The first weekend of June our Mission Care team headed to Santa Cruz for our summer retreat. We did some training, debriefed the academic year a little bit, and prepared for summer camp. But mostly, we played together. We played cards and hide-and-seek, we walked the boardwalk and played on the beach. It was wonderful to take some time to bond as a team through fun and relaxation in the midst of serving together.
Part of our retreat time was set aside to reflect on the last 9 or so months, and we discussed some of the struggles as well as some of the joys we experienced. This Mission Care year saw a lot of mid-year turnover among our residents as well as office staff, which translated to a loss of roommates, teammates, and friends, and our kids experiencing added inconsistency in their lives. While we can go into all kinds of conjecture regarding why people left and make strides to prevent that from happening in the future, in that debriefing time, we were able to simply acknowledge that it was hard and share this and other struggles with one another. We took time out of doing and going to be together and cry and laugh together.
One of our debrief questions asked us to reflect on how God has used us this year. Our opening devotional and following discussion had us acknowledging that we don’t do anything out of our own strength, that God does the work. At the same time, God invites us into His story and gives us gifts and opportunities to use them. This year I have seen God use the creative and organizational skills of one of our new staff members to further program needs; one of our staff members is creating systems that make it easier for people to begin serving with us while highlighting the strengths and positive attributes of our teammates; one of our residents actively and successfully recruited others to serve with Care Fresno; one of our residents deeply connected with the parents of the kids from her site; one of our residents continually encourages the rest of our team by reminding us that she was one of those kids who grew up in Care Fresno after school programs, was guided away from other roads she could have gone down, and is now on our team as an indigenous leader. In the midst of our struggles and inadequacies, we have seen God use our team to serve our neighborhoods and each other.
The Almighty God can do all things; He doesn’t need us but He invites us into what He’s doing and chooses to use us. That boggles my mind. For me, as I prepared Bible studies and supporting curriculum items for the sites this year and then led the kids at my site in Bible studies, I was able to see God use what I’d prepared to help kids understand God and the stories in the Bible a little bit better. I got to witness kids connect the dots to see the same God working throughout all of the stories we shared and understand the truths we were striving to convey while learning how Bible stories apply to their lives. One example of this was when we were studying Moses and I asked our kids how they know that God keeps His promises. A third grade boy exclaimed, “Because of the rainbow!” in reference to Noah, whom we had talked about months ago. Because this year’s stories went in chronological order, beginning in Genesis, kids were able to trace the arc of the Bible and understand it as truth. This understanding comes from God, and yet He delights in using our residents and volunteers to share these lessons with the kids and build relationships with them.
Care Fresno’s mission consists of “Training people and churches to address poverty by investing in under-resourced communities and mentoring at-risk youth and families.” We do this through a three-step process of using neighborhood programs to meet felt needs and get to know our neighbors, mentoring those we’ve met through neighborhood programs, and leading them to become leaders in their own neighborhood. Our goal is to see neighborhoods transformed and leaders developed from within the communities we are in who will lead their own communities, and we are seeing this happen with some of our older teenagers and young adults who have been part of Care Fresno for years. This year, Care Fresno neighborhood programs operated in 8 apartment complexes. Our 2016-2017 after school programs served 462 kids and teenagers, and our summer programs are expected to reach an additional 200 kids.
Our team is currently headed into summer program and camp preparations. The new Mission Care year begins after camp and it is during this time that residents transition into or out of their Mission Care commitment. In order to be fully present in the neighborhoods we are projected to be in for the next academic year, we need 9 more Mission Care residents. We are looking for young adults willing to commit to a year of urban ministry through living onsite and running neighborhood programs. We are also in need of volunteers of all ages to serve at summer or after school program and to mentor kids. If you or someone you know are interested in being a Mission Care resident or volunteer, please email or call Care Fresno for more information. We are seeing grades improve, positive lifestyle choices, and decisions for Christ made. There are so many ways God could work, but He has given us the opportunity to be used by Him in this way at this time. We as a Care Fresno team are praying for God to bring the right people to serve with us; would you consider how you might be an answer to that prayer or if you know someone who you could invite to spend some time at a Care Fresno site? God does the work and life change cannot happen apart from Him but our team can testify how God uses people in that process and may be interested in using you in a new way as well.