Colombian youth participate in team building fun: in the front is Linda Fabiola Fajardo (left) and Miyer Perez (right). Photo by Eric Frey Martin. 

By Kelly Frey Martin
Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Assembly for the Colombian Mennonite Church, similar to the MCUSA convention, often includes a lot of tense conversations. Fellow brothers and sisters disagree; we unintentionally hurt each other. The assembly had much to talk about this year and had many tense conversations. We observed some of this with the youth. 

While the adults were having their meetings, we were in a separate building learning about Servant Leadership. We opened the time with the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet in John 13. We put a chair, a bucket of water and some towels out in the middle of the circle of youth and had them walk up in pairs and practice washing each others feet. For nearly all of them this was their first experience with a foot washing so we made it really casual. As they went up in pairs we laughed when the person getting their feet wet shrieked at the cold water, we took pictures on our cell phones, we said, "Hey you forgot to hug each other!" if they did between the washings. It was really a holy moment to see these kids practicing this great act of service, love and humility with each other. Afterward, we talked about the experience, to which they all responded with appreciation of the discomfort, of the beauty, and of the meaning of such an act. 

Throughout the weekend we continued to talk about leadership using Jesus as our model. We talked about Jesus' views on power; about his use of influence instead of coercion, about leading through relationship building, among other stories from Jesus' life and ministry. We had several group discussions on these different topics. In addition, the kids also were divided into their regions to talk about how they could better organize themselves so that they could inspire and support youth ministry from a regional level. They really took this seriously and had such passion Eric and I decided to try to get them to talk to their adult leaders about these ideas. What ended up happening was that after dinner on Sunday night, the adult leaders from each church sat down in circles with the 3-5 youth from their regions and listened to them. They supported them. The affirmed them. They embraced them. It was a holy moment. It was an experience for youth to sit with adults and really feel affirmed in their involvement in the church. 

After that happened, we gathered as a group of youth and listened to them talk about how their conversations went. It was overwhelmingly positive and they felt heard. We had many conversations about the Church throughout the week. How it isn't perfect because we aren't perfect. How it is frustrating and hard sometimes. But that the church is also beautiful. That we love the church. As a result of this discussion, we decided as a group that we wanted to go up to the adults and offer to wash their feet. As a symbol of wanting to serve, a symbol of wanting to submit our own positions of power and agendas to serve each other. So, we planned how to do this for Monday morning's closing service.

When we entered the space of the adults they had just closed another tense conversation. We entered the space, each carrying our own bath towel, we had scrounged up about 4-5 old paint buckets. We said, "This week we've been talking a lot about servant leadership. We want to serve and to be a part of this imperfect but oh so beautiful church. We want to practice what we learned from Jesus about serving others through the washing of the disciples feet. We want to wash your feet. Could everyone please take off their shoes?" We played some music. Then, these 20 youth and their old paint buckets and personal bath towels proceeded to go around the circle to each adult and wash their feet. The adults were moved. The kids were moved. It was a holy moment. 

When we had finished, an adult stood up and thanked us for this special, holy experience and offered to return the act by having all of the adults wash the youth's feet. So the adults in groups of 3-4 came and surrounded each youth with prayer and a foot washing. 

After the experience people who had long time grudges and pain from hurt relationships forgave and hugged each other.  It was a moment of hope, of love and of deep appreciation for our community and church. 

We closed with communion as is tradition at the Assembly, but having come from a foot washing was also very meaningful. We thanked each other for their work. It again was a holy moment.

I pray that this inspiration of deep love and service for one another continues throughout the year. That we can continue to love God by serving others and that this spirit of submission would inspire the whole church. God is living and among us!





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Eric and Kelly work with young adult leaders of the Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Colombia (IMCOL) in helping develop youth programs and recognize and nurture the spiritual gifts of young people growing in their leadership potential.




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