Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seeing the Best in Baja

My contention is that we too often hear about the problems of Chico State and Butte College students. Too much alcohol, violence, and sexual promiscuity. All these selfishness, spoiled college students who don't care enough for others.
Sometimes called "The Theology of the Hammer"
            I’m thankful I get to prove this charge wrong every January when I travel with a group of 30 or 40 students and advisors—including, by the way, Chico State professors—and we build houses for poor farm workers in Baja California. 
            The team travels down as part of a mission trip from Bidwell Presbyterian, partnering with Youth With a Mission, housed at Richardson Springs. We build simple 20’ x 22’ wood houses that cost an unimaginable $3600… unimaginable for those workers many of whom pick strawberries in this area and who make about $8.50 (or 100 pesos) a day. Essentially we’re responding to Jesus’s words, especially his declaration that his own mission (according to Gospel of Luke) was to “announce good news to the poor.”
            Constructing those houses is very good news indeed. I’m thinking, for example of a single mother, Yannette, whose husband ran off and left her with two kids, one of whom is autistic. Having finished construction, our team of 11 twenty-somethings and me stood in a circle in the dirt in front of her new house and handed her keys.
The sun was gradually setting, and as dusk fell, she even told us God had spoken to her in a dream in which “soldiers” would come to provide for her. Not on that, but that we were her soldiers. Frankly, that was unusual, but I’ve been around the church enough to know these visions can be accurate. Then she added that we would have the strength of buffaloes. Even a bit stranger, but powerful and poignant. She opened the front door, and we all walked in. By the light of my cell phone, we unveiled a new bunk bed for her kids. They laughed—in and amongst the tears—laughed with disbelief that this was coming true.
            I’m not sure it was buffalo strength, but I did see these students rise to the occasion. I saw them at their best—serving without rancor, cooperating with one another, finding the joy in doing something really worthwhile for someone else. If I’ve got one thing I want young adults to learn as they form their values and character, it’s that we are made to give. And when we give—when we say yes to serving—we find how God created us. And there we find happiness. There we find life at its best.
            As I was flying from San Diego to Sacramento on one of these trips, I got into a conversation with a TV newscaster (a Chico State grad herself) who asked me why all these college students were on the plane. I told her that these students had just built houses for the poor in the Mexico. She became quite excited and told me, “You’ve got to get that story out!”
            I suppose that’s what I’m doing now. If I see the newscaster again, I’ll tell her I’m doing what I can to let people know that there’s a lot more to Chico’s college life than binge drinking, violence, and generally selfish hedonism…. I’ll even add the part about buffalo strength.

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