Saturday, June 18, 2011

What a difference six years makes

Tomorrow is the beginning of our last youth group mission trip. Looking back six years to when we first started as youth group leaders, what I remember most is feeling totally panicked over this part of the job. The people who were in charge before us left us a little bit high-and-dry; there was nothing we could go on with anything--they even refused to give us the remaining checks for the bank account so forget asking them for help in finding a site for mission work!

We muddled through. And Katrina happened about two weeks before our first meeting in the fall of 2004, which led to an easy decision about where we were going. The major problem was WHERE and how to hook up with people who needed assistance. So God stepped in and sent other church members to the Gulf Coast to scope out a site. We ended up taking two high schoolers that year, but making it a combined mission experience with about 10 adults and 4 younger kids, not all of whom were members of our church. It was complicated. And frustrating. And absolutely amazing. It made me into a mission-junkie. Beast, too.

The following year we were on our own and I discovered that there are organizations 'out there' that coordinate trips for harried youth group leaders. In the end we blindly picked (were pushed into by God, really) an organization called Youthworks which has 50-60 sites around the continent that they staff and plan for every year. The sites range from rural to urban, and provide places for everyone ages 12 to 18 to serve. Since that year, they have expanded to multi-generational sites where whole families and church groups of all ages can attend. I so much want to do one of those! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In June of 2007 we took Sparky and three high school girls to Minneapolis for a week. That's the short version. The longer version is that I spent most of the first six months of that year in a state of panic over the paperwork that needed to be filled out, the money that had to be collected. I must have sent out at least six letters to the group and their parents about the trip over the course of the year. I worried constantly that we were going to have any number of problems or issues or scary events. Instead it turned out to be life-changing in all the good ways. The girls accepted Sparky unquestioningly (he was a year younger than them, not yet in high school), the college-age leaders were astounding in their faith and work ethic and joy, the work sites were indescribably rich in teachable moments, the church in which we 'lived' was spacious and had a pop machine (!)...and we got to go to Mall of America as a treat for our group at the end of the week. All that was great, but the most important, awe-inspiring thing was watching all of us explode in the growth of our faith and understanding of our purpose here. All my worries, all the panic, all the concerns about safety and planning and potential homesickness...all for naught.

The only downside of that trip was the fact that it was a combined middle school and high school trip. We are not cut out for dealing with 13-year-olds. We have specified high-school only trips from that year on.

In 2008, we took a larger group (about 10, I think) to the city where Beast and I lived for 6 years, and where Sparky was born. It was easier in many ways, not the least of which was knowing our way around town. The church was outstanding, the work was rewarding, the leaders were good.

In 2009, it was time to step away from urban sites. The kids elected to go to an an Ojibway reservation. We stayed at a school instead of a church, it was much cooler the week we were there, and the leaders--both those from Youthworks and those from the other church groups there that week--were absolutely unbelievably great. The pace was much slower, there were fewer 'a-ha' moments for the kids, but I think eyes were opened, perhaps more slowly and over a longer period of time afterwards, just as much as in their (our) service in the cities we'd been in.

Last year we went to our denomination's youth conference. It was a different experience from working all week, but we were every bit as sweaty and dirty and uncomfortable and tired as we were on mission trips, and there was every bit as much Spirit there in somewhat more obvious ways. It was a blast. In some respects last summer was a harder year because it required more internal 'work,' more honesty, more in-your-face challenges. For me, at least. I was wrecked at the end of the week.

For our final trip, we are headed east for the first time. We are back in a city. And the place we're staying sounds like the Hilton: beds (OMG--no air mattresses! Just sleeping bags), air conditioning, on-site showers!! And, where the first year I was staging the packing easily a week before we left, this year I haven't actually started packing. I don't even have clothes to take: I need to hit the store today for jeans and capris. In short, I'm probably the most under-prepared I've ever been for anything. And I'm ok with that; whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of the contingencies I've planned for.

We're taking Ruka to the rat-sitter this morning, then stopping at an ATM and Farm & Fleet for money and clothes, and then it's hope to start throwing shit into bags. I need to send a Facebook reminder about timing for tomorrow, and then I'm calling it done. Bring it on, God!! I'm ready for our swan song!

2 thing(s) to say:

Jen said...

God Speed on your swan song mission trip. It is amazing how the memories of those trips just stick with you. I think it would be a blast to go on a mission trip with you and Beast! Have fun and be safe!

Cat. said...

We could do one of those family trips, right? :-) It would be awesome. Really--I think we need more than us, but it could work. :-)

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