It has been a few weeks since I returned from Project Compassion, the annual Youth Compass service project. The week was filled with joy, pain, and exhaustion. There were over 50 high school students and adults in our group. The students who came attend schools in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands, but make up a sample of the world in their passports and experiences. Most of us spent 24 hours riding a bus to Romania to serve the Roma people.
The Project Compassion week has two pieces: serve the poor and introduce high school students to Jesus. I had an incredible time serving alongside my high school friends. We worked hard during the day and in the evening had “club” with lots of laughing, dancing, singing and listening. Our speaker, Mason Rutledge, worked alongside kids during the day and shared the news of Christ’s great love and full life with the room full of teens every evening.
We worked with Networks Romania in two different locations: a camp in Taut (used for reaching out to those in the community) and in the Roma community itself near Siria. We accomplished a lot during our time by working on projects that will provide life-giving food, water and shelter.
There were some incredible challenges throughout the week, the least of which were physical exhaustion and an overdose of bread and nutella for breakfast each morning.
On morning four we had our leader meeting, just like every other morning. Mason told us that he would be sharing that night about sin being a condition of our heart and our separation from God. Having been to a few camps, I know that there can be challenges as kids process that information and I felt myself mentally preparing to deal with anything that arose.
Our kids working in the community that day witnessed two disturbing events: one Roma child strangling a puppy and another child killing a puppy with a large hammer. In an effort to address what had happened with the whole group, one of the Networks staff shared why they work with the Roma people. I’ll paraphrase: In this community there are some really good people and really bad people. People who steal, who abuse and people who mistreat animals. We work with the Roma, not because they are good (moral) people, or they deserve to be helped, but because Christ has called us to love them, clothe them and feed them.
I found myself being challenged, knowing I was going back into that community to serve these people. I was being asked to show love to some who seemed unlovable. It’s easy to say we’re no better than someone else, that we’re all sinners, far from perfect, some of us “perfectly forgiven” (or whatever Christian bumper sticker you’d like to quote), but to realize that God extends His love and grace unconditionally — and that he wants to do it through us — isn’t easy. God’s love and grace is poured out equally upon me and a young boy with a hammer.
Mason shared that night about our broken world and over the next couple of days about how God is rescuing us from that brokenness. Kids responded, continued to serve, and encountered Jesus through the Networks staff and other leaders who daily extend the same love and grace that God extends to each one of us. At the end of the week some kids started a new life with Christ, and all kids were drawn nearer to Him.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8