It is thanks to the late Stephen Velez-Confer and many others, some of whom are here today, that Vida Joven exists at all. The devoted and dedicated people from Los Angeles, and Orange County who had started the house by sheltering a number of kids who were incarcerated with their parents in prison, had run out of steam and fundraising ideas, and wanted to retire. The house was in danger of closing, until, as our former dean Scott Richardson said, “I sent a van load of bleeding heart clergy and sharp pencilled business people down to asses the situation. They came back saying, ‘after much prayer we have determined that we must take this on.’ ” So we did, and now we celebrate.
Today’s celebrations include a forum in which Beth Beall, our fantastic program director, has show
n us life at the home, through pictures and discussion, with a q&a session led by Silvia, our house director and chair of the Mexican board of directors. Sylvia’s niece, Marcia, will speak from the pulpit in a few minutes to tell us about the work of the past year, and where we hope to go from here. And Amy Dagman has worked all year with the children to produce a wonderful art show, located in the Fifth Avenue courtyard. The art is for sale. The proceeds from the sale go directly to the children of Vida Joven. Thank you, Amy! Finally, there will be great food, both at the forum and after the 10:30 service. So today we have a fiesta in honor of Vida Joven and its mission.
As mentioned, the mission of the home is to love, protect, and educate every child who comes to Vida Joven. Some have called Vida Joven, our flagship outreach project. For well over ten years now, we, and many others throughout the diocese and beyond, have worked to ensure its viability. It takes much work, prayer and a big investment in this special community to make it work.
And our lessons today focus upon the importance of community. Community and obedience.
In Exodus, we find the Israelites traveling through the desert, landing in Rephadim to camp. Repahdim is in what is now Saudi Arabia, so we can only imagine how hot and thirsty the campers were. Well, they complained to Moses, begging him to get them some water. They were so angry at Moses for taking them on such a journey that Moses feared for his life. Their sense of community was overcome by their physical needs, and they were on the brink of disobeying. They quarreled, and literally tested the Lord. Not obedient, and only feeling a sense of community in a negative way. Not good.
However, God responds. God graciously and faithfully responds not to the people's characteristic lack of faith, but to their characteristic human needs. Moreover, God does so in a manner that provides not simply for the physical need, but in a way that restores the community! Here, working through Moses, God causes water, which often rains down from heaven) to spring forth from the earth. By working through Moses, the community is restored even as the people's bodily needs are met And our reading from Philippians, shows us the very meaning of community, as the writer urges us to: “Do nothing from selfish ambition and conceit...” and “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”. (Philippians 25: 2,3). He goes on to say, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant..., being made in human likeness .” (25: 5-7)
So to share the mind of Christ is to let go of our self-interest and put others first. It’s to seek what’s best for all concerned in every situation. It’s to lose oneself in ￼pursuit of God’s kingdom and experience the fullness of God’s peace, joy and love.
As Paul says, “You have the strength of community, not only those who are mature in the faith, but children whose spontaneity is always insightful and refreshing”.
These lessons are learned every day at Vida Joven. The children there have the strength of community, and know that they need to put others first. I’m not saying they always do it, but they do know that In order to live successfully in community there, they must obey the rules and see to one another’s well being. Many of these kids aspire to a fine future.
Awhile back, at an informal get together with Beth Beall the older children were tossing around a volleyball while seated in a circle. They started talking about the future, and as they passed the ball back and forth, they told each other what they aspired to do in the future: veterinarian , photographer, chef, nurse, and many other prospective careers. No-one laughed or sneered at these aspirations. because these kids support each other, and live in their community as Paul has suggested. So we invite all of you to make a home in your hearts for these fantastic children.
Now, I would like to introduce Marcia Laborin, Sylvia’s niece, who will tell you more about the wonderful work of Vida Joven, but before I do, I ask you to remember:
- In Tijuana 6,000 children live on the street
- 80,000 do not attend school
- 400 used to live with their parents in prison
Vida Joven is changing those horrific numbers, one child at a time.
The Rev. Canon Joan Butler Ford
Exodus17:1-7; PS 25:1-9; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew21:23-32