Thoughts on Mission

Four brave adults and myself just took our church’s Youth Group on a mission trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Mi.  The “Soo” is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and right across the river from Canada’s version of the city.  It is a LONG drive.  We planned on twelve hours with stops, it took us sixteen.  You actually end up in a completely different biosphere (using my newly acquired biology knowledge) and climate zone.  At one point we noticed that our detour road had no lights except where the snowmobile trails crossed it.  That and the “Caution Elk Crossing” sign clarified we were in the North country.

I found this today and started thinking about all the trips the youth group has undertaken.  Five trips to five different cities in five different states.  They never repeat, even if the previous trip had more memories than can be recounted in a two hour meeting.  The group is always ready for the next place.  They want to see the country they live in and it isn’t about the hot spots.  They are looking for the places no one chooses to go.   The real city that hides beneath the gloss of the Chamber of Commerce description.  The teeming masses yearning to be free that the Statue of Liberty welcomes.  The kids are looking for a place to have an impact, one that no one knows about beyond the sphere they live in.

I recently shared with them how unique they were in a society that is always looking for the payout.  These kids never look for a payout.  They are looking for the experience, the friendships, the moments of accomplishment.  The intangibles that have no price tag.  When I mentioned how unusual this was, true to form they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  The “HUH?” look was mirrored from face to face.  The kids never contemplated the idea of a material reward or that they should expect one for the work they did.  They just loved doing it.  A chance to put on the light gray shirt with the grinning sheep and head off on a week adventure that would test them physically by sleeping on air mattresses in rooms with no AC, test them mentally as they cut box after box of melons to feed hungry people, and emotionally as they encountered people who were grateful just to have someone notice them.  That was the reward.

Ask a youth group member, past or present, to share their favorite memory from a mission trip.  Some of the stories will match, but each member has a special moment from at least one trip, and usually one from every trip they attended.  Some memories relate to the fun things we did between serving, but just as many of the memories will grab your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes.  Because these kids take off the blinders, put the rose-colored glasses aside and truly look at the community they are serving.  And it changes them, creating people that I look forward to spending time with during the year, people that I know will work to make where they live and work a better place, people that understand there is no price tag on compassion.

If you were ever looking for a chance to experience life in its truest form, go on a mission trip with a group of teenagers.  Immerse yourself in the world they live in for a week, with all the ups and downs that adolescence requires.  See the people, places, and moments through their eyes.  It will change your perspective.  Every time I jump in a van with the big circle magnet that has that goofy sheep with the cross around its neck and the words “St. Michael’s Youth Group”, I know my life is going to shift.  I know my viewpoint, my perspective will be impacted in ways I never imagined.  I will store the memories and they will show up at the perfect time, like the best rendition of “September” I ever heard on the longest detour ever, or the opportunity to let a Yute know about the photo of us I treasure from a particular trip.  When I have a moment that feels like all I do is fight the current, I remember cleaning a Salvation Army center or building new animal pens at a teaching farm.  It tilts the balance back because I know those memories were all pebbles dropped in a pond that continue to ripple through-out the world.

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My heart is full

I try not to get too mushy and sentimental on here.  It’s just not who I am.  I tend to look at life a bit sarcastically and work on finding some humor because it makes the whole thing a bit easier.  But I can’t walk away from saying this.

Last night my church sponsored a musicale, a musical review showcasing the many talents of its congregation.  Instruments were played including an amazing cello and piano piece by a mom and daughter duo, and a concertina, which is a small accordian.  There was an appearance by the Blues Brothers and the mysterious musician Clyde Waterloo who claims to live in the boiler room.  There were silly songs and the return of a young lady with a beautiful voice, who inspired my daughter yet again with her singing.  It was such fun, complemented by and MC who wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself and scrumptious desserts.  If the music began to overwhelm you, a silent auction was going on in the room next door, where you could bid on everything from beautiful knit and embroidered pieces, a handmade quilt, dinners (including a gourmet feast), a sailing excursion, and riding lessons.  It was a pretty incredible spread.

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Why did this fill my heart, cause me to get all gooey inside?  Because I had always wanted the chance to bid for my husband to sponsor a spring clean up in our yard?  No, it was the kids.  The kids I have had the privilege of spending time with for many years.  The kids the church community entrusted to me all those years ago when they asked me to step in on a temporary basis.  Nine years later, that temporary position has become one of the most important pieces of my world.  Last night they were in the spotlight.  The proceeds from the evening were being donated to their summer mission trip.  As always, my co-coordinator Karen put together a brilliant musical performance with them, and Don documented the experience.  They tell me I do things too, but I am not always sure that I give as much as I get.  The songs the kids sang, Short People and You’ve Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman prompted discussion about first impressions and stereotypes, then showed how a bit of understand can change everything.  The Honorable Judge played an impressive rendition of the first song on his tiny pipe and the audience loved it.  But this wasn’t where I lost it.

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There was a moment in the program to share what the mission trip was and why we were doing it.  We hadn’t thought about this piece and we certainly didn’t practice anything.  In fact, we had forgotten about this piece until intermission.  I huddled with groups of kids as they manned the dessert table and came up with a plan.  If they would just follow directions, I would do all the talking.  The moment came and I was alone on the stage.  Bit by bitI brought them to the stage.  Soon it was full and I stepped off.  This wasn’t about me, it was about them.  At one point, I looked over toward the dessert table where one of our newest members was standing and smiled as I watched him bounce with excitement, waiting for his chance to join us.  Did I say much about the mission trip?  Probably not as much as I should have.  Did I say what was in my heart about the kids?  Absolutely.  

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They brighten my day, they gave me a purpose at a time when I felt like I didn’t have one.  They are always up for any crazy scheme we throw their way.  They ad-lib during the Christmas pageant and give sermons after being up all night for a lock-in.  They sing and play instruments while eating package after package of Oreos.  They care deeply about each other and pretend to help clean up.  They play and laugh with each other.  And it makes me smile.  It brings me joy.  It fills my heart.

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