The next day started out with the sun making things warmer and more humid. We all ate a great breakfast of pancakes and bacon. The food has been really good here as far as mission trip food goes. Not a very high bar to achieve excellence there. Is it edible? Is there no mold on it? Does it taste like it was actually made or just heated up in a microwave? One of these mornings we sang happy birthday to Austin Lutz. I yelled out at the end of our song “Sweet 16 and never been kissed!” I thought I was funny but apparently this have given me the status of meanest youth pastor ever with some of the girls from the other churches. Our girls are quite amused that they are hearing negative chatter about me. I ask if they stick up for me and tell them how cool I am. They just stare back at me with a grin. I am beginning to wonder if it might very well have been a bad idea to have them intermingle with other youth groups. Now they are getting outsider perspective on just how weird I am. They are rethinking everything they ever thought about me! Oh well, I can deal with that! Austin took my jab well and the boys have not thought twice about it.
We all headed off to our work sites with the hopes that they begin to adapt better to this new set up and learn to adjust and lead within their group. My group went to a property where about a fourth of their land was overtaken by very tall weeds and small trees. Our job was to go in there and level everything except the big trees. We seemed to debate what each one of us thought was poison ivy to the point that all of us doubted ourselves in the end and just attacked the weeds. In the end, it did turn out that we were in a lot of poison ivy. Hopefully, with me and Henry, neither of us have broken out. I think that we are sweating so profusely that there is no way for anything to stick to us and absorb into the skin. At least that’s what I keep telling myself because I am terrified of breaking out all over. As we went about our job our female adult leader, Blaire, met a copperhead snake. Now this is what every person who we have served this week has said to us after our initial greetings: “Be real careful of them there copperheads. There’s lots of them out there.” This is not a comforting statement to start you day off with. This rates up there with “If you see an elephant, run like a jackal.” But I would rather deal with an elephant than a copperhead. I can see an elephant coming a mile away. A copperhead can just wait in the grass until my arm or leg is right in front of it and then it bites me before I can react. So now our first confrontation begins. Me with many sharp tools with long handles vs. a serpent of death. It was kind of like “Man vs. Wild” but this story ended in death. In case you are wondering, I am still alive. The entire day was soooooo hot.
I am literally sweating right through my clothes and even through my belt. It is just nasty. This might rival the brutality of what was known as our Adventures In Missions trip to New Orleans. But in New Orleans we had a scary guy names Sharky yelling at us, “Sooooo you want air conditioning do ya? WELL JESUS DIDN’T HAVE AIR CONDITIONING!”; and the AIM college-age leaders who would work us to death to the point where our sweaty clothes were also covered in insulation and drywall crud AND THEN they would say “Let’s canvas the neighborhood so we can invite people to our picnic on Thursday! Come on! It will be great!” So Mountain TOP scores really big in the staffing area while AIM continues to live in infamy with some of us. The leaders here are great. Very good kids.
We finished a little early because of the heat and we went and did an ice cream run. After that, our veteran leader, Blaire, took us to this pottery place. It was really cool. It was an older couple that you could just tell were very much still in love. The couple had built their own kiln that gets over 2,000 degrees when fired up. He sat us down as he created a piece of pottery on a pottery wheel. His wife told us that she had a brain aneurism and a stroke that she has fully recovered from. She had to teach herself how to talk and read all over again. They had many different types of pottery all made out of porcelain from beads to make necklaces with and also the big ticket items like vases, plates, coffee mugs, etc.
When we got back to the campsite, I heard many stories from our teens about how their day went well. Some did roofing, some built a whole deck in one day, some suffered while the person they were serving continued to make homemade food and feed their whole team. In fact that would Mitchell who landed that team. He bragged that their host said she really doesn’t care much about the work the kids are there to do, she just likes the company and the chance to feed them. Mitch let me know that tomorrow is lasagna! This is not right. His parents need to make him dig a big hole for a day when he gets home.
In the evening our large groups got together for a goofy game. We played “Airplane, Elephant, Mosquito, Baa Baa Bippity Boo”. I think I have that right. It was a great game that we will be introducing to the youth group when we start small groups back up again in September. We then had a time of worship where they focused on the passage of Jesus confronting the two possessed guys and commanding the demons to leave them and go into the pigs. The kids were challenged to let go of the things that might “possess” them and keep them from having a relationship with Christ. There were many creative worship stations that they were given the chance to go to and interact with each of the areas which raised an issue that can pull us away from God.
The day finished up with free time and bed. The nice thing about this area is that no matter how hot it gets during the day, it cools off nice in the evening! Everyone has been sleeping well.
On Wednesday we got up, went off to breakfast, had our devotions, team meetings, and tool and lunch pick up and off we went to our two day project. Just before we pulled out though, I got to talking with the adult leader who had Zach in his group. I asked the leader how Zach was doing. I got the report that would make any dad proud. He was working hard, helping everyone on the team and was just great to work with. I was very happy. Our project was a little ways away but the truly beautiful thing about the distance is that we traveled into Verizon territory! I was able to connect with Doug, Shelly, the Center for Student Missions, and my mom!
Once we arrived at the site we met our person we were serving for the next two days. Her mane is Nancy. She is an elderly lady living by herself in a trailer that needed to be painted from top to bottom. I had 3 of the teens start with the clear coat on the roof. This was a very tar-like substance that helped to deflect the heat and keep the inside of the trailer cool. The rest of us began to paint the trim and shutters. I took it upon myself to do hedging all around the trailer as whoever mows the grass did not ever come up close to the trailer making for excellent conditions for snakes and critters. Once again the heat was so oppressive that I sweat through everything and I felt like I was slowly checking out upstairs. After so much time, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told the teens I was going to get some drinks and I would be right back. As I was about to turn on the main road I decided to go the opposite direction from where we came. I wasn’t sure what I would find but I at least could see a traffic light off in the distance – a sign of civilization. I headed toward the light, went up and over a bridge and then I saw it! A sign that brought tears to my eyes, but since I was dehydrated it was dry tears. I saw the sign for . . . WALMART! I ran in and got peaches, cherries, Gatorades, gummy fruit, water, cookies, popsicles and ice. I was so excited to make it back to the worksite that I took a wrong turn on the road and somehow ended up on a highway. I got my handy dandy GPS fired up and found my way back. We scarfed down the popsicles and drank many drinks and ate delicious fruit. After some more painting we called it a day at mid-afternoon and went back. We made a stop or two at any store that had the word “Dutch” in it. Much to my delight there were pastries and cold water in these types of stores!
When we got back I heard good things from all my other teens. All are adapting, fitting in, and working hard. In fact, some are actually thriving in this new context. It is good to see them adjusting to this new format and making the best of it. In the evening we had a worship time that focused on the theme of healing. One of the Mountain TOP leaders told her story of being at college at Tuscaloosa when the giant tornado ripped though. It was an amazingly terrifying story. I spent more time with her afterwards just asking her more questions about going through that experience. The service ended with a time for anyone to come forward and receive prayer and anointing for healing. It was a good night. We had some free time and hit the sack. Although it does cool off in the evenings, it was still very humid on this particular evening and you just could not stop sweating.