There’s a reason why summer is one of Louie Praseuth’s favorite seasons: “Because of the colors, increased physical activity, and general sense of joy” he says.
It’s also the season when the 36-year-old Rainier resident goes on his annual youth group trip.
Praseuth is a Youth Pastor at Emerald City Bible Fellowship (ECBF) located on Rainer Avenue. Rather than watching the fireworks show on the Fourth of July with his wife and two sons this year, Praseuth will be traveling with a group of high school students from ECBF to Jackson, Mississippi.
While this is the group’s second visit to the City of Soul in four years, Praseuth said there are new students who have never been there. “[This visit] allows us to introduce [the new students] to the experience through our familiarity. It’s important for us to teach and model the values of ongoing support and going back.”
Similar to previous years, Scott Gronholz, a Youth Pastor at Queen Anne’s Bethany Presbyterian Youth Group (BPYG) will also be taking a group of students from his church to Jackson. Between the two youth groups, about 70 students will go.
“ECBF, which is a multicultural church in the Rainier Valley, [has] a higher percentage of students of color, in partnership with BPYG, which is a mostly white cohort,” Praseuth says. “This experience helps them by being with other people who are different [than] them, and implementing the biblical values of serving and loving one another in a consistent amount of time, not just at church and youth group [that happens] once a week.”
During the 10-day trip, the group will visit homeless shelters, help out at food donations centers, or even babysit at churches, while reflecting on issues of race, poverty, and leadership. These are topics that are close to Praseuth, who was born in Laos and came from humble beginnings. When he was two years old, his parents immigrated to Albuquerque, New Mexico for better opportunities. It was there that Praseuth saw a small, but growing Asian population and also experienced discrimination for the first time.
Race issues started to take shape with Praseuth then and is something he continues to be passionate about today. While reflecting on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore, Maryland, Praseuth said students want a safe place to talk about race and diversity. According to Praseuth, these mission trips give them that opportunity. “We and they may not have all the answers to these complex issues, but it’s important to step in and wrestle with them because it’s a part of our reality,” he says.
Brandon Lopez, 17, has been going on these mission trips with Praseuth and Gronholz from the beginning, with the first trip to Jackson, Mississippi in 2012. Lopez was 14 years old and about to enter his freshman year at Ballard High School. Looking back on that first mission trip, the Japanese American student and Magnolia resident said he couldn’t help but compare how different the cultures are in those two cities. He says the trip also taught him a valuable lesson that he otherwise might not have learned in a classroom setting.
“I learned that I could trust the good people around me and that made me more vulnerable to letting people in,” Lopez says.
Alyssa Leonard, 19, from Seattle, went to these mission trips for three years. No longer eligible to go because students must be in high school, Leonard is now a freshman at the University of Washington with plans of majoring in American Ethnic Studies. She says her chosen major has to do with the combination of her experience at Franklin High School, where she remembers being a minority in a school that’s made up of mostly students of different ethnic backgrounds and the mission trips. When Leonard heard from speakers talk about race, she says it gave her perspective.
“I learned about racial reconciliation where a bunch of different races come together and work cohesively as one,” Leonard says. “It’s about respecting, learning, and listening to each other. I also learned that diversity is more than about race, but also cultural identity and experiences.”
Leonard says she hopes to be part of these mission trips in the future and help lead one of the small groups with Praseuth and Gronholz. Once shy, but not anymore, she said these trips allowed her to get outside of her comfort zone and boost her confidence.
Praseuth says he has seen students like Leonard and Lopez personally grow within days into the mission trip. They come home with a better version of themselves and ready to make a difference in the world, he explains.
The students pay the costs of travel, food, and housing through their fundraising efforts.
Praseuth says the group’s mission trip next year will likely be in Seattle.
“I get to build strong relationships with young people and live life with them,” Praseuth says.
Date: June 7th BBQ Fundraiser
Time: 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Location: ECBF 7728 Rainier Ave S., Seattle, WA 98118
Car Wash Events
Date: May 9th, 23rd, May 30th, June 6th, June 13th
Time: 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Location: ECBF 7728 Rainier Ave S., Seattle, WA 98118
(Dependent on Weather. For more information, contact Louie Praseuth Louie@emeraldcitybible.org)
Editor’s Note (5/4/2015 at 11:44 a.m.): The quote, “ECBF, which is a multicultural church in the Rainier Valley, [has] a higher percentage of students of color, in partnership with BPYG, which is a mostly white cohort,” was mistakenly attributed to Scott Gronholz. The quote is now correctly attributed to Louie Praseuth.