Once we got down there, we got ourselves situated into our rooms. It was a complete joy to discover that the boys were put into a dorm that actually had air conditioning! I can't even remember the last time I had an air-conditioned room to sleep in on a mission trip. I was also excited that I might have my own room all to myself. But that was a short lived dream as I acquired some room mates by the end of the day. It seemed that it was punishment to make some of my junior high boys come into my room. This was new territory for me. I was not sure how I felt about being feared this way. Anyhow, I stuck to my guns and by the middle of the week I actually had a great time with my room mates. We had some good conversations going into the night.
On the first work day we ended up over at Walnut Hills High School. Just out front of the school is a large patch of ground owned by the Cincinnati Parks. The issue is that the honeysuckle shrubs have taken over the entire area. In fact, the entire school was pretty much hidden from site as a result of these shrubs and vines. It was our task to get into the woods with saws and trimmers and pretty much level any and all honeysuckle shrubs and vines. Our Junior Highers attacked it with a passion.
During our lunch we talked about some of the things that we observed while getting down into the woods. The teens saw a lot of alcohol containers, some condoms, and several other things that made you wonder just what was going on deep down in these woods that are just a few steps to the front door of one of the best high schools in Ohio. We were able to see the spiritual significance of what we were doing: shining light into the darkness so that all may see the truth and the things that happen in the darkness will vanish in the light.
On our next work day we went to Ault Park. This was a beautiful park. The issue here once again was that the honeysuckle shrubs have taken over the trails. In fact, some of the trails were just about unrecognizable as trails because of the overhanging plants, trees and shrubs. All the trails needed to be opened up in a big way. We attacked the trails from several different directions. Once again, our teens worked very hard and had a lot of fun.
At one point I was using a chainsaw to cut a fallen tree trunk in half. As I was working hard at splitting this log, I could feel several things hitting me in the back. Turns out that the rest of my team was right next to a bush that had tons of briers. The teens were picking them off the plant and using me as target practice. We ended up with a mini-war as the briers were being lobbed back and forth.
During our lunch break it just so happened that Tyler accidentally dropped his dorm key into the trash can. We had a good 10-15 minutes of entertainment as he went digging through every speck of trash trying desperately to find his key. He would lean into the trash can and reach down to try and dig out piece by piece everything he could grab to find this key. After a while, I suggested that he just lift the lid, take out the trash bag, rip it open and look through it like that. He finally took my advice and found the key.
We attacked the trails for another hour or two while some of the other teens did some mulching. After we finished up we decided to make a trip to a UDF for some ice cream. Once we got inside the UDF store a huge torrential downpour happened outside. It was fun to eat ice cream and look outside in amazement at the storm that was passing though.
On the third work day, we ended up back at Walnut Hills High School. We had a very interesting morning as several city officials gathered together to thank the teens. One in particular was from Xavier University. He encouraged the teens to continue to serve. He also mentioned that Xavier gives out 10 full-ride scholarships for students who have demonstrated a life of service. This struck me as a much easier and cheaper way to help get your teen through college than putting all your time and effort into the slim chance of a sports scholarship. It was really a great honor to have so many important people take the time out of their day and leave their air-conditioned offices to thank a bunch of hot, sweaty Junior Highers for their hard work. It was pretty sweet. After that I challenged the teens to double their efforts and try and get as much done as they can today. Our teens took that challenge personally and did a tremendous job attacking the woods with their saws.
Part way through the day Bill Schnure, who is one of our parents and a Science teacher at Walnut Hills, took us to see his classroom and the courtyard in which he and his classes have designed several biological environments. He just got a shipment of several different types of fish in that day that he added to some of his displays. It was very cool to see Bill's classroom and the projects that he and his students have created out in the courtyard.
When we arrived back at the college we cleaned up, ate dinner, and went to the last session. The sessions in the evening consisted of a worship band and a speaker. We had a great experience processing all that we were learning through these sessions. The speaker was challenging and the worship band was energetic although all the songs they sang were songs that I was hearing for the first time. As we were chilling out on our last night, another torrential downpour occurred. This time, many of the Junior Highers did not just look from the inside-out. Instead they ran outside and enjoyed the shear power of the storm. As it took seconds for them to become completely soaked, someone decided to slide down one of the many steep hills on the campus. This lead to a lot of sliding that was fun to watch. In fact, all of the water that was coming down the hills had one spot that it all collected. Some of the teens started sliding down that hill into the massive puddle. They had a lot of fun getting wet and muddy. Unfortunately, the next morning I ran into a maintenance guy who was looking up at the hill as we were loading up. He was not happy about the hill commenting on the grass being destroyed and how troubling it is that kids would do this. I had a difficult time seeing things through his perspective though. I have spent Summers doing landscaping in my earlier years and I did not see any damage other that grass that was pushed down and given a day or two it would pop right back up. Plus when you consider all the good that was done all throughout the Cincinnati area with unleashing over 300 Junior Highers for the week to serve (for 4 weeks even), I think sliding on the grass is of little significance. But I knew I was talking to a grounds keeper and not a youth pastor so I quietly sympathized with him and moved on.
On Friday we heading over the river to Newport. We went to the aquarium for the morning. I built up the fact that in the past I have always missed the feeding of the piranhas and I was not going to miss it this time! We had the time down! At 11AM the piranha's would feast. As we made our way slowly through the aquarium, we made sure that we doubled-back to the tank with the piranhas at 10:45. The excitement was building up for a savage and bloody feeding. As each minute past, the excitement kept on building. Finally, the moment came as food was dropped into the water and then . . . the freakin' piranhas ate them like goldfish eat crumbs. It was such a letdown. I got ragged on for the rest of the time. I wanted to see a piranha feeding frenzy that would savagely rip fresh meat right off the bones of its victims. Instead we saw these passive, docile fish dine quietly and elegantly on dead fish. No excitement. No savagery. I wanted to turn the dumb piranhas into fish sticks.
After the fun at the Newport Aquarium we went and had lunch at Dewey's Pizza then headed home. It was an excellent trip especially for our Junior Highers. It was important to me to instill within them that missions must start first of all in our own community before they head off on mission adventures elsewhere.
I have also been told that I need a GPS! This has been a theme that has continued for a while now and I think that I am beginning to agree. I am never, ever, ever going to do another mission trip without a GPS. I am tired of trusting Google Maps or Mapquest or just going on instincts. These three have not served me well. Plus I have been teased about making a wrong turn with the team on just about every mission trip I have ever lead from my first year as a youth pastor. So as we look to next year, there will be a new tool added to my backpack.
I also want to say a very, very big thank you to my adult leaders who helped with all of the trips, and to all of you who helped with your prayers and financial support. We would not have been able to have such a great Summer of missions if it were not for adult assistance on all of these levels. It was truly a remarkable and amazing Summer! Thanks again!!!