I have lost count the number of times people have asked, “What does One21 have to do with global orphan care?” or “Why would a youth ministry initiative be a strategic part of Back2Back’s plan?” From its beginning, One21’s goal has been to resource emerging generations to live like Jesus with hearts set on forever. Through Back2Back, One21 has worked to empower students to serve orphans and vulnerable children. In the summer of 2015, God illustrated a colorful design of what He is doing among emerging generations, and just how perfectly One21 and Back2Back could be intertwined.
A cloud of colorful dust was rising from the crowd that was forming a conga line just outside the palapa hut. The band energetically led the crowd in songs of celebration and worship under the palapa. People were everywhere – dancing, throwing color powder, laughing and singing their hearts out. The community was a reflection of the Kingdom of God. A mini-retreat with mission trip participants, teenagers from children’s homes, Hope Program students and Back2Back staff was a reality. The story God has been writing was evidenced that week through the depth of community in Monterrey, Mexico under the palapa.
Flashback to 2011. A small group of nine One21 youth workers gathered under the palapa at the Back2Back Monterrey campus for a night of extended worship. It felt like a sacred moment. As we waited, prayed, sang and paced the floor of the palapa, an idea began to take hold. What if the resources were created to invest in teenagers from the children’s homes in Monterrey? That night, with the inception of this idea, the trajectory and mission of One21 changed. I had been sold on investing in emerging generations in the US and sending people and resources to Back2Back while supporting holistic orphan care from a distance. I couldn’t yet connect how One21 could BE that resource that would deepen spiritual and social development among students in two countries. The potential of this new vision was exciting, but just how it would be executed was still vague.
A few months later, Beth Guckenberger, Back2Back Co-Executive Director, shared the vision to integrate One21 programming into children’s homes in Mexico with the Monterrey site directors, Antonio and Priscilla Garcia. Little did she know, Antonio and Priscilla had concurrently felt the pull to take the Hope Program students on a spiritual retreat. The Garcias wanted to understand how One21 structured retreats. One21’s desire to cultivate relationships and impact students from two countries grew. By February 2012, the initial cross-cultural integration began as One21 led a spiritual retreat for teenagers we serve at children’s homes in Monterrey.
This brings us back to 2015, which marked the fourth One21 retreat in Monterrey. Until 2015, youth retreats in Monterrey and Ohio reflected each other in content and influence, with a focus on spiritual and social development, but they were held in respective countries. At each retreat, we shared stories of how God was speaking to students in other places around the world. It had seemed far-fetched to think the students from Ohio and Mexico could celebrate what God was doing among their generation together on the same soil.
But here we were, back at the palapa in Monterrey four years later. However, this time, instead of an intimate gathering of nine, there were over 150 people: students from One21 churches, teens from local children’s homes, students from the Hope Program and a slew of Back2Back staff and interns.
“The night of worship with One21 kids from Monterrey and the U.S. showed me the Kingdom of God in a very real way. Most of the time we talk about the Kingdom with metaphors and other conceptual language. But in Monterrey, I saw it break out in ways I could touch,” shared Stew Sheckler, a student from BeaverCreek Christian Church in Ohio.
We couldn’t fit all in the palapa that night. Scattered throughout the adjacent field, we celebrated the name of Jesus with dancing, shouts of joy, singing and a lot of colored powder. Each student worshipped as they threw color into the air in celebration. The colorful expression reflected the creativity of God. Our God knit together an adventure that drew His children together. It is the desire of One21 to help emerging generations live like Jesus by inviting students into an experience of real community. That night, under the palapa and in the midst of clouds of color, kids witnessed firsthand the enormity and beauty of our God.