ministry-internshipFor me, Candler Advantage stands at the intersection of education, vocation, and self-awakening. By connecting what I have learned in class with my desire to re-imagine and re-shape church in community, I have discovered more about myself than I thought possible.

I serve as youth pastor at Bethel United Methodist Church in Stockbridge, Georgia – a great church in a thriving community. Bethel is a cross-cultural church that is approximately 90% white, and the surrounding area is about 80% African American. I consider this setting to be ripe with potential for growth as an expression of cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. But before the work of bridging the gap begins, I needed more in-depth engagement with and understanding of the church family. Because Bethel has previously developed meaningful, cross-cultural relationships with people in Honduras through mission work, what better way to learn than to join our team on a week-long mission trip to Nacaome Valle, Honduras.

honduras-missionTo say that I was deeply affected by the sights and experiences in Honduras is an understatement. The environment, the animals, and the people struck a chord in my spirit that will continue to ring for a very long time. In Nacaome Valle, the reality of interdependence is starkly expressed by the hen who has found a quiet corner in a family’s hut to lay her eggs; the friendly stranger who picked up our group as we made the long hike back from the waterfall; and the nightly rain that brought forth lush produce of mangoes, papayas, and watermelon.

And then there were the children. We sang together in Spanish and English. We played frisbee. We jumped rope. They brought me fresh mangoes from the tree on their school grounds. They talked, and I listened. Herein lies the formula for a sustainably connected community. It will not happen overnight. But through carefully planned, consistent occasions for active listening, shared worship experiences, and the breaking of bread together, spaces of trust are being created. Bridges can be built.

My summer continues to be immensely enriching, challenging and affirming in large part because of Candler Advantage. I am afforded the chance to view church and community through a broader lens and more deeply explore the ways in which the church can engage and connect with the surrounding community.