There is much to be said about life in the aftermath of a mission trip... There is even more to be said about life in the aftermath of two back to back mission trips. I survived. I went. I returned. I am tired. I am mostly recovered and gearing back up for the usual preparation for Bible studies and quiet times and activities with the youth. I wonder at the work that the Lord has done these two weeks in my life. I have seen Him work in the kids lives. I've seen them stretched beyond their strength, seen them pulled to do what they would normally not do. I have seen them grow deeper into Christ in the midst of hard labor and obedience. I have seen what true spirituality is and it doesn't involve seeking out spiritual experiences outside of serving God, but it involves doing what God has told us to do, what Jesus Himself reiterated in the Sermon on the Mount. Our actions are to reflect that which is on the inside. If the inside is dead and nasty, no matter how glamorous our actions on the outside look, they are just as dead and nasty. If we are clean and have God's Spirit on the inside, then no matter how small our outward action, it is approved by God because we are able to do it with the right intentions. However, if outward obedience doesn't follow from the inward change, then how can we believe there is an inward change?? That is pure presumption!
I'll start with the Middle Schoolers and Chattanooga.
This trip came out of nowhere! Not that we hadn't planned on doing a middle school trip, but the original idea was canceled due to a lack of youth groups coming on it. So, instead of trying to do another trip with Son Servants (the organization that sets up and plans the trips) for the same week which would have cost a great deal more, the parents opted for a trip in a different week. So, we ended up going to Chattanooga the week before the High School mission trip. That was quite the hard decision for me to make. I was torn between feeling like I needed to do both trips, being the youth intern who had signed up for two mission trips this summer, and trying to find someone else to make one of the trips. After much prayer and consideration, I decided to do both trips, which Rachel agreed would be good. And so began two weeks driving a fifteen passenger van over 2700 miles!
On our way to Chattanooga we stopped in Montreat, NC to pick up our other adult advisor for the trip. Carolyn, the advisor I was picking up asked if the kids had known we were stopping to get her. She thought it would have been funny had I not told them I was going to be picking her up. Had I done that, I could've got them believing that I was picking up a random hitchhiker that happened to be sitting in the Bilo parking lot waiting on a ride (which I must say would have been pretty funny).
So, we set off from there and drove through the mountains of North Carolina and then through the mountains of Tennessee and stopped for lunch in Newport, TN. From there we progressed on toward Chattanooga, with a brief stop in Athens at the Wal-Mart that I had only visited once since they built the new Supercenter there. It was quite a trip, remembering all the places I used to hang out at and things that I used to do when I lived down there. It made me sad that I couldn't make it over to Tellico Plains, my hometown, being only a short 25 minutes off of the interstate. But that couldn't be worked in, not justified, though I think it would have surprised the kids to see such a rural town because most of them have been raised in and around the huge city of Charlotte or something that compares to it. I can't imagine the shock many of them would have had to see all the rural back country that made up one town and total lack of every kind of fast food restaurant that they were used to! Granted, we did get off the interstate in Cleveland and take Hwy 58 to the campground where we would be staying for the next 5 nights, which offered up quite a bit of farmland and open stretches of country side, though none of them noticed it that much since I didn't have anything to say about considering it was an area that I was unfamiliar with.
So, we got to the campground, checked in and began meeting other people from other youth groups. It was mostly southern kids (if my memory isn't failing me, which it might be with as much as it took in during these two weeks of traveling) with a big group from Florida (which as we all know is not really Southern at all ;)
The neat thing about Son Servants is that when they do a mission trip, they take care of all of the logistics and Bible Studies and what not. They also partner with a local ministry in the area where the mission trip is so that we are giving aid to the local ministry in accomplishing their goals in the area. In Chattanooga, we partnered with Widows Harvest Ministries. This ministry's sole reason for existence was to go take care of widows. Their work ranged from simple house hold things (changing light bulbs, fixing doors, etc.) to re-roofing houses to simply visiting the widows in their homes and offering Bible Studies for them to attend in order to meet other people. It is truly a God-sent ministry for these women! The founder of it in Chattanooga, Mr. Mason, has been doing this for something like 30 years! He has a heart for ministry and wants to do this all for the sake of Christ! Truly a man of God that we should remember in our prayers!
Our typical day involved wake up at 6:30a, breakfast at 7, quiet time at 7:30, quick group devotional at 8, then to the vans and to our work sites at 8:15. We left the work sites at around 3 (maybe a few minutes earlier if you were really far away from the campground, or a few minutes later if you were finishing a project). From when we got back to the campground to 6p was free time. Dinner started at 6p, with adult counselor meetings at 6:30-7:15ish. Our big meeting was from 7:30-9 with family time going from 9-9:45 and everyone needing to be in their respective cabins by 10 (this didn't always happen, but they weren't too hard on us if any kids wandering from the bathrooms had an adult advisor with them to keep them out of trouble). Lights out at 10:15p, with sleep coming when you felt like it, which was pretty quick considering the work we had just accomplished that day and doing it all over again the next! All in all, a good schedule to keep for a week for the kids (though for me it was two weeks).
One of the hardest things for me that week was being the leader for the work group I was part of. The first day was torturous for me because I'm used to just jumping in and doing work and people following my lead. That's how it usually works with adults (and I say "usually" because of my time at Wal-Mart as a Lead Night stocker in Frozen and Dairy because the guys they gave me weren't always the best at following the leader...). So, I had to hold back and teach the kids what they were doing and stay aware of them in order to correct or help them accomplish their job a bit better. Our job was to scrape an old house and then prime and re-paint it. One of the difficulties in scraping the house was the fact that its siding was made of asbestos, which meant we needed to be careful about how hard we scrape lest we send up bits of fiber for us to inhale. That was something I had to really watch out for because some of the kids really wanted to do a spectacular scrape job and get every shred of paint, even if it wasn't in the least bit willing to come off, off! Doing that was sure to cut into the siding and send asbestos fibers into the air.
I do have to say I asked the kids in our youth that went with me to pray for me in this area, that I would able to delegate work and oversee without trying to do everything myself. God answered that prayer in an abundant way that week! He truly worked through me! I didn't even have to try to not do everything, it never crossed my mind! I just helped the kids do the tasks that i assigned to them and kept an eye out for anything else that needed doing! All in all, God really worked through me during that week of leading my work crew (a job that I had prayed would not be given to me, but God had other plans in mind, I suppose!).
I only got to work with two youth from GSPC, Maddie and Harris, but it was a good time with them. I got to know them a bit better since I was working with them everyday and I hope to continue to cultivate that relationship. And even though I didn't work with any of the others, the week provided a great deal of time for getting to know everyone else. I especially had a good time connecting with Zach and I do look forward to how the Lord is going to work through him in the future as he grows in Christ more and more!
The most impressive thing about the week was what all the kids learned from the experience. When I say "all," I mean everyone that came to the mission trip. On the last night, there was a time of sharing what the Lord had done in them and taught them throughout the week. The theme that all of them had was basically, "It's not all about me, it's really about God and Who He is." These testimonies were truly breathtaking! All of these kids came with so much selfishness in their hearts, but through working with widows, who had nothing in comparison to our plentiful lifestyles, but were more thankful than anyone I have ever met, God changed them little by little to see that all their toys amounted to nothing! I pray that that lesson is something they continue to learn and take hold of as our own culture becomes more and more superficial and materialistic and that maybe they can be part of God's plan, I hope, to stem this tide away from Him and show others the pure love of Christ in everything that he does!
I think that is about all I can say for the time being. I don't think that I am done just yet talking about Chattanooga. I haven't mentioned our trip to the Church of the Firstborn, where VBS was held all week and how the kids responded to the speaker! This, again, was a truly amazing night in my life, as well as all the kids who experienced the same thing that I did!
Until then, may God grant you peace and grace as you travel through this alien land on your pilgrimage toward the Son!