LANCASTER, Pa. — At Rivers Edge Fellowship in Lancaster City, children from Nepali refugee backgrounds danced to worship songs with members of Weaverland Mennonite Church’s youth group. Then the group sat together on the floor.
“What points have we learned this week?” Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) intern Zachary Hummel asked the group. Different children chimed in.
“God is for me!” “God is with me!” “God made me!” “God will always love me!”
This was a scene from EMM’s Kingdom Teams, a summer program that gives local church youth groups the chance to spend a week with refugee children and youth from Lancaster.
This summer, two youth groups on Kingdom Teams hosted Vacation Bible School (VBS) for refugee and neighborhood children, while another worked with Leap into Language — a summer language intensive run through a partnership between IU13, the School District of Lancaster, and EMM — to play games and practice English with refugee youth.
Before her Kingdom Team week began, Weaverland Mennonite Church youth group member Alarie Hurst, 14, wasn’t sure what it would be like to help with a VBS for refugee children.
“I was nervous that they might not speak too much English, and I was nervous about some of the cultural differences,” she said.
But Hurst’s worries disappeared once the week began, and she described the children as “so much fun.” She was excited to see one child come out of his shell, even asking her to pray with him.
Heera Upreti, 18, came from Nepal to Lancaster as a refugee seven years ago. This summer, Upreti, a member of Rivers Edge Fellowship, participated on a Kingdom Team with Weaverland Mennonite Church’s youth group.
She said the activities at VBS were meant to show the children that “God is with them, for them, and no one can be against them.”
Joel, 9, said the best lesson he learned at VBS was that “whenever you’re afraid, God will be with you.” (Last name withheld to protect privacy.)
In addition to engaging with refugees, youth on Kingdom Teams also live at Immerse International, a Millersville, Pa., residence life experience and English-language institute for international students, immigrants, and refugees, with Christian educators and partially supported by local churches. There they learn principles of discipleship each morning.
“The Kingdom Team program is a crucial part of the mission God has given to EMM to cross cultures, engage the world, and make disciples,” said Troy Landis, EMM discipleship coach. “We are excited to see these young people growing as disciples and moving out in God’s mission of transformation.”
Zachary Hummel, 22, is leading this summer’s Kingdom Teams along with three other EMM mission interns. He said the purpose of Kingdom Team outreach is twofold.
Firstly, he said, Kingdom Teams show refugee children and youth that “there are people in Lancaster who desire to be with them and find common ground.” Secondly, giving local youth groups the opportunity for personal interaction with refugees breaks down any potential stigma around the word “refugee.”
“Youth groups who come from Lancaster get a massively cross-cultural experience in their own backyard,” said Hummel. “After Kingdom Teams, it’s easy for students in Lancaster to continue building those relationships.”
“It’s not a jump in, jump out kind of thing,” Hummel continued. “Youth can come away saying, ‘Now I know my surroundings, and I can be more proactive in my own community.’”
Youth groups interested in participating in 2018 summer Kingdom Teams can learn more here.