By Amanda Boston

Every Friday night, Marvin Hoffman, along with 25 devoted volunteers open up the church and their hearts to 50-60 Hispanic middle and high school students. Over the years, the Vida Joven ministry, translated as ‘young life,’ has ministered to the local Spanish-speaking youth by sharing faith, food, fun and fellowship.

The evening begins at 5:45 p.m. with a gathering in Nativity’s Youth Center, followed by a 7 p.m. Spanish Mass and dinner. After dinner, the youth convene for a 30-minute small group Bible discussion known as ‘charlas.’ The evening then concludes with recreational games in the gym or social time in the Life Lounge.

Hoffman, the ministry coordinator, shared the importance of Vida Joven and said, “We provide an alternative place for the kids to go to continue to build their faith.” He continued, “They [the youth and volunteers] have a lot of fun together in a relational type of way.”

With its youth members coming from migrant workers, permanent farm workers and within the community, the Vida Joven ministry makes no distinction to ensure everyone is treated with dignity. For families without transportation, a church bus picks up and drops off the youth.

Every Friday, volunteer Jim Lambert races home from MacDill Air Force Base to drive the bus to the farmworker camps. Lambert has witnessed firsthand the poverty within the camps.

“For some of these kids, it’s the best meal they are going to get all week,” said Lambert. “We also send the leftovers home to needy families.”

Echoing Lambert’s words, Hoffman said, “Because of the Vida Joven ministry, we have realized some physical needs in the camps, and so, other Nativity ministries like the Emmaus Brothers and Sisters have been able to help out by providing beds, stoves and washer and dryers to these families.”

The Vida Joven ministry cultivates authentic lifelong relationships, as the love of Jesus is made palpable through the actions of caring adults. Perhaps, 1 John 3:18 sums it up best with “…let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

If you would like to volunteer or donate food toward the dinners, please contact Marvin Hoffman at vidajoven@nativitycatholicchurch.org. While the ability to speak Spanish is beneficial, it is not a requirement. Nativity Catholic Church is located at 705 E. Brandon Blvd. in Brandon.