“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NIV).
What do Matthew 18:3, a popular Hollywood movie series, and the Tucson Esperanza Spanish church district have in common? An innovative youth ministry project entitled “Back to a Child.”
“We wanted to have an iconic theme to grab attention but also to focus on the message of Matthew 18:3 that we need to go back and recognize the childlike traits that are missing in our lives and allow Jesus to transform us,” said Adelfo Huerta, who is the coordinator and speaker for the Back to a Child Project.
Facing the challenge of finding programming that meets the needs of both youth and young adults, Tucson Esperanza Spanish Church Pastor Chan Bonnabel and Huerta worked to find something that would be appealing to the small group of young people in their church. “Every time we tried to focus on the 20-year-olds, we only have five or six, and if we focus on the younger ones, we only have a few. It is always difficult to grab something for everyone,” Huerta said.
The ministry team started looking for something different that could grab the attention of everyone and that the older group could relate to. This led them to the Back to a Child theme, which referenced the “Back to the Future” movie series while focusing on Matthew 18:3. “We need to be aware that we are not as honest as we were when we were children,” said Huerta. “Once we recognize it, then we allow Jesus to transform us back.”
The project began in April 2021 and focused on humility and honesty. The follow-up program, Back to a Child 2, took place on September 25, with the theme centering on eliminating negative thinking and promoting positivity. Instead of five or six youth, the program had over 40 young people ages 10-25 participating.
The leaders, youth, and young adults worshiped together. For Sabbath School they worked in teams rotating through a variety of “Positivity Tables” where they were faced with challenges and activities that promoted collaboration and infused positivity. One of the tables included a Jenga activity in which the teams had to provide a positive comment to remove a block. The objective of the game was to see how many positive comments each team could say before the stack fell. Huerta’s message for the day identified Bible heroes who faced negative “mental distortions” and how God worked in their lives to transform them.
The project has also provided an opportunity for the other district churches to unite and collaborate. In addition to the Tucson Esperanza Spanish church, Pastor Chan Bonnabel also pastors the Tucson Northwest Spanish and Tucson South Spanish churches. “Every church wants to have their event, so it has been difficult [in the past] to build anything together,” said Huerta. “You have these silos, but Pastor Chan did a great job of saying ‘Let’s do an event that encompasses all three churches.’” This allowed the Back to a Child ministry team to utilize the talents and leadership from all three churches to assist with the worship, activity tables, and skits.
“Together we were able to unite and do this together. I thought that this was the first time we saw collaboration amongst the three churches,” Huerta added. The Back to a Child Project has now formed a foundation for future collaboration.
“The Pathfinders had a little campout up on Mt. Lemmon, and all three churches participated together in the same camp,” Huerta said. “That was different for us, and that was awesome.”
By Jeff Rogers