‘I didn't know it would be such an amazing life experience for me.” The “it” that Jessie Tamayo referred to was a two-week summer adventure of international missions, dynamic worship and awesome fellowship made possible for 14 Latino youth, young adults and their leaders through the Latino Network of Virginia Baptists.
As one of those leaders, I witnessed God do some amazing things as we “dove deeper” into our Christian service and faith.
Our group left Dulles Airport (and some anxious parents!) for Budapest, Hungary, on July 21 and returned home on Aug. 4. Team members (and their churches) were: Julieta Ceballos and Oscar Rios (Comunidad Bautista Hispana, Falls Church); Keyla Guerrero and Daniela Jorge (Iglesia Bautista Shalom, Herndon); Katherine and Larry Jimenez (First Baptist Church, Clarendon); Keiry Martinez, Artemia Tamayo, Jessie Tamayo and Carlos Torrico (Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, Alexandria); Pedro Sanchez (Iglesia Bautista, Mappsville); and Greg, Sue and Jason Smith (Fredericksburg Baptist Church). Larry Jimenez served as team pastor, and Artemia Tamayo and Jason Smith were the missions project co-coordinators.
Our mission: to love and serve Roma or Romany (gypsy) children in Berencs and Kekcse, Hungary, and then join over 6,300 Baptist youth from around the world in Leipzig, Germany, for the 15th Baptist Youth World Conference.
For six days in Hungary, we worked with Ralph and Tammy Stocks, Virginia Baptist Kingdom Advance ambassadors and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving among the Romany people. Four Coperative Baptist Fellowship “student. go” summer missionaries assisted us, and two translators who patiently taught us some simple Hungarian phrases made our work possible.
First in Berencs in the morning with about 35 children, then in Kekcse with 80 children or more in the afternoon, our team shared God's love in song, crafts, drama, Bible stories and games. We taught about Noah, the Prodigal Son, blind Bartimaeus, and other Bible stories, and sang songs in English, Spanish and Hungarian.
Sometimes we learned a lot more than we taught. “We learn[ed] that God's love is found in a sincere kid's smile, in a shy thank you or in a deep hug,” said Larry Jimenez. “We learn[ed] that simple things can make the difference. We learn[ed] that money cannot buy a child's heart, and that all we need is Jesus' grace to start [experiencing] greater things that are yet to be done.”
Added Jason Smith: “I feel like I really learned that the Roma children are just in need of someone to love them. Just being there with the kids, hugging on them and playing with them was the one thing that they needed most and I feel blessed for their impact on my life as well.”
Yet when we left Hungary on July 29, our “Romany experience” had only just begun! For our two-day bus ride to Leipzig, we joined a choir of 28 Romany youth from the Gandhi School in Pecs, led by CBF field personnel Glen and Clista Adkins. The choir was invited to sing traditional songs at several of the conference venues.
And again, God did some amazing things! Immediately Latino and Romany youth mixed with each other on the bus to form fast friendships forged by music, warm smiles and, as Katherine Jimenez put it, “the language of Christ's love.” At the conference, the Latino and Romany youth continued their friendship, with the Latino youth even becoming the Romany choir's boisterous “fan club” at each of their performances!
Yet even after all this, God still had so much in store for us in Leipzig at the Baptist youth conference. From July 30 through Aug. 3, we truly did live the conference theme and “dive deeper” into our Christian life as we studied the Bible, heard stories from other believers and felt God's power and presence. The thrill of worshipping with youth from 89 countries in the world was overwhelming. “I could just feel the Holy Spirit working in me,” said Daniela Jorge.
Artemia Tamyo shared how God worked in her life that week. “The last thing you did during each large group session was sing a worship song that had to do with what the Bible story and guest speaker was talking about, which is great …. I loved it.
“During one session, a particular song that touched me dearly was ‘God of this City,' ” she continued. “We had left Virginia thinking of Philippians 1:6, and that song would continually say, ‘There is none like our God; greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city ….' And these things are not things that God does miraculously, but these things happen because he places us at the right time to do the right thing if we have (whether we know it or not) the right skill to do whatever it is that he wants us to do.
“Every time I heard that song, I could never sing along with the worship leaders or the crowd. I have seen God at work and to think that there are still ‘greater things yet to come, greater things still to be done' in my city is humbling, exciting and even scary. Yet,” Artemia concluded, “I feel challenged, honored and blessed to know that God is doing great things in my lifetime.”
Our team is grateful to the organizations that provided funding for our trip through the Latino Network, including: Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia; John Leland Center for Theological Studies; LUCHA Ministries; Northstar Church Network; Virginia Baptist Foundation; Virginia Baptist Mission Board; and Woman's Missionary Union of Virginia.
By God's grace, we pray other opportunities through the Latino Network are possible. As Katherine and Larry Jimenez state, “We would love to participate in another missions trip, maybe going back to our own countries. One thing we know, that we are open to do what Jesus prepares for us because that is always the best alternative.”