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Youth Trip to Allentown: Follow Along From Home!

From John Bergen.

This past Sunday, we gathered in the center of our Sanctuary to bless youth and adults who are headed to Allentown and Chicago in the coming weeks. We laid hands on them, praying for their well-being and growth. Then, we all took bracelets as a reminder that God goes with us and that our church is praying for those of us going on the trips.

While you pray, you can also reflect and grow on your own. This is your invitation to learn alongside us!

This weekend, 5 of our rising 6th and 7th graders will travel to Allentown to spend the weekend with members of Ripple Church and Whitehall Mennonite, two churches that are intimately a part of the refugee and homeless communities in Allentown.

We will have opportunities to attend a Burmese wedding, participate in their youth programs, experience a different way of doing church, and learn from refugees and people experiencing homelessness. Below are some invitations from them, things to consider before and during the trip. We invite everyone who is not coming with us to reflect with us as you go about your weekends back here in the Philly area. When we get back, I encourage you to talk to the young people who went on the trip, and share your thoughts on these invitations.

1. Everyone has a gift, listen and see what that gift is.

2. People’s experiences of being refugees are complex. Some don’t remember their home country or refugee camps, some would prefer not to, and some don’t like the word ‘refugee.’ There are big cultural differences between generations - kids who were born in the US think about themselves very differently from older people who were born in another country or in a refugee camp. We are invited to bring openness and curiosity into every conversation, to not assume others' experiences, and to recognize the uniqueness of every story.

3. We will be guests in another community. We are invited to take what is offered to us, and to recognize what we can learn from accepting hospitality that might be very different from our expectations. What can we learn about ourselves and our world by being open to whatever is offered?

4. We are invited to think about the similarities and differences between Philadelphia and Allentown. Both cities grew in the 1800s because they had lots of factory jobs, then a lot of factories closed and many white people moved to the suburbs in the 1960s and 70s. As white, middle-class people left, both cities had less money for schools and other things. Today, both cities have a lot of poverty and are trying different things to reduce poverty. One thing that makes Allentown different is a higher percentage of Hispanic or Latina/o people - over 40% of people in the city identify that way, many of them from Puerto Rico. The neighborhood we are staying in is poor, but is on the edge of a neighborhood that is gentrifying, similar to a number of neighborhoods in Philadelphia. What similarities will we see? What differences? How will this change how we see Philly? What new questions will we have about our neighborhood, city, and region?

5. We will visit two Mennonite churches that feel very different from GMC. During the service, we will consider: What is different about this? What’s the same? What do you like about it? Did anything make you uncomfortable, and if so, why was that? Where is God in the service? What does God look like in the service? What image of God comes out of this? What does the God they talk about act like? How did you react to not understanding something?


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