If you had visited Cesar Chavez field for the first week of our summer sports camp you would have seen 13 Oklahomans sporting matching jackets with E.P.A. in bold letters printed on the back. This team was such a blessing both to RYAA and the community as they ran a week long soccer and basketball camp for over 84 youth. The mornings allowed them to gain training on Christian community development, working with difficult kids, and other topics. The afternoons allowed them to apply that training. The leader of the group Michael Terwilliger (Twiggs) talked to me about the teams’ experience in East Palo Alto.
What were your goals in coming here?
We had a few goals in coming here. One was to join Jesus and the people that He is using in this subcultural context to see biblical mission lived out. In order to do that we would try to encourage the Pekarys and other Jesus followers to continue in reaching the lost, discipling the new believers and sending out the maturing disciples with the message of the Gospel to impact individuals, homes, communities and the world.
What were some of the most memorable moments of this trip?
One memorable moment was the night the student team had a 10:00pm Starbucks craving and went out to a local shop. Upon finishing their drinks they felt it appropriate to make a tunnel of hands and arms and make any passers by use the tunnel as they were cheered for by our team. One of the pedestrians was Gene. Gene had just recently returned from deployment and was now a homeless vet bound to a wheelchair. After telling us that he was a practicing Muslim, we had all sorts of non-religious conversation with him and at the end of our time Gene asked us(told us) to pray for him. Without a moment passing the team surrounded him and placed their hands on him and began to pray. At the end of the prayer Gene asked us if we would do him a favor and take him to church with us in the morning. We agreed. Early the next morning we picked him up for church and was a little late getting there. We ended up sitting center isle last row. The message was on the rich man and Lazarus. At the end of the message when all were asked to stand, two of our team remained seated next to Gene who demanded that they stood up. Putting on his gloves he said that the two needed to stand because he was going forward to give his life to Jesus and walk away from being a Muslim. It was an incredible moment.
What encouragement would you give to other people who might want to volunteer with us?
I would tell them that it is a great place where they can live with and serve a predominately Latino group of youth and families under the umbrella of a family who has been doing this type of ministry for over 20 years. They also will be able to work alongside the next generation of disciplers already in place sharing the gospel with youth and families of EPA. Training sessions that they provide allow for some fresh perspective on what mission looks like and how it works in small communities.
You are the first youth group I have ever heard of, who has come on a mission trip to East Palo Alto. Most of this is probably due to the reputation that East Palo Alto has as a violent city. Why did this not deter you?
We try to model what it looks like to “go” to our youth here in Tulsa. We operate from a definition of mission that offers a challenge, adventure and reward that we encourage the youth to pray about. We were not deterred, because all who went on this trip sensed the Spirit of our Lord leading them.
How have you seen members of your team grow and learn from this experience?
Team members have grown in their understanding of what their relationship with the Lord looks like and how and when they “need” Him. They have grown in their relationship with other team mates by living in close quarters together, working with a common goal and purpose, and serving each other and the community they have been called to. They have learned what it looks like to relocate and “live among the people” they are called to serve and point towards Jesus.
What are some of the challenges that your team faced?
Some of the challenges were exercising discernment in certain situations that dealt with “giving” to those in need. They had time to discuss and practice and see things put into practice pertaining to how best to help people who have needs. Another area of challenge was how to become enmeshed with another team of leaders in a personal healthy unified way and not just operate together but in autonomous teams. These were some challenges that after our debrief have proven to be beneficial to their growth in understanding more of the Kingdom of God and their place in it.
A couple weeks after this interview, I talked again with Twiggs. He was happy to report that the youth who went on the trip have begun to see their own communities with completely new eyes. They now see that opportunities to serve the Lord and help the needy are all around them. The boys in the group have recently started playing basketball every week with some guys at a neighborhood park with the intention of sharing their faith and discipling them. The girls from the group are going to be juniors next year, and are already making plans to befriend and disciple underclassmen at their High Schools.