Volunteer Group Spotlight - Raeanne Kiihnl of West Side Church of Christ

June 9, 2014

"Not a rookie of Fortress am I, and I must confess that the highlight of my first day was seeing that my babies remembered me after two years. This reassured in me that the footprint and impact that we leave on each other is very real. The anticipation of this meeting again was rather drawn out, though, because Summer Jam 2014 #followme began under pretty unusual circumstances. Fortress's first day of Summer Jam was the last day of school for most of the kids, so they didn't arrive until after 3:00 and the youth group/intern day switched around a little.

We started our morning with a wonderful breakfast from Ms. D, served to us by smiling and enthusiastic interns. Fellowship followed; we visited and tried to learn names and knocked down towers of little wooden blocks until the time arrived to depart on our Urban Experiences. Within my group, the prayer-drivers, only two had not been on the same path throughout the community in years past. However, I believe this fact exacerbated the impact simply because it further instilled in us the constant need of these children and the year-to-year needs of families in poverty. It was also incredibly neat to see new economic outreach in a previously dying community. New businesses have opened and new houses built; new opportunities to prosper and live in peace and out of poverty are slowly but surely arising, and we can't help but be filled with hope for the people of this area. A fascinating history and a tough present can only yield hope for a strength and reliance on God in a brighter future than what faces so many of these families today. For me, seeing this community that is so different than mine in Searcy, AK is a matter of new perspective. It's amazing to see how truly blessed I am, but it's also amazing to see God working and moving in places that appear broken to me. After praying with my group over the community, we met back at Fortress for lunch and more fellowship.

After our spaghetti was settled and our enthusiasm charged once again, we split up into different groups to pray in each room of the building for its particular purpose or inhabitants. This really instilled in me the reason we are here for these kids in the first place: to show them God's love. We asked God to help us be part of the growing light in these kids' lives and to help us show every one of our kids that they are special, they are worth something, and that they are loved.

Soon after this, the kids began to arrive and meet their buddies. They were shy for the most part at first, but it was neat to see each individual slowly open up to their peers and to us as a youth group. I was incredibly impressed at their enthusiasm and excitement to learn and laugh and interact despite the tiredness from a year of school on their shoulders. I was impressed that no one complained about coming straight from school or about what a long day it was on their last school day. From what I saw, everyone was just excited and ready to be happy and have fun.

We had a short lesson about clothing ourselves with patience, kindness, compassion, gentleness, humility, and just a loving, serving spirit in general. Then, we experimented with static electricity and the kids had a blast. I was really struck by how open and accepting these kids were to the love and outstretched hands of us as a youth group (especially my girls Arianna and Kaliya). God is truly working in the lives of these kids, and is reaching us through them.

We learn what it truly means to #followme through these kids that we love with the love of a mighty God and that we anticipate seeing every year. The work of Fortress in this community is leaving an imprint on the youth who need it most, and I am forever grateful for the chance to be a part of it."

Raeanne Kiihnl, 16 years old