Building Bridges, Not Walls

This week, Living Water Ministries welcomed 30 campers from 6 different states to participate in Bridge Builders. Bridge Builders was made to raise young leaders and teach them to challenge oppressive systems as an expression of their faith. This program sheds light on the sweeping presence racism has in the world, which can be a surprise to some given racism’s elusive nature today. When I was a Bridge Builders camper 4 years ago, my eyes were definitely opened to the disparities of our broken world. During my time at Bridge Builders, I played a game called “Star Power” (which is still part of the Bridge Builders curriculum) and my experiences from that game still stick with me today. This game was created to teach teens and young adults about how resources are distributed, and how power structures are created and abused. In the game I was assigned to the team with the fewest resources and I remember crying in the Maple Ridge Lodge of Michi-Lu-Ca because of how unfair it all was.

Bridge Builders has come a long way since its inaugural week in 2013. We have a strong team of pastors and youth ministers that are passionate about social justice and are continually evolving the Bridge Builders’ curriculum to fit the needs of our quickly changing world. With each new year, we learn how to better communicate this tough, but vital information to campers. 2013 Bridge Builders campers, Brendan King and Erika Lindsay commented on how Bridge Builders has progressed since their experience. “Now the program is more focused. Now instead of JUST teaching Bridge Builders campers about racism, we’re more focused on also teaching campers how to combat it,” said Brendan. Erika added, “When we were campers, it felt like  there were a lot of lectures rather than participating in enriching and active discussion.” The shift in Bridge Builders’ approach is evident. Now, the programming is much more collaborative, calling on the gifts and opinions of the campers themselves to move the program forward.

But Bridge Builders doesn’t only awaken us to the horrible injustices of society. Like Brendan mentioned, Bridge Builders empowers campers to be leaders inspired to make noticeable change in their communities. One of the key messages of star power is that there is strength in numbers and creative thinking, despite the amount of resources someone has (or doesn’t have). Bridge Builders equips young people with the tools to find their voice, grow as leaders, disrupt the system, and be a part of dismantling racism.  It reminds them that they too are capable of making the world a more peaceful place.

What makes Bridge Builders so unique is how it successfully ties together leadership development, anti-racism training and faith formation. This all clicked for me when I understood that while Jesus was a peacemaker, he wasn’t always docile about it. After seeing how vendors were exploiting the poor at the temple, Jesus was enraged. He had a grand temper tantrum, flipping tables and expelling the vendors from the temple (Matthew 21:12). Jesus wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. In a society where the rules of the Old Testament were followed piously, Jesus flipped it on its head, saying that God’s grace is all you need to be saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Bridge Builders teaches exactly what Jesus modeled– to not sit idly while noticing injustices. It teaches campers to create brave spaces where courageous conversations can happen that reflect the kingdom of God.  It teaches them to be leaders.