Sunday, July 04, 2010

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 6

Time to pack up and go home!  It was a good trip coming home.  We got to say good bye to our CSM staff and take a great team picture.  We arrived home a little later than I wanted to but losing an hour on our way home didn’t help.  But I do remember that it was just an amazingly beautiful day to travel home.  And the teens in my van listened to the CD of the lady whose concert we went to go hear on Wednesday night.  I pretty much had the CD memorized by the time we got back to EUMC. 

Overall here are my impressions of this trip.

1.  Best Junior High mission trip yet.  We had a great group attend and a great site with excellent staff from the Center of Student Missions.

2.  CSM does a great job.  The church that we stayed at was probably one of the nicest sights we have had as our home base for a trip.  The CSM team was obviously friends with each other and enjoyed what they were doing. 

3.  The service projects were excellent.  I loved that each team had one sight that they returned to every day so they got the experience of building relationships and getting to know kids for more than just one day.  But I also loved that the other half of the day gave them a variety of different experiences. 

4.  The other activities were great also.  I loved the Urban Experience and the concert that we got to attend.  I really, really loved how dinner was a cultural experience as well.  Many times it was a hit and some times it was not, but overall I think that was more memorable than just doing cafeteria style food back at our site or hitting fast food. 

5.  I will never be the only guy on a trip again or we will just not take the boys.  And I mean it.  I have split roles now as a dad and as a youth pastor.  This group is just too big for one guy.  I had Max help me on this trip and Paul helped me last Summer.  And I will always be open to Senior Highers helping on the Junior High trip.  But I personally need at the bear minimum one more dad, someone I can fall back on and help me out so that I can better focus on the whole group and leave the “dad” part of me at home. 

6.  I will always take Senior Highers who demonstrate leadership to help on these kinds of trips.  Once again, to watch what Paul and Max were able to accomplish was amazing.  Their faith is impacted as well as our Junior Highers.  It is fun for me to coach our Senior Highers in this way but they are equally helpful for me in their advice and ideas pitched at me which is just about always dead on.

7.  I will always make sure I have a good mix of veteran and rookie adult leaders.  I like getting more adults involved but I equally love those who have been around the block a few times with me and get me.  Breaking in Newbie’s is a lot of fun too!

8.  We will always have a free night whether the mission organization gives us one or not!  Thankfully, CSM makes this apart of the week.  This is always important especially if the scheduling is pretty intense.  It helps to give the teens something to look forward to knowing that some downtime is coming where we will kick back and have some fun.

9.  I have become a big fan of CSM.  I would highly recommend them to anyone.  We ran into a group of teens with “Group Camps” who did not seem like they were having a good experience.  They said that they needed to check their bodies for ticks every morning at the place they were staying at.  Gross.  That is unacceptable in my opinion.  We also ran into the Youthworks group throughout the week.  I like Youthworks.  I just got annoyed the last two times we went with them that we had to use public showers and showers off site.  I have a hard time understanding what is so hard about finding a building we can use that meets all of our needs: food, sleep, showers (especially if you are in a major city).

10.  Inviting the new 7th graders and holding onto the old 8th graders I believe is a good thing.  The new 7th graders get to know everyone so quickly and feel apart of the youth group instantly.  They don’t have to wait for Confirmation.  The old 8th graders would do well with the Senior High but they would be more subdued being the young ones.  On the Junior High trip they can be the leaders.  They can step up to the plate.  It’s all good. 

If you have any other evaluations or observations that you would like to add to this list feel free to leave your comments.  All in all, it was one of the best trips we have done so far!

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 5

This was our final full day at the mission site.  I ended up going out with Karen Krammes’ team that consisted of many of the new 9th graders.  In the morning we spent time with a local YMCA that was doing a camp for many of the neighborhood kids.  Our teens played a lot of games with the kids including basketball, a goofy variation of kickball, ping-pong and video games.  After some free time the kids were split up into their groups for their camp.  The two groups that they had were sports and theatre.  I went with the theatre group.  Some of the kids gave a prepared speech on a favorite quote of theirs.  Then we played some theatre games.  The scenario was two people in the morning making breakfast: eggs and bacon.  If the director did not like the acting then he or she could recommend a new approach to their acting such as being more ghetto, angry, slow motion, fast motion, gangster, sesame street, zoo animals, etc., etc., etc.  There were a lot of laughs. 

For the afternoon we went to an urban garden to help.  We got a full tour of the garden.  It was a completely organic garden so there were some differences in their approach to caring for it.  It was very, very interesting.  The owner was very passionate about the garden being an expression of his faith and caring for the community by providing real organic food for a low price.  We did some weeding, mulching, and composting.  All the teens did well.  There were areas of the garden that were created within a pyramid of tires or a pile of cinder blocks.  It was fascinating.  I wanted to go home and turn my backyard into an urban garden.  During most of the time that we were there I was not feeling good.  I think that all the activity of the past few weeks caught up with me and I was not doing well.  I had to lay down for a good chunk of the afternoon but after some time I felt compelled to help Austin shovel compost.

When we were done with our jobs at the garden we went back to the church site we were staying at and did a foot washing ceremony with our team.  Our teens really got into it and made it a very memorable experience.  I was impressed with some of the leadership I observed in our teens who took the initiative to wash the feet of many of their friends and pray for them.  It was touching to watch.

After that we cleaned up and went out for our free night!  We had a ton of fun going down to Broadway Street.  We took all of the teens to Jack’s Bar-B-Q for dinner.  They all ate well and had a good time.  It was the perfect restaurant for our group of teens.  Then they hit the strip.  We met several Elvis’s.  We tried on cowboy boots.  We tried on cowboy hats.  I bought some country music (Johnny Cash!), and we found a Willie Nelson fortune telling machine.  We heard tons of music pumping out of all of the bars, restaurants, and on the street.  We had a lot of laughs. 

Eventually we made it back to the church.  That evening we had our final debriefing session.  This is probably the most important session of every mission trip.  I always emphasis the importance of making our faith and our attitude of service a habit in all areas of our life, not just a “one-week-out-of-the-Summer” thing.  If “mission” only means the trip I go on for 7 days during the Summer then we have missed the hole point.  So we talk about family, school, friends and youth group and how we can apply all that we learned from this mission trip to all of these areas of our life.  It was a really good night. 

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 4

Today I was back with Ann Mosby’s team.  I got to go with the girls back to the Boys and Girls Club and hang out with many of the kids I met on the first day.  We had a lot of fun.  These kids are so nice and friendly.  We played all kinds of games such as basketball, carpetball, ping-pong, etc.  The girls were all great in how they would play hard with the kids and have a lot of fun.  We got a giant game of Knockout going in the gym.  Katie, one of our girls, beat everyone in one of the rounds.  She was very proud not only that she won the whole thing but that she was responsible for specifically taking me out of the game too. 

For the afternoon we ended up doing an “Urban Challenge”. This is one of the specific things that are uniquely CSM.  They send us out into the city in small teams to perform a bunch of tasks to understand the city and the homeless more.  It is an awesome activity.  I had Katie and Kelsey for my team.  We ventured off to find the people we needed to find in order to complete our tasks.  The first one was to find someone to share a lunch with and spend time talking with them.  The two most talkative girls were a little apprehensive about initiating a conversation with a stranger so I lead the way and we found a guy on a bench.  We spent about 30 minutes with him talking about Nashville, homelessness, church, Jesus, football, jobs, etc.  It was a great conversation.  After that we talked with several others including homeless, the police, tourists, Nashville residents, and librarians.  We discovered who founded Nashville, what the 3 stars mean in their state flag (and Titans football helmet), what Fort Nashbourgh was all about, and much, much more.  It was a great activity to experience the town with a “scavenger hunt” type task that helped us to understand the area better.  As the girls and I were finishing up our tasks they expressed the need for Starbucks.  They caught me at a weak point and I thought a delicious cold drink sounded really well after walking several miles all over Nashville.  So I swore them to secrecy and made them promise me to not tell the rest of our group, especially Ann!  As irony would have it, we found out the next day that Ann did the exact same thing with her girls and we all had one big laugh.  When we met back up with our CSM leaders they took our group to debrief down at the fountains in one of the parks.  Most of us brought our swimsuits so we got soaked.  Aerin and Ann wanted to just get their feet wet but the other girls felt that that was not enough.  And I can honestly say I did not instigate this at all!  Really!  I was having too much fun jumping around in the water fountains but I did look up long enough to see Aerin and Ann get thrown in.  I was proud of my girls.    

That night we had Mexican food catered in at the mission site.  It was simply amazing.  One of the best tasting Mexican dinners I have ever had.  And ohhhh the salsa.  I could just drink is as a beverage it was so good.  After dinner we had a worship experience that all the teens really got into.  It started with some music as we sang together.  And then they were released to go between 4 different worship stations that involved journaling, painting, posting prays on a board, and prayer and Scripture reading.  It was a great experience.  The teens really soaked it all up.  The artwork was amazing and everything they did was so heartfelt.  We did a quick Walmart run and then went to bed.  It has been interesting that the girls going to bed has been easy.  It is making the boys be quiet and go to sleep.  They have endless energy.

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 3

What a day we had!  I switched over to one of our other teams that had Patty Sutton as their leader.  Today we went to a day shelter for homeless people.  When we arrived we split up into teams to do various jobs inside and outside the building.  I took two of the teens outside to clean up around the facility.  It was a little hard to do this at first because there were many homeless people already outside watching everything we do.  And a lot of what we had to clean up was from them: cigarette butts, wine bottles, beer cans, etc.  It was hard for me from the stand point that there were 3 large trashcans right in the area they hang out yet the evidence of their vices were littered all over the ground.  But the teens and I did our best and as we were cleaning we got to talking to some of the homeless people.  I eventually got them to move so that I could clean up around the bench that some of them were sitting on.  There was one guy in particular that seemed very outgoing towards everyone but extremely intoxicated also.  He reminded me of the coalminer in “Blazing Saddles”.  He meant well, but it was very hard to understand him.  Once we cleaned up the outside we checked in with the other groups inside.  There we some teens cleaning up shelves in the back, some were helping make lunch, some were helping in the laundry area, and some helped with serving and cleaning up lunch when all was done.  This was an intense experience for me in that there were so many homeless compacted in one area.  The entire cafeteria was filled and all the other serves were very busy with people coming in and out.  Being there for the first time was hard feeling like a complete outsider.  I knew that if I would have been here for a week or so I would feel more comfortable getting to know some of them.  But being there for the first day I felt good about my ability to complete tasks yet nervous about reaching out to the people. Our teens did really well with everything that was asked of them.  Just as we were leaving the homeless facility one of the guys who was there stopped us and prayed for us.  It was a very meaningful and touching prayer that he said for our team.  

After that we went to a church called Family Affair Ministries.  This church was having a day camp for their elementary age kids.  Many of our teens had the opportunity to spend time with the kids playing out on the playground, playing sports and also watching them prepare for their program they were working on for their closing program.  It was a really nice church and once again the kids were just amazingly wonderful to spend time with for the afternoon.  Our teens did a great job warming up to the kids and integrating in with them all throughout the day. 

We then left and went to dinner.  The group I was with went to an Indian restaurant.  It was amazing food.  We all ate really, really well.  The other groups went to a Vietnamese and Ethiopian restaurant.  They came back with not so glowing reviews.  Some of it was good, some of it wasn’t. 

For the evening all of our teams ended up at Family Affairs Ministries church for a concert.  We were the first group to arrive when the evening already started.  It began with the pastor of the church who gave a challenge that was bold, loud and bordering on Pentecostal.  She was amazing and extremely compelling and you knew you were in trouble if you yawned or looked bored.  Then the singer started up and she was really, really good.  At first all of our teens were sitting together looking like the suburbanite, middle-class, vanilla folks that stood out from the rest.  But half way into the concert our teens were dancing with all of the church kids and celebrating and worshiping together.  You began to get a picture of what the kingdom of God will look like one day.  It was an awesome sight.  Our teens were spiritually energized from the experience. 

We came back to our home base and had our debriefing time.  There were many stories about serving in a mobile soup kitchen, playing with kids, working at an urban garden, and interacting with all types of people. 

All the teens are in bed now and we are getting ready for another day!  Tomorrow is our “Urban experience” exercise and it should be a great activity for the teens to learn about the challenges of homelessness.  This was a powerful experience on the New York trip so I am looking forward to watching the teens go through this and hearing their stories.

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 2

Alrighty!  The first full day of the mission trip!  It started out with the energy of everyone hustling and bustling to get ready to head off to their sites.  One of the rules that were laid out was that showers needed to be 5 minutes long in order for everyone to get through.  And the kicker here is that the entrance to the showers is right next to the kitchen so everyone knows when you went in and came out.  It just so happened that one of our new 9th graders thought he was taking a 5 minute shower according to his relative definition of the word “time” but he was easily exceeding 15 minutes and everyone knew it.  He summarily got booed by the whole group when he tried to casually walk out of the shower room and one of the leaders assigned him dish duty for the entire day.  He was responsible for EVERYONE’S dirty dishes!  This was quite delightful to me since this was my own flesh and blood.  It was fun to see peer pressure met out punishment without me having to do hardly anything. 

Our group got split up into three teams.  We made our lunches, had our team devotions and then headed off to our sites.  My team for the day was lead by Ann Mosby.  We had a small group of the new 8th grade girls.  We went to one of the Boys and Girls Clubs for the morning.  I was not too excited about this because of my experience with the Boys and Girls Club on our Chicago trip last Summer, but this was a much different experience.  In Chicago it was hard to get to know the kids and many of them were oblivious to us.  But in Nashville I was blown away by how nice the kids were with our teenagers.  They bombarded all of the teens with attention and affection as we played with them out in the playground, in the gym, and in their game room.  There was never an awkward moment.  If there was a slight moment where I was not doing something, I instantly had a kid in my face saying, “Hey, play with me.” And they would pull me into a basketball game, a foosball game, a ping-pong game, a bumper pool game or a carpetball game.  In fact we played several rounds of thumb wars too.  The kids at this club were all really sweet and fun to be with.  All of our teens felt that they really contributed to the success of the organization and had a lot of fun doing it. 

At lunch time we ate outside in this park that had a beautiful WW2 memorial.  And I do need to say that there is just something about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a mission trip.  It tastes so extraordinarily good for some reason! 

After lunch we headed out to the Second Harvest Food Bank.  When we pulled up we realized that we would be with one of the other teams for the afternoon, Karen Krammes’ team of new Freshmen!  The Food Bank people took us in to their food packing area.  Giant bins of food needed to be sorted out in categories of good vs. bad food.  99% of it ended up being good so then it went over to the conveyor belt.  There all the food was thrown onto the belt and a large majority of the teens were spread out at stations which would collect and box specific types of food that they would see coming down the belt.  This kept up at quite a steady pace where the time went fast and the kids worked hard.  They packed several pallets of food that ended up being an estimated 10,000-12,000 pounds of food! 

We called it quits soon after 3:30 and then got a full tour of the facility.  The teens were most impressed with their freezer warehouse.  The cold room was a nice contrast to the heat that we had to put up with throughout the day. 

That night we went to dinner at a restaurant called Sheets.  It was a sole food joint.  It was amazing.  Many of the teens got fried chicken with the cheesiest macaroni and cheese ever.  I had to go out on a limb more and I got the turkey and gravy with stuffing with a side of cabbage and sweet potatoes.  I know that sounds like a traditional Thanksgiving meal but it was cooked and served in a completely different way.  It was excellent. 

Just after dinner we did a prayer tour of the city.  We went to a variety of sights that showed the glitz and glimmer of the city as well as the dark and depressing sights.  The one that stood out the most for me was when we went down to the Tennessee Titans stadium.  We stood on the sidewalk right outside of the stadium.  It was then explained to us that the building right next door was the Juvenile Detention Center.  We talked about the contrast and similarities of these two landmarks.  The kids came up with a lot of interesting thoughts.  Then the question was asked, “Where would Jesus be if he were here?”  Many felt that he would be spending more time helping at the Juvenile Detention Center.  Our CSM director challenged us to recognize that Jesus would be standing in the center of these two contrasting worlds.  With that we were challenged to identify with Christ who would “stand in the gap” by lying down on the sidewalk that separated these two organizations and pray for all the people that are represented in their spheres.  It was a cool experience.  We also saw the contrast of the rich and the poor within the distance of one block.  It was an eye opener for many of our teens. 

When we arrived back at our home base, we had a debriefing time with everyone together and heard a lot of interesting stories such as: Mallory trying to help a guy with no arms, some of the teens helping to give a meal to homeless people, other teens spending time with other city kids at other clubs, and so on.  All of them seemed to have a really good day.  Our debrief time went well as I challenged all of our teens to let go of their masks and labels that they all have of themselves and each other at school.  Do not allow the things that divide us into categories affect us on this trip.  We are all children of God here doing what Christ has called us to do!  It ended up being a good evening with the girls going to bed immediately and the boys needing some “encouragement”. 

Nashville Mission Trip: Day 1

Well, we had a rather uneventful trip down to Nashville.  We ran into a few storms but other than that it was beginning to become a rather boring, sleepy ride.  After I just laid down the law about energy drinks being off limits, I found myself about two hours into the trip stopping at a gas station in order to down a double shot espresso Starbucks energy drink with a box of Nutter Butters. Yum!  It was just the thing to get an injection of caffeine, B vitamins and sugar, to keep me fully alert and then some for the rest of the trip. 

Of course I was extremely excited to finally be on a mission trip with my new GPS!  For all the students who have been on trips with me over the past 20 years they can attest to the fact that every once in a while I would get our team a little tiny bit lost as I try to navigate our mission team through the subway systems of New York, or the Loop in Chicago, or New Orleans after the Katrina mess, or the hills of Pittsburgh.  BUT NOW I HAVE A GPS!  No more getting lost and heading the wrong way!  But as fate would have it, I was coming up to a split in the road and hesitated for one moment, questioning the advice from my handy-dandy GPS.  And wouldn’t you know it, in a split second I found myself on the wrong road.  I quickly got the phone calls from all the cell phones of certain teenagers letting me know of my mistake.  Luckily, my GPS was more forgiving and gave me the quick route to get back on track . . . recalculating . . . recalculating . . . recalculating.  

We arrived at the Eastside Baptist Church and met our Center for Student Missions team.  They are a sharp bunch of 20 somethings.  I was impressed with what appears to be a team that are friendly, fun and excited about what they are doing.  They got us situated into our rooms.  What is different this year is that we are all sleeping together on the floor in the church.  We do not have dorm style quarters like previous trips.  So the energy that is created in putting a bunch of junior high boys together all in the same room is enough to power a major city.  Being the first night of the trip they are WIRED! 

Once we got settled into our rooms the CSM team took us out to dinner.  We went to a Greek restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal.  There was lamb, chicken, rice, cilantro and cucumber sauce on our plates.  Throw them all together in the little pita breads provided and BAM! You got yourself Greek bliss that makes your taste buds sing. 

We came back to the church for orientation.  They covered many rules.  Of course my 9th grade boys want to know if they can drink coffee.  Coffee = caffeine = energy drink!  NO! Unless of course they already have a healthy adult-size addiction to it. 

Now it is time for them to go to bed!  Lights out at 10:30PM!  This is always a sick pleasure of mine since I know that many of them have gotten themselves used to staying up till 1 or 2 AM.  They have to be reminded that only a month ago the got up at 6AM and went to bed around 9 or 10.  So the girls went right to bed and the boys needed some help.  Extra doses of sternness and threats.  One good day of hot weather and hard work ought to take some of the edge off of their insane energy and get them to embrace “lights-out time” tomorrow!  

Our teens have been broken down into three different groups that will be doing different things throughout the week.  I think we have some really good teams that should work well together.  There is already a little bit of nerves among the girls but I think all will be just fine once they get to experience ministry together and have to depend on each other more. 

Well with that I better hit the sack too.  I am not the only one who has gotten used to late nights during the Summer months. 

And let me say if just ONE MORE GIRL asks me to take them to go see Twilight 3 (Eclipse) for our free night I just might blow a gasket.  I am half tempted to take them to a real hoedown with live country music and make them line dance till the pass out.  Vampires do NOT glisten in the sunlight.  THEY DIE!  Werewolves do not run around with a pack of guys shirtless in the woods!  That’s just a little weird!  All the mythology that makes those dark characters great have been mocked in Twilight!  I am more of a Harry Potter fan anyhow.  Okay, enough rambling.  It’s time for bed.