Smiths help Latino youths connect with parents by

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Coming from different schools and neighborhoods, Latino immigrant youth connect through LUCHA's youth ministry. Photo courtesy of the Smiths

By Linda Brinson, CBF Communications

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

 

ATLANTA – Call her Rosa. She came to the United States with her parents when she was a baby. Her father had proper immigration papers, but Rosa and her mother did not. Two more children were born to the family, and they were U.S. citizens. But it took Rosa and her mother approximately 12 years to secure legal status. As a high-school student, she had begun to lose hope, and it affected her behavior.

As a teenager, Rosa did gain legal status, and she also got involved with LUCHA Ministries (Latinos United through Christ in Brotherhood and Support), a nonprofit in the Fredericksburg, Va., area directed by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Greg and Sue Smith. Rosa recently shared her story with a group of LUCHA teens after they prepared a grant proposal to a local foundation for a summer program for Latino middle- and high-school students.

Rosa said when she was finally able to visit Mexico, she better understood her parents and the sacrifices they had made. When she saw how happy her father was to see her grandfather, she realized he had given up time with his own parents. And her father told her how he had initially entered the United States by wading a river and running barefoot across a thorny bank. As he ran, he thought his feet felt wet because of the river; when he stopped he realized they were bleeding.

Having Rosa and her peers present the grant proposal is one way that LUCHA helps children of Latino immigrant families learn skills for success. The Smiths said that setting young Latino people on a productive path into the future has become a primary focus of their ministry.

After learning about her family’s story, Rosa said she is now determined to take advantage of the opportunities available to her, and she hopes to attend college or join the Air Force.

The Smiths’ youth ministry evolved from working with adults through efforts such LUCHA’s food pantry, a ministry they undertake with partner churches. The Smiths believe that it’s important to deal with immediate needs such as hunger, but it’s also important to engage in long-term efforts that might reduce the need for emergency help when today’s Latino adolescents are adults.

“The youth are suffering the same human needs, but the kids are not getting the support they need to grow up to become productive citizens,” said Sue Smith, a native of Carthage, Ark., and graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Va., a Fellowship partner. 

Traditionally, Latino parents keep their children close to home, so the Smiths have worked to gain parents’ trust. They build relationships with families and make available for the children activities such as lock-ins, a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., college visits and service programs such as a “Rights and Responsibilities Day” at a hospital, in which they encouraged teens to act as translators and advocates for their parents.

“This is not all about having fun and playing games,” Smith said. “We are helping these kids deal with tough issues of racism, power and discrimination. We teach them about responsibility.”

The Smiths, graduates of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., have also organized summer programs to help youth gain an understanding of their parents, the culture they came from, the culture they live in and what they can do to bridge the gaps. Unlike Rosa, most Latino youth do not have the opportunity to visit their parents’ home country and be exposed to its culture.

This summer’s emphasis will be on “cultural, personal and spiritual dignity.” For the teens, the highlight of the summer program for the past two years has been their participation in community service, serving meals to the homeless. This year, the Smiths will take 12 students to a Passport Inc. missions camp to engage in hands-on mission projects as well as to explore the motivation behind Christian service and mission.

To learn about partnership opportunities with the Smiths, including financial and prayer support or serving in Virginia, contact Chris Boltin at cboltin@thefellowship.info or (800) 352-8741.

CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.