Team 1: Lisa W., Sarah, Zana and Chelsea are with another youth group who are going to a place called Casa Central for the week. They will be ministering to Spanish speaking elderly people.
Team 2: Meg K., Wynn, Phil, Julia, Lauren, Kelsie, A.J., and Marnie. They are with another youth group who are staying at the location we are housed at and helping the main guy who is kind of like the care taker for a large section of this neighborhood. They are doing a bunch of manual labor type jobs.
Team 3: Tom K., Paul, Matt, Hannah, Marisa, Erin and Claire. They are with another youth group helping with a church called Ekklesia. They are assisting Pastor Tomas with a variety of things he has going on in his neighborhood.
Team 4: Scott, Ben, Eric, Lindsay S., Ally, Maddie, Sidney, Ellen, Abby and Kate. We are not with another youth group. We are on our own. We go down to a local Boy’s and Girl’s Club and assist Nick Sanchez with many of the programs that he has running for a bunch of inner-city kids.
I will have specific teens write a blog post about their teams experiences once we return. So with that in mind I will tell you about the fun stories of our teens that pop up when we are together!
Day 1: This is always an awkward day for everyone. Everyone is checking out their ministry site and sizing up what the week is going to be like. If it involves interaction with people it can be a little bit more awkward depending on what kind of situation you are walking in to. Plus a lot of our guys including me felt so tired the first day. I had no energy. I just tanked.
Our morning started out with breakfast and devotions. Then we all headed out to our ministry sites for the day. We typically finish up whatever we are doing around 3 and go take our showers and the designated public shower facility that we have been assigned to - yes, icky; but at least we feel clean and it is only for a few days.
After dinner we have a special activity, then club time involving everybody together. We usually have time for worship and a lesson from one of the Youthwork leaders. Then after that we meet in our own individual youth groups.
On Monday night we took the Loop train (L-train) into the city and wandered around Millennial Park. We ran into the famous Chicago Bean. It is this giant metallic bean shaped piece of art. You can see your reflection many different crazy ways. We took a bunch of cool team pictures. Then there was a band trying to shoot a music video right there and they asked us to be in it. All the teens gathered around the band and acted like it was a party! It was funny to watch. It will be interesting to see if this becomes the next big hit on MTV. Next thing I know they will be asking to do the next season of The Real World with our youth group because we seemed so cool in the music video.
After that we headed back to our mission site and had club time followed by youth group time. It was a good first night to get into the grove of what we are supposed to be doing.
Also, every day seems to bring us a new story about Wynn. It was announced at dinner time that those who had the letters A-K could get in line first for food. Wynn immediately jumped up all excited and ran to be the first in line. Thinking that he did not understand the instructions or was using some other type of alphabet, I called him out on it. He then explained to me that his first name is actually Albert. So regardless of whether the first half of the alphabet or the last half determined who goes first, Wynn had all his bases covered so that no matter what, he would make it to the front of the line either with Albert or with Wynn. I was very proud of him.
As you can tell I did not have the time to blog like I wanted to during this trip. Youthworks keeps a pretty tight schedule throughout the week and it lends to very little down time. But now I am sitting in my room getting ready for the first evening of the Junior High mission trip and I thought that it would be a good idea to reflect on the Senior High trip before I get to far into this trip and they begin to blend into each other.
Every day started out pretty much the same with breakfast, we make our lunches and then we head off to devotions. The morning mealtimes are great. The sack lunches bring back fond memories of elementary school with PB&J’s and Salami sandwiches.
Devotions in the morning were interesting. The teens felt that the themes were kind of repetitive with just a different theme word each day. It took discipline for some of them to have the 20-30 minute quiet time. I know for some of them prayer time turned into snooze time easily with the quietness and white noise.
Once we were done with devotions we headed off to our sites. My team had a fairly easy task this week. We were helping out a Boys and Girls Club with their day time activities. Just about every day involved swimming. I almost felt guilty at first and then some of our teens struggled with the challenge for the week. We discovered throughout the course of the week and through many different conversations that many of the government programs in Illinois were getting cut due to budget cuts. Many of the employees at the B&G Club went from full-time to part-time pay just to keep the programs afloat. So our presence and help were very much needed. It was just hard doing something that felt like we were baby sitting. We were told we really couldn’t speak about our faith so that we would not jeopardize their government funding.
As the days progressed though, we began to get to know some of the kids and really begin to start enjoying playing with them and serving them. At first for me it was hard to see some of the ways in which some of the kids treated each other - a much harsher level of heckling, bullying, and trash-talking than I am used to from our local teens. But as the days progressed, and we began to warm up to some of them, you could see the relationships starting to form between our teens and the neighborhood Chicago kids. Each day we did something different but it seemed that most of it involved swimming. On the first day we went to the local pool. On the second day we went out to the beach. On the third day we went to the theatre and saw Mall Cop and then went to the local pool. Many of us played a very intense game of Sharks and Minnows until our arms were about to fall off. On the fourth and final day we took them to a really nice local pool. At that pool we had a high dive platform where I finally got up the courage to do some flips off of it. A bunch of us did laps with several of the kids and their leaders. I ended up doing about 16 laps until my arms and legs were beginning to burn and I was physically about to die.
During the evenings we would start out with an evening activity usually right after dinner. On the first night we went to Millennial Park. You can read about that adventure above.
On the second night we had some special speakers. The were local people who decided to take action to change their neighborhoods for the better. The transformation of what they were able to accomplish by beginning with small changes that would eventually lead to massive cultural change in their communities was astounding.
On the third night we attended a local church that met at on of the area high school theatre auditoriums. I forget the name of the church but when I heard that the pastor was speaking about the tabernacle on a Wednesday night I had very low expectations. I began to wonder what exactly was going on when the entire auditorium packed out with hundreds of people. The pastor spoke on a small passage out of Chronicles about the basin that is to be in the tabernacle. He had an entire miniature tabernacle built on the stage. The images that the priest had to confront as he progressed towards the presence of God was interesting. He first had to deal with his sin by sacrificing blood on the alter. Then he had to confront his image in the water found in the basin and use the water for cleansing. There were so many amazing applications that he pulled out of that relating it to the death of Christ and the cleansing of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
On the fourth and final night we went to the beach. Lake Michigan was beautiful. Unfortunately it got very cloudy and even a bit chilly at points. As much as I am very fond of the Great Lakes, I just could not go back into the water. Many of the teens who worked hard and sweated great amounts of water actually took the plunge despite the weather.
After the activities we would have rallies with all of the other groups including the rest of our youth group who were at three other sites. We had decent worship time and teaching time. After that we would have our youth group time where we shared what each one of the teams accomplished that day and how they saw God through their efforts. These are always neat times where you can just sense the closeness and camaraderie of the youth group. The other teams shared stories of working hard within the community doing skilled labor, others assisted with the elderly, and others assisted with a local church pastor and his area of mission.
The boys always insinuated that they were going to “get into trouble”. The joke behind it was that the Parker Brothers game Trouble was right in the middle of the room we were all sleeping in and they quite literally meant it when they said the were getting into trouble. They played it quite a bit and had fun with it.
Wynn and Matt decided to compete in a nacho cheese eating contest. I was excited because their only other competition was a girl from another church. I thought, hands down, Wynn would devour his cheese and shame the rest. Unfortunately when the clock started Wynn took one taste of the cheese and put his bowl down and looked straight ahead for the rest of the time. Everyone was going nuts at him but he would not respond and just stared ahead. Matt seized the moment and went head-to-head with the girl and squeaked out a victory. I was appalled by Wynn’s “tuned-out” demeanor. At the end of the game though he said that after one taste he was reminded just how much he despised melted cheese. I supposed I couldn’t blame him. I just want to see him as the next host of “Man vs. Food” if God grants me one wish involving the life and times of Wynn Rice. Wynn also had some amazingly great quotes throughout the week but let’s just say here that one involved Marisa putting out peanut butter and jelly for any of those who did not like jambalaya and the other involved Phil shaking Wynn awake if he moves around too much. In order to understand the humor behind that, you will need to find someone on the team to explain it. Both quotes were full-on belly rippin’ knee-slappin’ quotes that only Wynn could pull of in his uncanny sense of humor that shows up at unique moments.
As we rapped up the week we took our teens downtown for the day before we returned home on Friday. We had a lot of fun together. We showed up at the Water Tower Mall and went floor-to-floor window shopping mostly. Every store that had some kind of body spray, perfume or cologne Paul, Wynn and Ben seemed to dump half a gallon of it on themselves. They stank BAD after a while. Like “Pepe Le Pew” bad. We then ventured outside and made our way down to Ed Debevic’s. Half of our team ate lunch there and the other half went to Gino’s East. Each group enjoyed their culinary experiences.
I believe that our trip accomplished what I always hope that our mission trips will do: deepen our faith, bring us closer together, learn how to become more like Christ, and just see the world through a different angle that the one we are used to. I am confident that many of our Seniors will do well in taking their faith to college and continuing to grow in their faith. And I believe that our new school year is going to be awesome. We had many students and leaders who were new to mission trips and strangers to youth group. I think this trip helped to connect them a little closer to the group so that they can feel even more apart of the family once we kick things off in the Fall. I really enjoyed getting to know Kate and see how she is coming out of the shadows of her big brother. It was awesome to see Zana finally connect in a deep way with our group. Matt fit right in with the guys as if he has always been one of us. Now he is! I don’t want to accept that Ally, Marisa, Chelsea, Julia, Claire and Trent are going off to college soon. They have been just as much a part of my life and spiritual growth as I hope I have been to them. I will miss not seeing them on a regular basis but thank God for Facebook and a darn good reason for me to go on a college road trip with some dads and act like were in college again!