To the Mountains & Modgnik we go

Post by: Katie Brazeal As Fellows, one of our responsibilities is to be involved in Trinity Presbyterian Church’s youth group. Each fellow is assigned to a different age group and gender. For example, I have the opportunity to spend this year with the 10th grade girls.

Normally this role is played out on Sundays. Sunday morning during the Sunday school hour we have Student Breakfast with the kids. This entails feeding them cereal (and pancakes once a month!) and studying the Bible together. On Sunday evenings, we come back together with the kids for D-Groups. At this time, we play games, eat dinner together, and once again dig into the Bible.

As wonderful as Sundays are, we had an even more wonderful experience with the kids over the last weekend in September: FALL RETREATS!

MODGNIK • Modgnik is the middle-school retreat (6th-8th grades) held at Rockbridge, a YoungLife camp about an hour and a half outside of Charlottesville.

In the words of Elizabeth Sumrall, the 8th grade girls’ Fellow…

MODGNIK (Kingdom spelled backwards) is a gathering of over 600 middle schoolers and their leaders from over 20 churches around area.  The three day long retreat offers an awesome combination of teaching time, small groups, and plenty of fun and recreation!  Before we went, we had heard that Rockbridge was awesome, and it certainly lived up to those claims. Surrounded by mountains, the camp offers virtually every activity you can dream of - rock wall, thriller swing, water slides, basketball courts, volleyball courts and a ropes course in the woods.

It was so amazing to see the leaders building close relationships with their kids - going on crazy swing rides, swimming, and playing soccer. Early mornings (and I do mean early; some of our kids were up as early as 6:30 a.m.) and late evenings were special times for hanging out in our cabins with our individual D-Groups. The boys spent their times having pillow fights while the girls had nail painting parties and signed t-shirts.

In addition to the fun and games was the incredible group teaching times. Shawn Slate, the RUF minister at UVa, was the weekend speaker.  He spoke from Revelation and in the most amazing way made what is usually considered to be a very hard book of the Bible very real and relevant to middle schoolers.  He encouraged them to see Revelation as a story that God wants to draw them into, a story that He wants them to be excited to be a part of.  Slate challenged them to see the picture Revelation paints of Jesus and to learn what it means to fall in love with Him.

At the end of the day, that is what this is all really about. The goal of student ministry is to help the kids to love Jesus more. I know that the hope of all of the Fellows is that this fantastically fun weekend was a tool to build bridges into these students lives that will enable them to learn more about what that really looks like in the weeks and months to come.

MOUNTAIN WEEKEND • Mountain Weekend (or Mountain Day as some of the kids were fondly referring to it as because we were gone for a grand total of 24 hours) is the fall retreat for the high schoolers, 9th-12th grades.

In comparison to Rockbridge, we were roughing it on Mountain Weekend. We camped on a farm about 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville. We slept in tents, used the restroom in port-a-potties, and cooked our food over a fire. (Okay, that last part is an exaggeration. We actually had a lot of delicious home cooked food.) Regardless we were out in the elements, all of them: hot sunshine, cold rain and everything in between.

The kids played a variety of games throughout the weekend. We started off the fun with a “speed-dating” (also referred to as speed-friendship) game to break the ice. Then there were some very competitive rounds of the appropriately named Ball Game. In the dark, we played Body Body, an interactive version of Mafia. Not to be overshadowed by the games, we had a square dance called by the weekend speaker, John Gayle. This was complete with flannel, boots and live music!

And although the weekend truly was fun-filled thanks to the games and fanfare, we also had some wonderful times of worship and learning, which was indeed the reason we were there. John Gayle spoke to the kids (and counselors) about our relationship with God and what that should look like. He gave examples of successes and failures from the Bible. In our D-Group time, the 10th grade girls specifically worked through what the Lord is doing currently in their lives and why he had brought them on Mountain Weekend.

Overall, I believe that the retreats were a huge success! It gave us as Fellows the needed opportunity to spend quality time with our kids and to simply get to know them. It is exciting to look at the year ahead and to think of all the Lord will accomplish!


To see the video the Fellows made for the youth group to get them excited about the retreats, visit:

The Paideia of the Playground: How Tutoring Impacts the Trinity Fellows

It was a Thursday afternoon in early September when the Trinity Fellows first filtered onto the small playground behind Johnson Elementary School. Some came eagerly, and within minutes of meeting their student, were chasing their child around the monkey bars and up the slide. Others approached the playground more tentatively; fidgeting as they stood on the edge of the woodchip rectangle, they seemed a bit unwilling to enter in. As I watched the eager and the uncomfortable alike, I couldn’t help but wonder: should they all be required to participate? In the past five months, I have come to answer that question with an emphatic “yes” as I have watched Fellows who do not share my innate love-of-children grow in their capacity to empathize and understand their students. And I have begun to see that the beauty of the Fellows Program, and its partnership with Abundant Life, lies in the way in which it commits individuals to loving what Christ loves. The program requires that Fellows tutor with Abundant Life – not because they are “good” with kids or have any interest in teaching – but because Christ cares for these children, and thus they should as well.

In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith argues that “liturgy” (a term he broadly defines as any identity-forming practice – from shopping to cooking to reading the Bible) fundamentally shapes our desires, which, in turn, mold our character. In short, Smith believes that what we do determines what we love, and what we love determines who we will become.

For the Trinity Fellows, tutoring at Abundant Life has become one of these “liturgies” – a sanctifying, identity-forming ritual that is slowly shaping them into men and women who love God and neighbor most. Each week, they are learning to love others as Christ first loved us: by listening to their students with compassion, encouraging them in times of frustration, and disciplining them out of a spirit of love. Each week, they are learning to see their student as Christ sees us – with a redemptive vision that recognizes great beauty in great brokenness and affirms the truth that we are all image-bearing sons and daughters of the living God. In effect, the practices of the playground – and the discipline of actively stepping-into the life of a child, week after week – form a type of paideia, or “training in righteousness.”

By simply sitting with their student, sharing a snack, helping with math-facts, and listening to a little bit of his or her life, these Fellows are becoming people who boldly enter the messiness of a broken world – not because they are innately-equipped to do so – but because they know that the all-sufficient God of Creation goes before them, enabling and empowering them to do His good work. By entering into the chaos of that woodchip arena in order to pull-back a swing or push a student down the slide, these Fellows are, in some minute way, enacting Christ’s incarnational love.

And so I’ll leave you with this paradox: that, perhaps, paideia is more at work on the playground of Johnson Elementary than it is in our seminary class; and, perhaps, the thing that will most impact these Fellows is not what they read in a textbook or discuss with their mentor, but rather what they do every Thursday afternoon.

MODGNIK!!! (try reading that backwards)

by: Emily Mims We could not have asked for a more gorgeous  weekend at Rockbridge Alum Springs.  It was 70 degrees, and the sun shone brightly on the leaves that were just barely beginning to change from green to red.  All across Young Life's camp in Goshen, VA, middle school kids ran and played and just enjoyed the beautiful weather and property.  If one had looked closer last weekend, though, they would have also noticed 15 Trinity Fellows running and playing and just getting to enjoy life at Rockbridge.

Last weekend, we fellows found ourselves headed to Rockbridge (a YL camp property near Lexington), to participate in the annual youth retreat called MODGNIK (named about 10 years ago by our very own Dennis Doran).  One of the incredible, intentional components of our program is that we get to be involved in the lives of the youth at Trinity Pres. by joining their D-(discipleship) groups, cooking pancakes for them on Sunday mornings, and building relationships with the kids.  Each of us is assigned a specific class and gender to focus on (for example, I get to be with the 6th grade girls)—for each grade between 6th and 12th.  So last weekend, half of us were in cabins with the middle school campers, and the other half were "ropes wranglers"--heading up the ropes course, climbing wall, swing and zip-line at the camp.  There were almost 400 middle school campers who came from Trinity and several other churches in Virginia.

Some of my favorite moments throughout the weekend happened when I got to watch the other fellows serving the middle-schoolers with smiles on their faces.  I loved watching Erin help a sixth grade girl struggle to put sheets on her top bunk bed.  It was fun to see Peter surrounded by a swarm of kids wanting to get on the big swing.  Rachel and Andrew tag-teamed the climbing pole, jovially calling out commands to the kids as they climbed.  I enjoyed seeing Mallory sit patiently at the bottom of the zip-line all afternoon to help the kids get off their ride.  And I think we all formed deeper connections with one another as we served the middle schoolers alongside each other.

All in all, it was a long, crazy, fun-packed weekend.  We all worked tirelessly to serve the middle schoolers, let alone just keep up with them. :)  But it was also filled with fun for us and just the privilege of getting to be on the front lines of youth ministry.  The speaker talked about Heaven all weekend, and I can’t forget one sixth grader’s comment to me as we walked across a green field, "I feel like this is a little bit like how Heaven is."  What a joy it is to see a young girl processing the beauty of God's creation, the fullness of Christian community, and the peace of feeling safe and loved---and then attributing that to our Father in Heaven!

I couldn't help but agree with her...and I honestly do hope that MODGNIK was a small taste of the eternal joy God has in store for us.

Some fun pictures Becca took with the 8th grade girls this weekend:


New Orleans

By Andrew Simmons and Jenny Fearnow One of us was recently in a staff meeting in which a supervisor asked, “Y’all took a N’awlins trip recently, didn’cha? I don’t know why people keep going down there. It’s just gonna flood again.” Yes, people are indeed still going down to the Crescent City after Katrina’s second, and more catastrophic, landfall on August 29th, 2005. So, why? Will our visits realistically change anything?

This thought occurred to at least we two, and likely more, of the Trinity Fellows and U. Va. Students from Reformed University Fellowship who made the trek to the Big Easy from Jan. 3 to 10 of this year. As we both hope to convey, the Lord’s kingdom made strong advances in New Orleans during that first week of 2009.

In addressing change, one must assume there is a pre-existing need. In New Orleans, people are still hurting: emotionally, physically, and mentally. Many have resigned themselves to apathy, tired of the long rebuilding process or extended unemployment. Some are still waiting for their houses to physically come off the 4-by-4 wood blocks that resemble a Jenga game. Driving through the now-famous Ninth Ward, we saw no street signs and no attempts, on the part of the city government, to rebuild; however, people are resettling there, living amidst brokenness.

The combination of compelling, audacious rebuilding and the seeming big-picture futility of it in the face of such wide destruction could cause one to question their usefulness there. And in some sense that is true - God is the only one that will bring about real peace and restore in our hearts a hope for it. In this respect, our very presence was an act of trust in God to work his sovereign good will to restore his people.

But we do get to play an integral part: as believers, we are called to bring peace to the city and reconciliation to hurt and brokenness. “…That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us,” says Paul in II Corinthians 5:19-20. God has made us ministers of his peace for His Kingdom. If we understood anything from being in NOLA, it was that lasting change comes only through the catholic Church. Members of RUF at the University of Virginia along with the Fellows, Redeemer PCA (Pastor Ray Cannata’s church), and the Annunciation Mission joined together to declare the gospel in word and deed within the Broadmoor district of New Orleans. Our short-term work projects meant nothing except in that they were rooted in the local church which could further a long-term relationship with community members.

By tearing up tile, scraping and painting, caulking and gutting, raking and pressure-washing, we participated in incarnational ministry. We did realistically change something. Sure, some benefits are visible even now. We gave a couple from the community leak-proof windows and a pleasant entryway. But some may not be for some time. We helped connect this same couple with the local church. Long-time development practitioner and Vice President for International Program Strategy at World Vision International Bryant Myers says that the Church is critical to genuine social transformation, “It is hard to imagine sustainable transformation without churches committed to soul care [development of personal faith] and social care [helping the poor and correcting injustices].” This truth was borne out in our own experience – the other groups we encountered aiding in reconstruction were, by a huge majority, evangelical groups of believers working in partnership with a local church.

So, to our surprise, there is indeed hope in New Orleans. This hope is found in a personal God who chooses to work through the local church and the Christians there that believe in His promises of restoration. We must remember that this applies not only to New Orleans, but to Charlottesville, as well. The church is the arm of God ministering real and lasting peace to its community. New Orleans, as that supervisor suggested it might, is indeed experiencing another flood – one of vital and engaged Gospel work that labors in the nitty-gritty of everyday life, not in spite of, but because of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom. So when the good times roll, know that the church is there.

If you want more information about the New Orleans trip or other service opportunities the Fellows are involved in please email me at and/or check out our NOLA pictures on the Trinity Fellows Blog at Also check out the RUF website and pictures at

Finding Life on Thursday Afternoons

Written by: Mariko Schaper Every Thursday we go to Johnson Elementary school. We go there to participate with Abundant Life Ministries. It’s an after school program that provides tutoring for kids among other things. The majority of the kids that go to Johnson Elementary are from the Prospect Ave neighborhood and Blue Ridge Common Apartments. Some of the students come from some really great families, but some come from broken homes. One of the boys was telling me about him hanging out with his father, who is out of jail for the 4th time; another said he’s never seen his father, while another said that their family is moving because they are scared to go outside due to the shootings that happen in the neighborhood. Despite what the students’ family lives are like, they all have something in common…they need lovin’ from us.

The boy that I tutor is 8 years old and his name is Ahmad. He is in the second grade. I remember the first couple of weeks that we started tutoring. The first day he was so apathetic and bragging about not caring whether or not he repeated the 2nd grade. He had to be pulled aside over and over to be talked to by Miss Kerra, one of the directors. But he just didn’t care. Anytime that he wouldn’t want to do something, he would totally and completely shut down. He wouldn’t do his work, he wouldn’t listen to anything that I would say or respond in any way. All he would do was sit there staring at the wall and ignore me. Some of the women running the program were talking about whether or not Ahmad could stay in the program because he wasn’t doing anything or making any progress.

…but that was in the beginning.

Now, he has been doing absolutely awesome. Ahmad wants to do his homework and the enrichment activities. They make him feel good about himself because he does well and learns from them. He talks to me about his weekend, about school, about lots of things. The kids got their report cards a couple weeks ago, and he was so excited to show me his. He got all really exceptional marks, they don’t do the whole A,B,C thing, like back in my day…haha I sound old. But anyways…he showed me his report card…and then Ahmad said something with such enthusiasm that almost made me cry in front of him…

“I’m going to the 3rd grade.”

He continued to say that after that he’s going to go to 4th then 5th, then middle school. He was so excited he hopped out of his chair, ran over to his cousin and said the same thing.

It has been so amazing tutoring him and spending time with the Abundant Life kids. I love going early and just running around and playing with them. The girls are hilarious playing tag and I just love dancing around with them. They are some of the most affectionate kids as well. They always want you to catch them, hug them, hang on your back or shoulders, jump on you…hold their hands. We took them for pizza and ice skating a while ago, and it was interesting to see their vulnerability especially on the ice. Though they were on the ice, their hard exteriors and the walls that they had up began melting away as they needed us and trusted us to help them.

I definitely have seen redemption in all of this and so much of God’s grace and love. It has been such a blessing to be able to be in these kids’ lives. To be able to let them know that they don’t have to be angry all the time; that people care about them; that doing well and working hard is awesome. The banquet that was held for them was quite stellar. They were brought into a room filled with several hundreds of people clapping and cheering for them for doing well. They were all dressed up and sang some Christmas carols after dinner and it was adorable. We were so blessed to be able to see them there and to serve them.

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” - 1 Timothy 1:14 …for this I am ridiculously thankful, but because it was poured out abundantly, means it should overflow into the lives of others around me. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” - John 10:10…Jesus came so we could have life, despite the fact that we so do not deserve it…freakin awesome!

These kids are meant to have a life abundant because of Jesus. It is amazing to think that we’ve had the blessing to be a little tiny part in that by just sharing God’s love with them.

A Challenge from the Crescent City

By: Reynolds Chapman Two and a half years ago, Hurricane Katrina submerged the city of New Orleans beneath 12 feet of water. Most of us remember the horror of the media reports, hearing accounts from shocked survivors and watching the number of deaths climb steadily by the hour. Katrina was one of the most destructive and deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, leaving a debt of over $81 billion and an estimated death toll of 1,836. After the waters cleared, tens of thousands of residents were displaced. When the storm hit, it stole the attention of America as it stole the homes of those who lived in the city.

Last month, about a dozen Trinity Fellows and about a dozen Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) students from the University of Virginia had the opportunity to represent Trinity in serving New Orleans by working on building a house in the St. Bernard district. Many of us had seen the city since the storm hit—some multiple times—and some of us, such as myself, were visiting the city for the first time. As I was preparing for the trip and during the 18-hour drive from Charlottesville, I wondered what kind of significance such a trip, almost three years after the storm, might have for each of us, for New Orleans and for the people of Trinity and Charlottesville to whom we would tell stories upon our return.

The impression New Orleans left on us can be summed up in an insight we heard from Ray Cannata, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, where we worshiped during our stay. Pastor Cannata said, "In New Orleans, on the one hand you see a vivid picture of the Fall, and on the other hand you see a clear picture of Redemption." One can see the brokenness in a variety of forms, such as with the memory of when Katrina hit, a time filled with fear, desperation and loss. Although it has receded in our memories for the most part, it is not as easy to forget for those from the city—those who lost their homes or loved ones, or who drive every day through the wreckage that remains to be rebuilt. Most residents know someone who was killed in the storm, and many are waiting for their friends and family to return to the city.

We also see a picture of the Fall in the apathy that has left much of the city and people still abandoned, particularly the poor. Driving through the lower Ninth Ward, seeing uninhabited houses with yards overgrown and boards on the doors and windows, was unnerving and elicited feelings of anger and disappointment as we imagined the families that once lived there. For us, just one week in a place where the memories and aftermath of the storm are experienced on a daily basis was eye opening—it took us out of our world and put us in theirs. I realized the people who looked Katrina in the eye have a greater understanding than I do of the reality that, as theologian Cornelius Plantinga puts it, "The world is not the way it's supposed to be."

After spending a week in New Orleans, I realized that when Pastor Ray Cannata said New Orleans presents a lucid portrait of redemption, it wasn't a sentimental "looking on the bright side." We were able to truly experience the vibe of hope in the city. When we arrived, both the church and the Habitat for Humanity camp where we stayed received us as though we were their first visitors, thanking us incessantly and taking a sincere interest in our own stories. If "The Big Easy" had arms, they would be wide open. It seemed that feasting and socializing were the two main activities for the people there. From potlucks at people's houses, to restaurants in the French Quarter, to music and dancing on Frenchman Street, many of us found New Orleans to be one of the most people-oriented, vibrant, culturally rich communities we've ever visited. Ray Cannata told us the hurricane did not take away from the sense of community in the city, but rather heightened everyone's appreciation for one another and brought people together.

The rebuilding efforts have also been a sign of hope in the city. There has been a consistent flow of volunteers since the hurricane hit, and it was exciting for us to be able to lend a hand by working with Habitat for Humanity on a house-building project. It took some of us a few crooked nails and bruised thumbs to get our hammer skills down, but we had fun getting our hands dirty. We stayed at Camp Hope, where we ate meals and shared conversations with people from many walks of life, all coming to help out. It was a great opportunity to testify that Christ was our reason for being there. And perhaps one of the most encouraging statistics I heard was that 80-90 percent of the rebuilding efforts were done by churches. The kingdom of God is indeed at work.

Pastor Ray Cannata mentioned that the good and the bad of New Orleans were certainly present three years ago—the storm just exposed them. This reminded me that the effects of the Fall and the Redemption of Christ are present in every city. If there's anything to take home from New Orleans to Charlottesville, it is this clear picture of Christ entering into a broken world to redeem it. So we thank God that while we were able to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, we also left with a challenge to be the Church who enters in, and brings redemption through Christ, to the broken areas in our home, the city of Charlottesville. We thank God that Trinity Presbyterian Church cares enough to enter into the brokenness of the world, New Orleans and our own backyards, and we pray that He would continue challenging us to meet this call.

Should you wish to hear more about the New Orleans trip or other service opportunities the Fellows are involved in please email me at

Testimony: What Tutoring Has Meant to Trinity Fellow Ebony Walden

by Ebony Walden

I returned to my car after my first Abundant Life Ministries tutoring session utterly defeated. The frustration of feeling ineffective had overcome me and I remember thinking, “How will I do this for another nine months?”

Earlier that same afternoon, I had felt more than equipped to begin tutoring. I had gone through the tutor training and I had years of tutoring experience under my belt. I thought, “This is going to be a breeze.” However, on the very first day I was challenged by the wit and energy of my tutee. I had too easily forgotten what it is like to interact with highly vocal and energetic 2nd graders. Since I have been used to talking with adults, it was hard to even communicate in language that a 7-year-old would understand. I knew the answer to the math problems and how to sound out difficult words perfectly; I had been doing that for years. What I had forgotten was the challenge and technique involved in conveying these unfamiliar details to my tutee. After a couple of weeks, this became easier. I was able to come down to the level of a second grader in order to use my knowledge and wit to challenge her and further her skill levels.

[My tutee] has grown in her confidence and skill in a matter of weeks. These have been great rewards.

What’s helped me the most for my service at Abundant Life has been the structured order of the afternoon--and the notebooks that are used to record and track the progress of tutees. Though we only have an hour and a half, we are able to do homework, read, complete an enrichment activity, and work on the computers. This provides the kids with variety and prevents them from getting bored and restless. In addition, we are able to communicate with the staff about the progress of the kids by keeping a log of work and activities in their notebook. This is a good way to look back and see how the participants have grown over time, which may be less apparent in the day-to-day interactions.

Over the course of my seven months as an Abundant Life tutor, I have witnessed growth in myself, seen the skills of my tutees’ improve, and built great relationships with the participants. I have been able to work on my own skills and teaching techniques as I tutored two little girls who are very different. The first was so bright that she did not need to attend tutoring twice a week anymore, which was great. The latter, though she has more academic challenges, has grown in her confidence and skill in a matter of weeks. These have been great rewards. The best part about tutoring, though, is building relationships with the participants who are full of energy and spirit. When I look back on my time at Abundant Life, it has been hard. But the experience of having all the kids run up to my car upon arrival, full of joy and laughter--and the look on my tutee’s face when she has figured out a hard problem--is reward enough.