The Third Leg of Making Disciples

Posted on March 6, 2012 by

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I just returned from our Area’s annual trip to rural El Salvador with over 130 kids and leaders from Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.  We’ve been returning to the same region for 6 years and each year the work has grown in depth and numbers.  Flying home, I was overwhelmed thinking about how we got to where we are…

“Your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

-Isaiah 58: 10-12

Isaiah 58 offers us these hopeful words at the close of a blistering indictment of Israel’s failure to take care of its least.  When we read verses 1-10, we discover that God had chosen to ignore their prayers, their fasting and their pleas because the Israelites had no connection to justice and compassion.

Back in 2003, the Staff in our area pondered and meditated on these words and we heard God calling us to the Great Banquet (Luke 14).  We began to realize that we often felt like the Israelites; was God ignoring our prayers, fasting and suffering?  We chose to make a paradigm change that would affect the way we viewed discipleship and outreach.  For years, we had defined a young disciple on two grounds:  someone who could read their Bible (feed themselves) and reach out to the lost (share the message).  After reading Isaiah 58, we felt that there was something more that God had for us and kids.  Our focus on Isaiah 58 and the healing ministry of Jesus taught us that we were setting kids on a two-legged stool and their lives oftentimes felt out-of-balance.  We knew we had to make a choice.

We chose to adopt a third leg; a new focus to be added to the other two.  The third leg to our discipleship (and even our outreach) became “love and service to the poor”.  Adding this third element to our vision didn’t detract from the first two, in fact, it enhanced it.  We gambled on Isaiah’s vision and on the vision of the Master at the Banquet (Luke 14) in hopes that something new and great might happen.  We could have never guessed that “love and service to the poor” would become one of our most powerful tools in reaching our very own kids!

Eight years later, we may not be called “Repairer of Broken Walls” or “Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”, but we’ve heard things about our ministry that we’d never heard before.  At the center of the new focus was our desire to build a long-lasting relationship in a new culture where poverty was present and could be fought.  We found our new home in rural El Salvador and over the past 6 years, over 400 kids and adults have been a part of an incredible movement of God.  Through our teenagers, there is now access to clean water for over 1,000 people.  A new school and computer center has been built.  A new chapel for worship has been constructed and consecrated.  Family latrines have been built for countless families and over 100 kids now have transportation to regional secondary schools.  Over the past 12 months, a famine relief effort helped provide food for over 100 families and new irrigation projects are bringing harvests and food to the plates of children who only knew hunger.  The clinics have seen hundreds of patients and the children in our villages that are 5 or under have a similar health chart to those in our suburban schools in Syracuse.

In the spring of 2011, our friend and host in El Salvador joined the Young Life Staff and began to minister to gang kids in the hills of San Salvador.  He took his first group of kids to YL camp last summer, and we had our first Young Life Leadership training with college kids in a downtown McDonald’s last June.  Amazing!  Young Life in a whole new country!

Meanwhile, at home, our kids have flourished.  Some have chosen new vocational paths in nursing, teaching, translating, and fields of medicine.  Some are now Med students who volunteer their time in inner-city clinics.  Many have traveled abroad in college as part of a sociology or psychology degree program.  A handful are even on YL Staff today.  We challenge our kids:  “do not conform to the patterns of the world”  and “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12).   Our kids are actively throwing off the “trends” in fashion, media, and technology and choosing instead virtues like depth, confidence, and boldness.  For many of our kids, they can’t see clearly until they can wipe away the imagery from the false gods of America.  In El Salvador, they get to see Jesus differently.  In many ways, while we’re in El Salvador, we don’t talk about the gospels, we live in them.  Kids give their lives to Him more fully than anywhere else I know.  People sometimes confuse our mission and ask us when we got a heart for El Salvador.  The truth is, our heart is for the young people of Syracuse and connecting them to Jesus’ heart has been one of our most effective tools.

Back home, God has opened new avenues for ministry to teenage moms in the city of Syracuse.  We also just started a regular weekly Bible study with teenagers who are imprisoned in the County holding facility.  Doors have been opened for ministry and outreach solely because of our reputation of serving the least and giving our kids a place to serve.

Looking back, all this new growth and ministry came after asking one simple question:  What does it mean to grow as a disciple of Jesus?

It’s never a bad time to ask yourself the same question.

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