Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz, snort, hack, yawn… I’m up, I’m up. It was a shorter mission trip week than we’ve had in many years, yet I am also physically more tired than I’ve been in a long time. We returned only moderately late last night from our middle school ministry’s first mission trip with Christ In Youth‘s (CIY) Know Sweat in Omaha. We had previously done our “own thing” one year and went to several sites with another mission organization that tends to focus on relational ministry for junior high groups, so in a sense everything about this trip was new to us.
I can’t think of a compelling way to organize my reflections on the week, so I will go in chronological order and mention things that caused me to think deeply or well up with praise. Some may stand out to you more than others, but I’ll leave that to the Holy Spirit.
- A prequel to my trip was getting the chance to visit a group of our high school students the week before as they ministered at Mission Adelante and other ministry partners in both Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. Ostensibly, I was there to videotape and get a feel for the culture of the trip. What I found was that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the sense of community that had already developed within this very diverse group. After their trip ended I have seen continuous Facebook announcements of “friending” between kids in our group that otherwise might never have connected. I think a big part of it, more so for high schoolers than middle schoolers, is that the students agreed to refrain from bringing their cell phones and other personal electronic devices. That caused them to literally look up (when you’re texting or flipping through songs, you’re looking down) and see those around them. I hoped for that as well in our trip, even though somewhat fewer of the younger kids have these distractions.
- On the way to Omaha, we stopped at an area with several restaurants in close proximity (some kids actually DON’T prefer McD’s?!). I found myself at Pizza Hut with a handful of boys, from both 7th and 8th grade and both my church and our urban sister church, Christian Fellowship Baptist. As I paid my bill, our server let me know that for a group of young teens as big as ours, he had never encountered a group so well mannered. Wow! I could tell that this was going to be a good week.
- As we walked back to the bus, a situation arose with one of the boys (through no one’s fault). I acted quickly in what I thought was the best interest of the student, but in the end I forgot that I was not the one in charge of the entire group. Lesson learned, and in the end everything worked out fine.
- The theme for our week, carried through daily devotional materials, a mid-morning “refresh” discussion, and the evening session with full band and a speaker from a large middle school ministry, was “Engage Hope.” The kids looked at various snippets of 1 Peter and explored the assertion that “through Jesus we are born into hope, built into family, so we can bring hope to the world.” At first it seemed too abstract for kids that age to grasp – many adults can’t articulate the difference between biblical hope and hope as the world understands it – but I felt like by the end of the week the kids really embodied it in a way we couldn’t have foreseen.
Through Jesus we are born into hope, built into family, so we can bring hope to the world.
- CIY has an ongoing partnership with Active:Water, a nonprofit that provides wells and water filters in developing countries. Specifically, we learned about their work in Zambia. Kids learned facts about the water crisis (I hate to call it “trivia”), watched a film called Zambia’s Song, and gave an offering to help provide new village wells. The coolest thing to me was that every group got one or more 5-gallon plastic jugs of water that they carried with them to each meeting and activity throughout the week. No single student came anywhere near the 4-6 miles a woman or child in Africa might walk to retrieve that water, but it was a tremendous tangible lesson in what someone in a different circumstance goes through to obtain something we literally take for granted.
- Our project for the week was really a large collection of projects, some bigger, some smaller. Our homeowners were Tom and Barb. They had been married 47 years, and lived in this lake community (about 30 minutes from our dorms at Nebraska Christian College) for 16 years. Shortly after they moved in, however, Tom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and eventually lost the ability to care for his home as he used to. Barb also was fighting lung cancer and has had two surgeries to remove growths. Neighbors had helped when they could, but when we came to paint the house (our primary commitment as a second, smaller group is coming to do the remaining projects we couldn’t) as well as do significant clearing of brush, landscaping, and disposal of 1 1/2 huge dumpsters of debris, people took notice. The next door neighbor hosted us for lunch one day, and a lady out jogging with her daughter and granddaughter on our first day on the job offered to let us come use her dock for a swim party one day. We gladly accepted both offers! The state council on aging sent representatives who loved what we had done, and even the guy who delivered the dumpster noticed the impact we were having not only on Tom and Barb’s lives, but the entire community.
- Tom was out in the yard throughout the week, admiring the amazing progress the kids had made. Once I was walking behind him into his garage when he started to fall backwards. I was right there to help him stand back up. The next day he fell all the way to the ground. He said it happens often, but I’m sure it hurt. I helped him get up into a chair, and our team nurse cleaned and bandaged his scrapes. At our swim party, the nurse’s son was playfully pushed into the water, but he is not a strong swimmer. Quick reaction by our youth pastor kept a scary moment from turning into something much worse. Earlier that day, some of the CFBC students had been singing Donnie McClurkin’s “We Fall Down.” I think maybe God wanted me to really understand the value of Christian community?
- On Thursday, our final day of work, we celebrated birthdays for one of our girls as well as Tom himself, whose birthday was the next day. Before cake was passed around, though, we presented Tom with a brand new American flag for his pole. One of the girls had noticed the tattered flag when we first arrived. Four of our boys who are Boy Scouts, led by Ben, retired the old flag and raised the new one. Although I was attempting to record the moving ceremony on video, I was struggling to keep myself together as I watched Tom and especially Barb in tears as they were so proud of their new flag. (Barb had even provided us with patriotic marching music all day, and I don’t think she knew ahead of time that we had gotten Tom the flag.) After the group began to return to work, I felt it was right to tell Ben how proud his dad would be of what he had just done. He must have been thinking of it as well, because the next several minutes were among the most tender moments in my 19 years of ministry. Barb came to share a tear, telling Ben about her own lung cancer (the same as what took Ben’s father). I can barely express how much it meant to me to act as the arms of Jesus in that near-wordless space.
The next several minutes were among the most tender moments in my 19 years of ministry.
- From Thursday night until we got home late Friday, life was one big party. From the “praise pit” that eventually climbed to the front of the stage for the last few songs, to the afterparty at Culver’s (we even convinced the CIY staff to join us), to the day at the Omaha Zoo and early dinner at Spaghetti Works, the kids incarnated a joy for life and a family mentality I have rarely seen. We’ve joined with CFBC before, but this was the first time that kids from our Olathe Campus joined us as well. By the end of the week, I could hardly remember which kids were from which congregation, or even which were 7th or 8th grade. May that spirit catch on like wildfire and consume even the kids who didn’t get to go on the trip.
This was a trip to top them all, and I’ve been on all but one our ministry has done. I’m exhausted yet fulfilled, and look forward to a fantastic year as the kids strive to integrate the lessons of this amazing week into their entire lives. Thanks for praying!