[legacy post from blogspot]
I was going to call this “Supposed To, Part ___” (whatever it would be now), but that’s getting old. Suffice it to recognize that at precisely the moment I assume I know how things are going to go, I am reminded that I am not the one writing the script. A week ago, even just over two days ago, I assumed that come today I would be sitting on the long bus ride bringing our group of 47 students and adults home from Duluth MN. Instead, I crawled into bed at dawn Thursday morning after riding the “sick bus” home all night, and have spent a day and a half “laying low” so as not to make anyone (including Rene) sick with H1N1, a.k.a. swine flu. What?
It’s still a bit bizarre to think about. And it’s way up there on the list of unusual things that have happened on CCC mission trips… although a completely uneventful trip might be unusual now. I think back to many powerful, emotional memories over these trips. My first trip (to St. Louis) was before the YouthWorks days, and that first night of no power, no A/C, no ventilation, and 80 degree heat throughout the night forever stained that pillowcase with sweat. The first trip Rene and I went on together involved a phone interview for a teaching job in Florida that I accepted, only to return to KS two weeks later. My first Green Bay trip was a whirlwind of driving an empty van after waiting for parents to pick up a student before we even got to Green Bay, getting lost while jogging, scraping up the side of the van, accidentally leaving two students at a ministry site, having my head shaved (on purpose!), and literally carrying a student into a restroom because he was so sick he couldn’t walk. What student will ever forget being first on the scene of the motorcycle-vs.-SUV accident on the way to Mt. Rushmore, and I believe the last night of that trip solidified friendship into brotherhood among a group of guys in the class of 2011 that endures to this day. Last year was our first trip with the CCC-CFBC sister church partnership, and I believe Christ’s bride becomes more beautiful each time we join our church families.
So, who would expect the latest trip, my first without Rene since we got married and my first to Duluth, would be any different? The trip started well. I loved spending time with “my” 7th grade guys that I had worked with the past year, plus had two of the CFBC guys in my room at, get this, the Embassy Suites! The host church in Duluth had real character. It was right by the Canal area, and from the boys’ sleeping room we had a spectacular view of Lake Superior. My team was all 7th graders from CCC, and I felt like they were really willing to work hard.
Then came the sickies. A handful of students stayed back from roller skating on Monday, and 11 ended up staying back from ministry sites on Tuesday. We tried to manage and reconfigure teams to allow sick kids to rest, and recovering ones to contribute without exposing Duluthians at high risk (for example at nursing homes). But it wasn’t until we had a student test positive for H1N1 that everything changed in an instant. Instead of heading back out to ministry sites that afternoon, we were hurriedly packing for an early trip home that would last long into the night. While all of us had been exposed, those students who had been symptomatic rode a separate bus home.
My initial reflection is how blessed we were to have such an amazing team of leadership that handled an incredibly difficult situation with grace and calm. Alan has blogged briefly along our trip home, and I agree with his thoughts 100%, especially in honoring the people who made such an impact on getting us home quickly and safely. He also brings up the bigger question of “Why?” Why did God allow this illness to cut our trip short after the kids and leaders had worked so hard to get there? I don’t have any answers, and what follows is only my opinion, from my limited perspective. In the weeks to come, I trust Alan and Emily will lead our group in processing this disappointing truncation (ooo big word).
Having experienced numerous CCC(-CFBC)/YouthWorks trips, I think back to what is valuable about these short-term, stateside missions experiences for middle school students. I think what comes up over and over is that by loving and serving a community other than your own, you learn to better recognize the needs in your own. But even more significantly, the powerful shared experiences in the context of a faith community draws the group together to a degree unlikely in any other arena. I believe that both of these goals, for lack of a better word, were accomplished, although not in the way that we might have expected.
Focusing on my own experience, I feel like God’s hand of protection was powerfully upon the adult leadership. While about half the students had some symptoms (not necessarily that they had swine flu), not one adult experienced symptoms that would sideline them when needed most. Both during the ministry days as student after student began to feel ill, and on the ride home, I felt empowered to lay my concerns for my own health aside to do what I could to care for. The CCC mission statement begins, “We desire to be a caring family…” What do families do better than care for each other when they are sick? Perhaps having so many among us become sick will cause us to learn to show care, concern, and love for each other regardless of the surroundings or circumstances.
The moment that I have come to cherish the most is during the final night of the trip during evening “Club.” Reflecting on Jesus’ startling act of service in John 13, the YouthWorks staff wash the feet of the adult leaders from each group, and those leaders in turn wash the feet of the students with whom they have served during the week. I still remember a 12-year-old’s tears of repentance and brokenness joining the soapy water as I washed his feet that very first YW trip. More than anything else, I mourn the loss of that moment with my guys. But then I remember that what was before a symbolic act of service became true and real this week. Each of us as leaders were given an extraordinary opportunity to pick up the “basin and towel” and serve kids in a scary and uncertain situation. I had the chance to reconnect with some of my now 8th grade guys that I probably would not have except for this unusual week. Better, I rejoiced to hear them reflect on how they learned to trust God like never before, and had worked through some difficult questions and doubts before God in those hours spent stuck in the church.
So, the bar has been set high again. What could possibly make next year’s trip more memorable than this? I continue to pray for the recovery of those who fell ill, whether they do in fact have swine flu. And I eagerly await the end of the recommended “lay low” quarantine. So far I have no symptoms, so I should be in the clear and able to have Rene come back home from her parents’! Blessings, and thanks for your continued prayers.