Jodi Macfarlan is a writer and editor with Journey Group in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For the first six days in July, more than 5,000 middle- and high-school students gathered in New Orleans for Challenge 2012—the EFCA’s biennial student conference. These students learned and worshipped together; they volunteered a total of 32,000 hours across 70 ministry sites; and they raised an astounding $33,541 to support New Orleans church plants.
Yet for many involved, the crowning moment of this year’s conference was when they packed two school buses with 4,500 “care kits” for children in Haiti. The buses were part of the “Love Moves” project—a joint initiative between Challenge, TouchGlobal and GlobalFingerprints to support education as a means to break Haiti’s cycle of poverty. (One of TouchGlobal’s ongoing commitments is to help rebuild Haiti and plant churches in the wake of crisis.)
“Love Moves comes from how, in the gospels, we see Jesus, full of compassion, doing something about the needs before Him,” says Shane Stacey, director of ReachStudents. Far more than clicking a “like” button on Facebook, Shane points out, “we’re trying to figure out how to pause long enough to allow compassion to flow—and to not just receive news but be moved to act.”
All Challenge attendees were asked to donate basic items (toothbrushes, soap, pencils, scissors, etc.)—things Haitian kids don’t have but need in order to attend school. During the conference, students gathered in groups for the Love Moves Haiti Experience, an interactive exhibit that heightened students’ awareness and called them to prayer.
First, students arrived at an area with a concrete floor and packages and bags strewn about. A sign reading “Welcome to Haiti International Airport” greeted them, symbolizing arrival to Port-au-Prince. They then moved into a wood-and-blue-tarp structure, filled with benches to resemble a Haitian church. TouchGlobal staff presented an introduction to what life is like in Haiti before students moved into an assembly area, where they combined their donated items into individual care kits, along with a Haitian Creole New Testament.
Afterward, they boarded one of the two school buses, where they watched a narrated video about daily life for the average 15-year-old Haitian. The students then exited the bus to find themselves entering a Haitian village, with houses made of bed sheets and wooden sticks, plywood and sheet metal, where they could pray. “Had we brought in dirt instead of concrete, you’d have been in Haiti,” says Mark Lewis, director of TouchGlobal. “It was that realistic.”
The packed buses are currently en route to Haiti, to be delivered to two schools the EFCA has partnered with through either TouchGlobal or the Southeast District. But packing the buses was only one half of the drive toward acting on compassion.
“We want to make sure students understand that this is not just a hand out, but a hand up—to make a lasting impression,” says Brian Cole, executive director of mobilization for ReachGlobal. So, students were not only tasked with bringing items for the care kits (the hand out part), but they were also invited to become some of the first GlobalFingerprints sponsors for children in Haiti (the hand up).
Sponsoring children’s needs for basics like food and education, Brian says, helps students see past a one-time effort to the big picture in missions. Sixty-three children are now being sponsored as a result of the conference—enough to fill one school bus.
Hannah Townsend, a rising sophomore at First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kan., was one of those students who, together with her small group, chose to sponsor a child.
“I had heard about stuff like this before,” Hannah says, “but what touched me and stirred my heart was actually experiencing it. Standing where they stood. Living where they lived. Ever since then, I haven’t been able to get these kids off my mind.
“I hope to get the opportunity to go on a mission trip there next summer. I’ve thought about grabbing some friends and starting a fundraiser, maybe a car wash or a bake sale, and sending all the proceeds to an organization in Haiti.”
Whether through praying, going or giving, it’s onward and upward for students at Challenge who have been shown the realities—for today, tomorrow and a long time to come—and who have been called to follow in the ways of Jesus. Love, it turns out, moves.