A shout-out to Chuck Winter for helping us spot this article in the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic:
by Brandon Riel
Imagine a summer of riding on a non-air-conditioned blue bus through the hot and humid climate characteristic to the East Coast, stopping to put on park programs for local children, helping with church maintenance, encouraging existing Christians, and seeking out the lost to witness your faith.
Would you do it?
That’s how 90 teenagers — including 17-year-old Toppenish resident Hannah Balash, Jenny Jones of Sunnyside and Lindsey Johnson of Harrah, both 21, and I — spent the summer of 2007.
What kind of program would provoke us to do such a thing with our precious few months of freedom?
Operation Barnabas derived its name from the Bible verses of Acts 11:23-24. The name “Barnabas” literally means “Son of Encouragement.”
This connotation ties directly into the four major goals of the program: to have a heart for God, to encourage believers, to seek out and bring God’s lost children to a point of genuine faith, and to consider whether it is God’s will that student participants pursue full-time vocational ministry.
These were the goals and standards that 90 teens from across the United States lived and breathed for two months of our lives.
Operation Barnabas is a seven-week ministry trip provided for born-again, teenage believers in Jesus Christ who want to experience God and learn how to share their faith. The coordinators of the trip, Timothy Kurtaneck and Ed Lewis, put teens through an intensive orientation in which they are not only given the tools and knowledge to effectively minister, but are taught programs including puppetry, skits, clowning, choir and pantomimes. These activities serve as windows to opening up the issue of the gospel.
But it doesn’t stop there. Teens also are taught how to minister through smaller ways, such as manual labor projects or initiating a conversation with a complete stranger.
The driving force behind this program is an organization known as CE National. Based in Winona Lake, Ind., CE stands for “church effectiveness,” and is a partner organization with the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.
CE National, according to its Web site, www.cenational.org, is “about training, ministry experiences, and resources for individuals and local churches.” Operation Barnabas, or OB as it is often abbreviated, is one such ministry experience. It not only provides young people with the desire to serve others, but, as stated on the Web site, “these experiences help people spend time with God, reach out to others, move out of their comfort zones, and develop a heart for full-time ministry.”
Departing from our comfort zones was definitely part of this ministry experience. To begin with, all of the teens, ranging from 15 to 18, had to say goodbye to our families and friends for two months. For many of us, including Balash and me, this was the first time we had been away from home for such an extended period of time.
We were split into three teams of 30 students and six adult mentors we had previously never met. Then, just when we all began feeling a little more at home, we were moved from our 10-day orientation and sent out into our various mission fields, as far away as Pennsylvania and Mississippi.
But the discomfort didn’t end there. In fact, some of us never became completely comfortable running around clowning for children, or walking up to some stranger on the street and carrying a conversation with him or her about something so intimate and personal as spirituality.
“It was scary at first,” Balash says. “But after a while it becomes routine.”
I began the journey for this trip almost one year ago. I was asked to fill out an eight-page application that included teacher, pastor and family-friend recommendation forms, and submitted it to the CE National offices by last November. I was informed of my acceptance in December, and began raising the $2,800 necessary for participation.
Balash, however, had a different story: “I had been encouraged to think and pray about it, but decided not to go at first,” she says.
She later reconsidered, e-mailed CE National an application after the deadline, and was still accepted. But the issue of money remained. Both Balash and I found tremendous support in our home churches, Harrah Grace Brethren and Toppenish Grace Brethren, which paid nearly the entire tuition on our behalf.
Looking back on it, I’m sure this has been one of the best experiences of my life. I set out hoping to reach a closeness and dedication to God that I had previously never felt before. What I returned with was so much more. Not only did I become closer with God, I developed a passion for reading his word, reaching out to the lost, and enacting the Lord’s will in my life.
Balash came away with a similar experience.
“I think the biggest thing I gained was probably growing closer to God and developing a passion for continual growth through the Word and prayer,” she says.
Like her, I have considered enrolling in OB next summer. But it not a normal occurrence for a student to participate in this program more than once. As stated in the handbook, “Barnabas is all about a training experience to prepare you for a ministry back home.”
Really, Operation Barnabas is a “step in the process.” The program itself shouldn’t be our goal.
The true goal for all of us should be taking what we learned this summer and bringing it home so we can continue to be in God’s will and bless those who so generously supported us back home.
* Brandon Riel is a senior at Riverside Christian School in Yakima. He is a writer for Unleashed, the weekly teen section of the Yakima Herald-Republic that appears each Tuesday.