LEBANON, Pa. — After one very long day on the road, having traveled more than 900 miles, the record-setting youth group from Kalona (Iowa) Mennonite Church arrived in Lebanon on Sunday, July 28.
The record this youth group set: traveling the farthest distance to participate in an Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) Kingdom Team (K-Team) experience.
The K-Team program provided a unique mission experience for the youth group, which goes by the common moniker, Mennonite Youth Fellowship (MYF).
Erica Hostetler, one of the youth group’s leaders, described that this week-long encounter has been different than other service trips the youth have taken.
“It’s a little scary,” explained the Kalona high-school senior, Katelyn Lehman. “It’s easier to paint walls.” Lehman elaborated on how some other service trips did not require as much relational interaction, but she shared that this experience has challenged her in a positive way.
Lehman appreciated the integrated learning approach to K-Teams: “You get to learn … then you get to apply it.” She gave the example of studying the Fruit of the Spirit during a discipleship session, and then being able to practice patience and kindness during the daily outreach experience.
EMM K-Teams are focused on a balanced approach to discipleship and outreach. Participants began each day through group Bible study at nearby Camp Barachel, where they had been staying, and traveled into the city to spend four hours each day helping to lead a summer program at the South Sixth Street Park.
Through interactive and engaging discipleship sessions, K-Team participants learn and grow together as a group and individually in their journeys with Christ.
In addition to these discipleship sessions, participants engage in prayer walks, cultural learning experiences, team-building experiences, and outreach.
This was the first time that the Kalona youth participated with a K-Team, and it was also the first time that EMM has offered a K-Team experience in Lebanon.
While EMM has partnered with a number of community organizations in Lancaster City, Pa., for the K-Teams program over the last several years, the demand for the program necessitated expanding to the location of Lebanon.
Integral to making this connection was Michael Clancy, who serves as an EMM worker serving in Lebanon, and pastors an LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) congregation called Freedom in Christ Fellowship, also in the city.
As Kingdom Team Director Krista Martin was responding to a growing list of churches interested in participating in the program, she began exploring an invitation that Clancy had posed for the program to work in his city.
“As a field worker for EMM in the city of Lebanon, I thought it would be great to see K-Teams here in my city,” said Clancy.
“I love when ministry connects, and seeing what was happening in Lancaster with K-Teams really excited me,” Clancy elaborated. “This is actually something I started working on right away, and knowing that Sheena Stoner really has a desire for more church involvement with the Sixth Street Camp, I saw a great opportunity for K-Teams to come to Lebanon.”
Clancy connected EMM with Stoner, who helps to coordinate a number of groups that lead various weeks of a summer camp program at the South Sixth Street Park.
“The playground camp initially started in the 1940s and has continued off and on since then,” said Stoner. “The heart behind this program is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children to be in throughout the summer.”
The park is tucked away in a relatively quiet neighborhood on the east side of Lebanon. Despite the fact that this park is just slightly under one acre in size, there was a lot of activity, from uproarious parachute games to quieter crafts at picnic tables.
Martin explained that a number of local churches and organizations provide programming for different weeks of the camp. Typically, different organizations will lead a week of programming for the camp, while other organizations might lead several weeks of programming.
EMM K-Teams led two weeks during this summer — one with the Kalona youth and another with the K-Team summer staff. During the week that the Kalona youth were leading activities for the camp, there were about 30 to 40 community children engaged with the program.
Due to the fact that this was EMM’s first time being involved in the camp, some of the kids from the neighborhood gave helpful pointers to the leaders. “The kids were great at giving us instructions,” said Martin.
The camp is free to children 6 to 12 years old, with a daily lunch provided by the Lebanon School District, also at no cost to the attendees.
While eating lunch with some of the children, Katrina Shenk, K-Team summer staff member, explained that there are a lot of activities for kids to engage with at the camp. Shenk recalled her favorite parts of the week being the “one-on-one interactions” and “getting to know the kids.”
Hostetler, who also served on several assignments with EMM, shared that the youth have “done a great job engaging with the kids.”
One of the goals of K-Teams is to provide opportunities for youth to lead activities that build community and evidence the love of Christ. The Kalona Mennonite Youth Fellowship ventured out on this unknown K-Teams experience and found meaningful ways to exemplify the love of Christ in Lebanon.