La Ruta: The Gift of 2012.

January 15, 2013

2012 was a difficult year for youth ministry at Mi Esperanza. For me personally, it was frustrating to see a promising group of mildly excited (which seems to be the optimistic norm—Bieber fever aside) teenagers dwindle down to a bare bones lackadaisical attendance. Towards the latter months of the year, a dismal average of just two or three were showing up on Saturdays. This drop mirrored the unfortunate regressive pattern of leaders as well.

It was not simply about the numbers either. Kids, many of whom were displaying rapid growth, started falling out of our contact and defaulting instead to apathy or worse, destructive behaviors, despite my best efforts to keep in touch.

Youth group was such the foreign concept to these kids to begin with, I was aware it would be an uphill battle. But pouring blood, sweat, and sometimes tears week in and week out, and seeing little fruit if not big steps taken backwards can be disheartening in spite of that predetermined knowledge. Not to mention, adolescent ministry is in no way a natural strength of mine, so this year was certainly a stretch and a glimpse of learning to love those who can be difficult to love.

To be honest, by year end, I went in each week expecting the worst, if anything at all. Every time I made any plans or dared to envision something better for the week’s objectives, leadership and ministry hiccups and cultural norms would disrupt everything and leave me entirely disheartened.

For one, I set out this year to revamp or create, really, the role of Game Master. I took it upon myself to come up with innovative and engaging games that would involve the teenagers and show them activities that could actually be enjoyable. For months, the kids hated me and that treacherous half an hour of “fun.” Why the F (to use inappropriate young people lingo) was this crazy American girl forcing the group to engage in ice breakers requiring critical thinking or even worse, orders to pass a grapefruit chin to chin without hands? But though it frustrated me that so many would refuse to participate in even the most innocuous of games, I kept at it, concocting relays and activities ever more embarrassing than the last.

Slowly, they started warming up to the concept of organized group games, and each week, another individual would dare join in. On one particular instance, I noticed the entire group enthusiastically competing in the impromptu Around the World basketball game I’d taught them and set up with a rubber ball and a wicker basket. We played it every week for two months, which they initiated! Occasionally, even a too-cool-for-school dude would assent to shovel cereal down his throat while blindfolded or scream like a little girl in the name of winning, and dare I say, enjoy themselves while doing so. Talk about internal happy dances.

It was a yearlong journey of ups and downs with a predominant predilection for less than positive results. When it came time to plan our big year-end bash before adjourning for summer break, I was excited about what I had on tap but expected nothing.

And then I got the surprise of my life. Everything went according to plan with participation success far surpassing even my wildest dreams.

I began the afternoon with a holiday-themed activity and challenged the kids to create a nativity scene using two rolls of bread. Much to my delight, the most unruly, non-participatory teenage rascal not only willing jumped in, he got so involved with his project (that may have included interpretive elements like magic carpets and headless turtles), he ended up taking home the prize! Never did I think I’d live to see the day as he proudly paraded his chocolate bar of a trophy. A crackly race of unraveling tape balls filled with treats followed as teens competitively tore at the sticky tape and good-natured trash talk wound about the table. Silly string attacks and sugar cookie decorating brought on ever more laughter and camaraderie.

And then came 2012’s crown glory: the first ever La Ruta White Elephant gift exchange. I had explained the rules the previous week and strongly suggested everyone bring a small wrapped item. Again, I expected this endeavor to complete fall through, but as alluded to previously, everyone was mysteriously in top form and each little individual showed up with a package to contribute to the pile. I have never been more proud or more astonished.

I think in the end, I was left with a pencil pouch and a packet of dried out markers, hardly a brag-worthy stash of loot. Oh, but the joy and experience of seeing an entire group of my Paraguayan teenagers happily, actively involved and having fun…easily one of 2012’s best gifts.

Thank you, Jesus.

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2 Responses to “La Ruta: The Gift of 2012.”

  1. Julie Says:

    This made me happy. What a great ending.


  2. […] used to drive me CRAZY when La Ruta was still happening. He is the quintessential teenage rascal, aka: pain in the derriere. For some […]


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