I posted a first blog concerning a portion of the missions trip I took with my youth group at the end of July. This blog will serve as the rest of that overview. To help remind you, my last blog detailed the service aspect of our trip. The group I was with specifically served at the Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy, doing work on a house for employees in some pretty hot weather. But, as were other parts of the trip, it was a great experience nevertheless.
And now, without further ado...part 2.
So we're tired after our service opportunities, right? Maybe a little sweaty, a little dirty. "Uncomfortable" to say the least. Well, we got lost the first day back to camp (that'd be me) and ran into traffic the third, meaning we didn't have as much time as some other groups to get ready for dinner. Changing into a t-shirt and shorts made the heat less daunting, especially given the walk over to the dining hall. LOTS of walking while we were there, by the way, which was good given that the campus's mouth-watering menus regularly consisted of burgers, fries, pancakes, hash browns, ice cream, and root beer (and these last two could be mixed together, a fact that some of the boys and I eagerly embraced). Plenty of food offered by a hard-working, Sudexo-employed staff (ah, reminders of COD...). Great stuff. After eating and group discussion, we headed off to worship. We were told the first day we might not be inclined to worship after hours of work...but that didn't stop our kids. Lead by worship band People of the Earth, the singing was topped with emotion. Raised hands, closed eyes. This was the time to worship the God we had served all morning, the time to remember who He was and why we were at camp.
After a fun skit, our speaker, Sam Bhatt, came on the stage...it's easy to use adjectives to describe Sam. Excitable, funny, talented. Powerful words from a passionate pastor. He was able to find a balance between enjoyment and seriousness that reeled the kids in and made them know that they wanted to listen and needed to listen. Over the course of five days, he drew students into a deeper understanding of what our relationship, as Christians, needed to be with God. He didn't believe in "camp highs," in faith fueled by a few days of overpowering emotion that dipped into non-existence when faced with the reality of the world we live in and struggle against. He didn't believe in the "Jesus" (clap your hands like a baby and use a sing-song voice when you say that) that some of us "accepted into our hearts" when we were elementary aged. He had a passion for a God who gave everything to bring us into His family and a desire to see that family grow because of our unshakable, unashamed acceptance of that invitation and unwavering wish to live our faith out. One night, he called many of us to either accept that invitation or to remember that we had accepted it and recommit our lives to Christ... and many kids, including some Grace Pointe students, did so. Another night, he asked us to devote our lives in light of that acceptance. He asked us to pray for others, to consider and give up the parts of our lives that held us back from following God fully. Kids did. Kids grew. Incredible transformations happened. It's hard to completely describe, and maybe the line "you had to be there" is cliche, but it's true.
I originally agreed to help serve in Grace Pointe's youth group because I personally wanted to grow. Over the previous year as a student, I had been shown how to make my faith my own, and I believed that choosing to serve in a specific area was one way I wanted to do that. But during my two years as a youth leader, I have seen that, while I grow, that growth occurs while I pour into students and help them grow. The relationships I have built with the guys in the group have been amazing. I don't just tell them what to do or shush them when they aren't listening to a speaker. I get to encourage and have fun with them. The Philly trip gave me an opportunity at building better relationships, not only with kids I knew well, but with boys I hadn't spent as much time with or hadn't even seen in a while. I led a couple of devotions with all the kids and got to hear from them. I was able to listen in on struggles and talk to some of them about what was holding them back. I got to see the passion on their faces, in their eyes, as they both served and worshiped.
That was the serious part. On a more fun note, I got to run around two dimly-lit churches and play Murder in the Dark with the kids, scaring them and being scared as we tried to figure out who was "hunting" us down in the shadows and avoid being the next victim of a sinister individual (seriously, it's way more fun than it sounds). I got to laugh with students as we traded jokes, fun comments, amusing stories, and a couple of witty puns. I became the recipient of multiple nicknames--"Lumberjack," "Amish Man," and "Pilgrim"--all because I had a beard. In both respects, the serious and the fun, I was able to get to know these kids better, the boys especially. I got to see them be real with us. They're kids with dreams, passions, hopes, pains, and inhibitions. They showed multiple sides to themselves, some they may have never thought they would reveal, to a group that loves them no matter what we learned, heard, or saw. The kids are amazing, and I loved the moments I got to spend with them.
I thought a lot about the trip leading up to it. I was unsure of what we'd be doing, unsure of what my responsibilities would be, unsure of what the experience as a whole would be like. Yeah, I was nervous. A little intimidated. I hate not knowing things, but I often find that making the unknown known is a less difficult process than I imagine it to be. I am grateful--to God, the Student Life coordinators, the students, and fellow leaders--for the opportunity to go and serve both the community of Philadelphia and the students I partnered with. Each of the above portions represent parts of a trip that, as a whole, probably serves as the best week of my summer. The day after we got back, my dad said it seemed like I was a little melancholy. A little sad that the trip was over. And I was. Maybe I still am. If being on a missions trip made me that happy, then I have to be the one to live with that "missional mindset" in order to bring part of Philly back home.