snag. These are fundamental documents for life and work here so continue to remember this in your prayers.
|Our new kitchen. Amanda refused to be photographed in it on the grounds|
- We have a kitchen! Visitor’s to Craig’s Facebook page will have read about the closing, dramatic developments in the saga earlier this week (the kitchen was delivered by the transport company to a completely different city in the opposite direction from Trinidad!) but it was, finally, installed over the last couple of days, meaning the interior of the house is now, more-or-less, complete.
- For a relaxing Easter weekend (so far!) and slightly extended break it affords us. Enjoy your own wherever you are.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda