(I started writing this a week ago, finally getting around to sharing. Trips require a lot of recovery time for me.)
Whenever someone asks where I am going in the week before a youth mission trip, many seem unsure of why I would use vacation time to get up earlier than I do on a normal work day to use power tools with middle schoolers…it just sounds exhausting…..and dangerous.
But I do it because it reminds me that there is so much more we need to be focusing on than ourselves. And also, most importantly, because I love students and the chance to help them deepen their faith at a young age.
This past week, I was blessed with the most joyful group of students I have ever had on a trip. The excitement to be there was evident in that these students never sat still. They worked hard together, always looking for a job to do. They played hard together, running around during free time, never to be found just sitting in their rooms. They shared meals together, often seen not sitting with just their same 3 friends, but instead with anyone, student or leader. The only time I did see them still was when we would worship together, because they were so enthralled by the music and what it was doing in their hearts.
These students were contagious. They brought out the best in me.
They reminded me that there is more to focus on than just ourselves, which can be easy the older you get when there seems to be too many aspects of life to figure out. My mind lately has seemed densely clouded with worry: am I doing work I want to keep doing? am I meant to stay where I am? what should I do next? who will I end up with? and when will all of it feel more solid and settled?
My students reminded me to give up control, after all none of them had their cellphones and many not even a watch all week. They did not always know the plan for the day but were always excited and ready when it was shared with them. They reminded me to simply pray to be prepared for whatever way God pushes me next.
And their actions didn’t just effect me, they seemed to light up the beautiful yet terribly impoverished town of Wheeling. A city high know for high drug rates and drastic gaps between upper and lower class, where the buildings seem frozen in time, beautiful old homes with no one in them. Yet there were multiple times that week that people asked if I was with those other “green shirt kids.” Everyone in Wheeling seemed to know we were there serving. One woman I met on a sidewalk between worksites began listing off, out of sheer excitement, other housing on the street she thought needed help “if we had the time.” And when I would share that we were a middle school group from south Jersey, I was met with joy and surprise that 11-14 yr olds would willing choose to travel to their town and look outside of themselves to serve others.
Whenever I go on a trip, I try to decide on a takeaway from each one, something that I will think of when I look back at the trip later. My takeaway to share with you from this trip is the following:
Don’t forget to look outside of yourself, especially when your current self feels overwhelmed by the fine details. There is so much more outside of ourselves to learn from, details will follow.