I have a dream

Who am I? My name is Claire and I am part of an organisation called Fusion. Ah yes, you work with university students!! No, not that Fusion, we are Fusion Youth and Community, we’ve been going for about 50 years…..

We are a registered charity working with disadvantaged children and young people to see them increasingly realise their potential for a positive, hope filled life. We are holistic in our approach and to this end we intentionally work with their networks – families, schools, the whole neighbourhood and society at large – facilitating a commitment to and expressions of healthy community based on the values of justice, mercy and compassion. We network with local councils, churches, the police, businesses and other stakeholders who share our goals.  Our Christian faith is our motivation and we believe that the core values of our faith (many of which are shared by a number of other faiths) hold the key to a healthy, purposeful life as individuals, communities and a whole society.

Through our nations chequered history there has often risen a voice for justice for the oppressed, care and provision for the poor and a challenge to ‘do the right thing’. Each time the nation has responded and society has changed, some of those changes have been written deep into our psyche. (consider for a moment that there was a time in our history when a small group of people had to engage in a long and dirty political battle to increase the minimum age at which a child was permitted to work in the coal mines from 4 to 10; today the care and protection of our children is one of our highest values as a nation.) Though at times it sleeps, deep within us is a formidable giant that lives for justice with mercy and is motivated by compassion. When this part awakens, we realise that we were born to change the world and not just to take up space; hope comes to life and the reason for our existence is renewed.

Our dream, my dream, is that the giant will re-awaken and every child, young person and adult we work with, indeed every community, and even our nation discovers their place in changing the world.

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want to be inspired?

Hi, this week i posted two new links on my blog, i’d love you to have a look if you havent already. You’ll find them on the left under ‘newsletters’. the first is the most recent edition of Beyond the Horizon, a vibrant collection of stories and interviews with youth and community workers on the front line in the countries across the two thirds world. the second is an exciting report of the last 18 months or so here in the UK with Fusion. i KNOW you will be inspired by one or other of these and i will be suprised if you’re not encouraged by both!!

the oxford blues

It’s Saturday evening and we are just home from my goddaughters roller hockey training session. I am in Oxford staying with the family, its been really special catching up. I’ve never been to roller hockey game before, and i have to say it looks like a lot of fun! A fabulous mixture of grace and brute force – a lot like ice hockey, just not quite as obviously violent!

Kitting out a bunch of kids in massive pads, helmets and gloves, then putting them on roller blades and handing them a stick, makes for some pretty comical moments. There were times when i seriously doubted if the 7 year old goalie could actually move herself across the court. It reminded me a lot of the boy David going to battle in the kings armour and not quite making it! It was pretty special at the same time seeing 14 year olds work on the court with 7 year olds, sometimes turning out better than others!

More than half of the kids are new recruits, fast learning the skill and poise of skating at high speed while playing a fairly technical, incredibly competitive, contact sport. For many of them life is not simple, and being part of this club provides so much of what they need. Their coaches are experienced players who love the game and obviously enjoy seeing the kids learn and become skilled. They’d drop a word of encouragement, spotting something that a kid was doing well, paying particular attention to the young and inexperienced ones. There just seemed to be a really lovely, positive atmosphere. Even on the benches, where the parents sat and watched there was a pleasant buzz.

My goddaughter’s father took over as manager of the club at the end of last season. I’ve really enjoyed hearing how things have developed since then. Hope rises for me as I hear how these young people are being taken seriously, Pete and the team are willing to invest time and encouragement into their lives – and the lives of the parents. Why not go and check out the club website on http://www.oxskate.com.

teenage heroes

The year 2006 was a very special year for me. There were a group of remarkable teenagers at the core of our community at that time. I happened to be on staff at the senior school and got to teach and work with them pretty closely. These guys had largely grown up together, their families were Fusion staff workers, many of whom had lived the missionary life for decades, but at some point during 2005 the boys had made a choice to love God and make a difference with their lives. They then proceeded to shape the culture amongst the students from kindergarten to year 12, and unconsciously they became part of the heart beat of an entire village, leading by example and service not only their own peers, but scores of people much older and ‘more experienced’ than they.

Doyle is now in China as part of a university degree which he commenced after obtaining Fusion’s diploma in youth and community work. Joe ‘Baxter – Boy’ is now a qualified primary school teacher, Isaac is just finishing his university degree in Sydney, Matt is working in Tas, a professional skateboarder and still doing youth work in his spare time – he also did Fusion’s Certificate IV in youth and community work. Jonno is progressing up the ladder at a healthy pace in banking.

Some of my favorite memories of them include seeing them plan and execute a day out for the entire school and watching them individually care for the youngest students and create an atmosphere where everyone had fun. They dutifully wore their school sun hats in the summer months because they knew that the younger ones looked up to them as ‘gods’ and would follow their lead. At school they formed the hub of a pastoral care network and lead the ‘houses’, they enjoyed heading down to the junior school campus at lunch times to hang out with the kids.

Joe, Doyle and Isaac formed a funky, tight, band called ‘safety first’ and would regularly perform their own (often hilarious) material as well as popular covers for school and community events. I think Trinity College’s school song was written by them and there are several songs still sung today that they crafted for the movement at significant moments over those 3 years or so. There was one period of time when each week they all headed out to a nearby town where they would help run a youth café and perform, as part of the team with the Cert IV youth and community students.  I was regularly amazed at how they were able to switch from entertaining a crowd one evening to leading in worship the following morning. Every Sunday they ran a high energy ‘Kids Grow’ program for the younger members of the Poatina community church, they poured all their creativity and love of life, fun and the kids into those programs – this then spilled over into the week long kids program they ran for the movement’s annual International Conference. They were truly a force of life.

In three weeks I leave Poatina after being here for about 5 months, the last couple of years haven’t been simple for Poatina village, but we have rich treasured from our past that could unlock the future for us. Those boys taught us some precious lessons about living with God and with each other, they spent their teenage years serving others, I admire them for that and I for one, want to make sure that the lessons they lived out don’t go unheeded.

we loved this week…

This week we have loved. We scrubbed walls, we watched movies, we walked and walked, we drove, we taught classes, we missed breakfast, we were a safe place to be, we took photos, we joined the search and rescue operation on the mountain… and in the village, we had take away hot chocolate (with cream!), we had community tea, we got to bed at 4am, we washed floors, we were judged and criticized, we gave hugs, we talked to nurses and doctors, we had meetings, we made phone calls, we went to the police station, we hung out, we were praised, we had chips for lunch on the fly, we went to the hospital,  we briefed, we debriefed, we met people for the first time, we said good bye. It’s been a big week, its not over yet, but all is well.

I’d like to share something I wrote in February 2010 as I reflected on my time in South Africa during 2009, this week has reminded me of it. Though I have loved this week, its been mixed in with my drivers to ‘be strong’ and keep going, and I guess we never get to love perfectly, and that’s OK.  This calls me out to keep on loving and working on the parts of love that I find a challenge sometimes.

Love is joy,

Love is pain,

Love is sacrifice,

Love is death,

Love is life,

Love is letting go

Love is letting them find their strength,

Love is lonely,

Love  aches silently,

Love stays when there’s no turning the tide of trouble,

Love is silent when there are no words to say,

Love stands courageously in the face of another’s free falling chaos,

Love is letting the battle rage because there are no glorious victories without costly war,

Love trusts,

Love waits for whatever the next moment will bring,

Love is faithful,

Love is loyal,

Love is fierce,

Love is company when no one else realised,

Love is now, always now,

Love brings hope in the darkest hour,

Love costs,

Love is another man’s life instead of mine,

Love is humble,

Love is not easy,

Love is an adventure,

Love yields,

Love stands firm,

Love follows and love leads,

Love is a rock…  it is also a stream,

Love is the sun… it is also the shade

I have loved and in so doing I have cried… but I have lived.                 

 

Claire Bankole  Feb 2010

coffee, the hunch back of Notre Damme and messy games…

Not long ago I caught up with a colleague in Albania. Erion heads up the Fusion team in the country and their story is an amazing one! Right now they are at the start of a 6 week marathon of community festivals and young people’s day trips in communities across the south of the country. Thirty five community festivals they will have done by the end of this stretch! But then if you had a team of over a hundred people in their teens and twenties committed to each other and ready to change their world, what wouldn’t you do? The majority of Erion’s team have come to faith at youth day trips , they have found hope and meaning in caring for others and making a difference in their communities, and they want to change their country and the world because they believe that together and with God they can.

And the secret behind all this growth?? Well…coffee, the Hunch Back of Notre Damme and messy games. As Erion explains its all about having a steady flow of outward focused mission and challenges to face together whilst being authentically connected to one another, let me explain.  One of the things I love about the Mediterranean cultures is that there is always time for coffee, good coffee, in nice cafes conveniently located on every street, they know how to do life together, how to be friends enjoying each others company and sharing each other’s worlds. Over the last few years the team has earned the respect and trust of a number of schools in the area. They work with high school students to produce ‘west end’ scale musicals which they perform in packed out city theatres to the applause of local Mayors and national press. They were invited to perform ‘the Hunch Back of Notre Dame’ in the capital city, Tirana last year.  I dread to think the amount of work and coordination it takes to pull off a production of that magnitude! As well as that each month they run youth Day Trips during which young people learn from each other through a peer leadership structure. Through hectic activities, messy games and insane challenges they learn to work together and make value based choices. Bear in mind that there will be more than a hundred young people on a Day Trip! Then the city authorities regularly seek the team out to run community building events and festivals. What Mayors and police have been wanting to achieve for years, it seems this growing team are able to deliver without much effort!

 When I caught up with Erion though, it was clear that all I have just shared with you has become vulnerable. Although communities are being transformed and tomorrows leaders are finding meaning and hope beyond themselves, without the resources to put on a production and travel to perform it, or to put on free community festivals or to take troubled young people on a Day Trip where they can learn that life doesn’t have to be the way it is, without the resources to do these things, they wont happen, the team loses hope and life in schools and communities goes back to the way it always was. This has actually been the reality of this year.

With so much to lose, we brainstormed….much of what is needed cant be found in Albania … someone will sponsor the transport of festival and day trip resources to Albania from the UK… we need to gather the resource here in the UK … if they have the resources, they can continue with the mission. Lets do it! I sent out a prayer request. Within a couple of days some money came in from Fusion in New South Wales, Australia, more came in from our teams in South Africa and Jamaica, the German team had some equipment to spare and sent it across immediately… the UK team went about sourcing equipment, an order was placed and the first batch should have reached Greece by the time you read this… World Vision are excited to sponsor one or two significant assets…. Its not over yet, we’ve only answered a small part of the immediate challenge but it seems that the game is back on!

What I love about this story is that Erion’s team is an inspiration to myself and others in mission right across the world, but to do this next bit of their journey they needed the prayers of many, the sacrificial giving or our teams in South Africa and Jamaica, the hard work of our guys in the UK and the sensitivity of our teams in Australia and Germany to read the moment and give generously. There is more that’s needed, let us know if you want to be part of this incredible story. When we are at our best, this is who we are, I am glad to be a part of this fellowship.

Freedom Fighter

Last week I went on a 4 day trip with a colleague of mine to Durban and Johannesburg. During trip we met up with some very special people. Stella was one of these. Stella lives in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, Alex is the oldest township in the country and will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, but more of that in another entry.

We had hoped that Stella would be able to join us in Cape Town last month for the specialized training that I have been involved in delivering for Fusion’s Front Line teams in the country. Sadly as the time drew near Stella’s health sent out alarm bells, she was booked for a CTScan and within a week had to adjust to the news that she had stage two cervical cancer. Stella was recently diagnosed with Insulin dependant diabetes and lives with a range of other health difficulties.

Stella connected in with Fusion in 2009 and ever since has been running kids clubs  in the drive way of her little home, for the kids in her street. She has several children of her own and has ‘adopted’ many others over the years. If you spend any time with her she will soon start sharing about ‘her children’ and the concerns she has for various ones. Her eyes light up when she shares about the kids that come to her kids club each week. This time though there was some sadness as she shared that with her recent health issues she hasn’t had the energy to run kids clubs, but the kids still come and hang out with her. Her dream is to see a youth centre where the kids and young people of Alex can come and play, work, learn and grow in safety.

You see in Alex the kids as young as 3 or 4, when they are not at Stella’s place, play unsupervised in the streets and gutters where the sewage runs and household waste is thrown out on to the street because there isn’t adequate sanitation or refuse management. Young people loiter in groups board to distraction and violent crime is an every day occurrence. The police can do little because its hard to track people down in such an overcrowded setting, and often the corruption in the service continues to erode their credibility and effectiveness.

Stella lives in the same house that her parents lived in and her grandparents before them. It’s a small three room affair. Often what happens is that families live together and as they expand new members build shacks of corrugated iron and wood, onto the side of the property. In this way the overcrowding continues and the pressure on inadequate sanitation, water and infrastructure builds. Stella is running for local election and her dream is to campaign for a solution to the housing problem in Alex.

Stella is no stranger to campaigning for change, during the Apartheid regime she was a freedom fighter and earned at least one stint in prison for her involvement in activism. Now that apartheid is over she is one of the many committed citizens still fighting for freedom for the poor and oppressed in her country. Whilst we sat with her she shared how much it meant to her to be part of the Fusion family, the significance of knowing that others across the country and globe hold her in their hearts and minds. There have been many times when she wanted to give up and not get up, when the task seemed too huge and her efforts pointless but she shared that knowing that she was part of this wider family gave her hope and the strength to keep going. I was humbled as I heard, I have so much to learn from Mamma Stella.