Jarea Lynch from Esperanza for Bethlehem and Kim Rodgers from Vanderbuilt Church in Staten Island found their voices serving as representatives to the Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar this spring.
The Christian Citizenship Seminar provides high school-aged students the chance to explore the relationship between faith and a particular political issue and then act on that issue from a faith perspective. This year, Christian Citizenship Seminar addressed immigration.
Together with more than 80 senior high aged representatives from the Church of the Brethren, Jarea and Kim sought to understand current government immigration policy; the range of suggested immigration reforms; and the consequences of both on immigrant communities. They also learned how their faith in Jesus both builds community and informs and compassionately shapes their responses to the world they live in.
Kim and Jarea were selected for this unique opportunity from a group of seven applicants. The Eastern District Christian Education Commission sponsored their participation in this ecumenical outreach.
The group, led by The Rev. Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Church of the Brethren, spent two days in New York City studying Immigration through the lens of Hebrews 13:2, Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. While in New York City the group met at First Moravian Church on Lexington Avenue and in true Moravian fashion, were welcomed warmly with open arms and refreshment.
Following their time in New York City, the group traveled by bus to Washington, D.C. to visit Julie Chavez Rodrigues, deputy director of public engagement at the White House and various State Representatives on Capitol Hill.
When asked why they wanted to be part of the Christian Citizenship Seminar Jarea said, “I wanted to know more about the immigration system, to see New York City and Washington, D.C. and it was a good chance to get away from the daily stresses of living on the south side of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”
“This was a chance to connect with kids from a different church who are from different parts of the country and learn about one issue that affects so many people,” said Kim. “My involvement will help me with my community service hours and scholarship applications. This was also the first time that I traveled by myself.”
Kim and Jarea met many interesting people. When asked who the most interesting person they met at the Christian Citizenship Seminar was, Kim smiled and said, “Kristen Hoffman, one of the leaders from the Brethren Church. She was so welcoming and hospitable. She helped me to feel at home and made sure I had everything I needed. People say that I am joyful, but Kristen topped me.”
Jarea connected with Liana Smith, a Junior from Palmyra, Pa. “We live in the same state but we live such different lives,” said Jarea. “We both go to school, but took two different routes. She is all about her books and getting good grades at school while I have to care for my family during the day and work hard to study at night school. But, here at the Christian Citizenship Seminar we had so much in common, we both understand the difficulties of immigration and want to do something about it.”
Both young women acknowledged that they were challenged during this experience. “The Bible study challenged me to think about immigration in a new and different way,” said Kim, who during the first session of the seminar realized how much there was to learn about immigration. “I never thought about how Jesus, as a young boy, was an immigrant and how he told others to welcome all people just as God welcomes me. And, Jesus as God’s son was an immigrant here on the earth. Many welcomed him, but others turned him away. He was looking for people to welcome him and is still looking for people to welcome him.”
“Being at this seminar was an adjustment, just being around so many people I didn’t know,” said Jarea. “I went in with no friends and came out with two new friends.”
When asked where they saw God at work during their time at the Seminar, Jarea shared, “God showed me the true colors of the people I have been around all my life. God showed me who was there for me and who wasn’t. I saw how God uses calm and peace to solve problems. I want to do that.”
“I saw God at work by giving me the opportunity to come here,” said Kim. “Finding new friends in the Church of the Brethren, building a new family together, brothers and sisters in Christ. This was a lesson and a blessing; we will be representatives for God in our world.”
And finally, when asked, “Why should others participate in the Christian Citizenship Seminar?” Jarea answered, “It is a good experience for youth to have. To know more about our government, how to try to make change, why working in community is important and how to talk with people with whom you don’t agree.”
“This seminar was a great chance to meet others who are positive, looking to better the lives of others in peaceful and constructive ways and to be closer to God and each other,” said Kim. “And, of course, to have fun and meet good people.” ■
Cynthia Geyer is director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Eastern District. She accompanied Kim and Jarea to the Christian Citizenship Seminar this year.