A Beautifully Expanding Vision

by Sandra Soto-Grondona

A year and a half ago, starting a Spanish service at church was one of CCSM’s wild visions. With the help of Jorge, some of us decided to join this dream and became part of the Latino Ministry Team (LMT). Little by little, the Spanish services, known as the Wednesday Gatherings (WG), began to see a consistent amount of growth, and were also consistently filled with hope, faith, and community, all around shared meals. The WG always end with dinner cooked in collaboration, reinforcing the meaning of community. Wednesday evenings have also packed the rooms with children and laughter. Some of us have experienced a bit of these kids’ tireless vitality through fun games and quests. One of the LMT’s hopes has been that the children and youth from the WG would become more involved in our general community events despite cultural differences. Well, it seems that time arrived sooner than expected.

This summer, children and youth from the WG and Sunday services went together to Camp Cazadero summer camp, near the Russian River. From the WG, about five elementary school children, eight in middle school and one high schooler participated, along with a couple of adults. From the Sunday service, about twelve children and youth met and shared adventures with those from the WG for the first time. For many from the WG, camping or being away in nature was a delightful first-time experience; many of them shared their unforgettable experiences with me. I met with kids both before and after camp, trying to capture memories of their participation while it was fresh in their minds and hearts.

Two sisters, Kimberly (12) and Ashley (13) spoke with me before they left, and I asked if they had ever stayed overnight without their parents. Ashley said that the only time was when her little sister had surgery and they’d had to stay with relatives for a few days while her parents were at the hospital. I asked if they had specific hopes for the camp, and they told me they didn’t know what to expect, but they knew it would probably be very fun! She also told me she had never slept in a sleeping bag.

Jonathan (12) told me he hoped for two things: to eat a lot of marshmallows and meet other boys his age. “And staying away from my parents won’t be a big deal!” Kenneth (12) felt conflicting feelings before camp. He said he felt “happy and not happy at the same time.” Lesly (9) told me she did not know what to expect. But she quietly added “Perhaps… I will learn more about God.” She confided that she had never attended a summer camp, but she had a book which described one in detail.

After camp, I encountered some of the children again and I smiled as I listened to their accounts. The sisters and Jonathan were so happy to have met many new friends, such as Jacob, Taylor, Mercy, Addy and Ainsley, and more. When I met them, the WG kids were making art with CCSM friends. They were all laughing together and began telling me bits and pieces of their camp experience in both Spanish and English. I learned that Jonathan had had a stomach ache, and I wondered if it was because of too many marshmallows or homesickness.

Many of the younger children told me they loved watching stars at night; they also spoke of some anxiety. Lesly told me that camp was more fun than she could ever had imagined, but she was a bit homesick. What Neysin (10) liked the most was the big swimming pool. He said the best happened his last day, because he was thrilled to see a snake! And while Kevin (8) had slept in a bunk bed, with dad on the top bunk, and got to eat the head of a turtle-shaped bread, he also complained of getting a knee scratch. Perhaps their stories can be summarized by the legendary traveler Anthony Bourdain: Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

It seems that these summer memories comprise a chapter of the WG’s own journey, revealing its future potential and inviting us all to foster visions, dreams and expectations. I hope these memories will be impressed in the hearts of the children and youth for a long time to come, and that they continue making more friends as the WG and Sunday services continue to be one faith community together, sharing experiences, service, and spiritual development on our eclectic paths to God.

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