It took just one week at a United Methodist retreat for 33 young strangers, unaccompanied minors who had reached the United States from as far away as Guatemala, El Salvador, & Honduras, to become a beloved community who went home knowing that they are not alone.
The No Estan Solos Retreat, June 28-July 3, 2015, was a time of sharing a common story, restoration, and hope; a project of the California-Pacific Conference’s “You Are Not Alone” Migrant Children’s Program which is supported by a $325,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The retreat included inspiring talks from United Methodist leaders, small group time for reflection and sharing, and then, of course, a whole lot of recreation. The young people played in the swimming pool, competed in ball games, and enjoyed delicious food. All of them learned about banana boats and smores for the first time in their life.
On the way home, one youth could be heard saying, “this has been the best week of my life!”
The core of the retreat was the healing community that was nurtured in their time together. Even as the young people, one as young as nine years old, shared their stories of teens gunned down by gang members, traumatic encounters with coyotes and border patrol, and being reunited with parents that they had not seen in years, they also shared a sense of hope for a brighter future.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño was one of the speakers for the retreat, sharing with the young people that their stories were those of courage. She spent most of a day with the campers and counselors and it was clear that they were inspired and encouraged by her words, her listening ear, and her compassionate presence.
This was the California-Pacific Conference vision coming to life as campers and counselors experienced together, in very real ways, what it can mean to inspire the world as passionate followers of Jesus Christ so all may experience God’s life-giving love. In addition to four Conference Staff Directors, 17 volunteers from numerous local churches and community organizations formed a team of open hearts, minds, and hands in leading a successful retreat.
Next steps in the You Are Not Alone Program included the opening of three Immigrant Welcome Centers at Claremont United Methodist Church, North Hills United Methodist Mission in the San Fernando Valley, and St John’s United Methodist Church in Watts. This past weekend, special events included a Family Day (Claremont and North Hills) and a Backpack Giveaway (Watts).
All who are called to be involved in this key Cal-Pac initiative are invited to learn more about the circumstances that precipitate such migration, donate financially, as well as support upcoming events by participating as volunteers. More information about such opportunities are available at www.calpacumc.org/youarenotalone