July 21: Well it is time to get caught up here before I forget everything. On the morning of Thursday, July 21st I happened to plop myself down for breakfast and I happened to be right next to Zach (without his buds). So we were able to check in with each other and see how things are going. He expressed to me that this has been the best mission trip ever and he wants to come back every Summer! I was very happy to hear that he was having such a positive experience. I told him that I like to offer different trips from Summer to Summer but I could see us coming back in 2 or 3 years. In fact I saw a lot of positive growth in our teens adapting and adjusting to this style and discovering new things about themselves. I too was a little nervous about taking on a group of teens of which I only personally knew one from Epiphany! But this week helped me to learn how to get to know teens who are complete strangers and work together for a common goal. I have been getting a lot from this trip too.
As this heat wave continues on it just gets more brutal. I only brought one pair of jeans that I felt comfortable enough for painting. My other jeans can get dirty but no paint. I needed them to still wash up and be okay for normal life. So with that in mind, I put my paint jeans on on day 2, but our job got changed so we weed wacked a yard instead; a yard that on later inspection was infested with poison ivy and got all over those jeans at that point. Then I wore them again the next day because we were actually painting. As the next day of painting approached I looked at those jeans I have completely sweat through twice now and just knew, I could not put those back on. So I took them in the shower with me and hand washed them. Unfortunately I did not realize just how much poison ivy I got myself into and I would be paying for it slowly but surely over the next week here! But the jeans washed up well and I was able to tolerate using them for one more day of sweat-soaked painting.
My group was heading back to the same site we had yesterday. Before we arrived though we needed to stop at the local tool and corner store for some supplies. Just as I was beginning to wonder if this part of Tennessee knew what Starbucks was I finally found what I was looking for! The Double Shot Espresso Starbucks Energy Drink! It is the only energy drink I can tolerate and it has the most amazing effects on me for these types of trips! Sure enough, despite all the heat and humidity, I caught my second wind (heavily influenced by an extreme caffeine rush but hey, it works!). We were off and running at the ministry sight. I did notice that our team was beginning to loosen up, have some fun and let our personalities out a little more than at the beginning of the week. We did our best to complete the whole job but some rain came in and started to drizzle enough that we had to stop. I was bummed because I like to finish the job we started and finish it well. But we couldn't. In fact, some of the overhanging piece of aluminum in the back of her trailer detached while painting and I spent time in the rain getting that re-secured so that there would be no water damage done to the inside of her home.
We stayed extra late finishing that up and cleaning up. We had to rush but Nancy came out to say her goodbyes to us. As the teens got into the van ready to book it back so we would make it in time for dinner, I took a quick moment to ask Nancy if there was anything we could pray for while we were heading back. She told me she had some chronic pain issues that she was seeing a doctor for the next day, but then it was the next thing that really got to me. She told me almost word for word, “You know what though? The thing that is really just killing me is the loneliness. I just wish I had a friend to spend time with. I am not talking about getting married again or “that”. I just want someone to talk to; someone to go to a movie or church with; someone who would like to go out for lunch every once in a while.” I was floored with that statement. The quick fix in my mind wanted to introduce her to Facebook at least, but I knew that would not be the answer either. She just wanted someone to do life with that could relate to her at her stage of life. My heart was broke for her. We did pray for her as we headed back.
We got back just in time for dinner and as just about every meal has been on this trip, the food was really good! Afterwards we broke up into our big groups for worship that night. Each one of the small groups within the large group had to create a worship station. Then we explained our stations, dimmed the lights and allowed everyone to experience any of the tables that they wanted to visit. This was a really cool night as I saw a lot of creativity and imagination in the themes that ran with.
July 22: On our final morning of work projects, we were able to go back to our first site and complete the porch that we were trying to put the stairs and railing on all around the structure that was previously built by another group. We only had to work half a day and then we were allowed to take our small group out to do something fun to celebrate the week that we had together. To our surprise, our host announced to us that we were going to have a steak, potato and salad lunch! We were excited! We right away got going on the completion of the porch. I was quite shocked and amazed at how well it was all coming together. There were a few minor mistakes but overall it was very solid and sturdy when we were finished. Even the nails seemed to go in so much easier this time!
We didn't get much time to go do something fun afterwards but we all thought that it was more rewarding to stay at the house and finish the job well and spend time with the family since they cooked us such a nice meal. I stopped at the local corner store and bought my team ice cream and popsicles.
When we arrived back at the Mountain TOP camp I took some time to clean out the vans then collect and load up all the tools into the cargo van. After dinner we had a campfire. It was not what you normally think of as a mission trip campfire. It was still light outside and feeling the heat of a big campfire mixed in with the heat and humidity didn’t totally make sense to me. But the entertainment during the campfire was outstanding. The teens were encouraged to pull together some people and present a talent show of sorts at the camp fire. There were some teens from a church that has been coming to this mission trip for a long time now so they knew what to prepare for. And boy did they do a great job! They were hysterical! IT was one of those moments where you wish you would have gotten to know these teens at the beginning of the week because they were so funny. Some of our teens even performed, and performed well! Zach’s group did a silly skit. Kyle did the shortest skit ever. And then Jen got up and sang a beautiful song all by herself for memory and just brought the house down. I was very proud of our teens.
The final program of the night consisted of the closing program. It was at their outdoor chapel. I do have to say that the staff at Mountain TOP did a great job in bringing everything to a spiritual crescendo that night. Ryan volunteered to read scripture for this program. The teens reflected on what God taught them throughout the week. They talked about what they are taking home with them. Many of our Epiphany teens were standing up and sharing their thoughts on whatever the question was given to them. Even on young teen from another church cracked me up when he said that this week made him want to go home and teach people about the wonders of science. I am not sure how he got that out of this week but that comment made me chuckle for quite a while. At the end of the program we all had communion together and then everyone received a pin that was a symbol of a fish hook. This was the time were the teens and adults could now spend some time thanking each other, give little gifts to each other and just love on each other. Some of our teens got quite emotional. I was very proud to see how they were reacting to each other and to the friends that they made from other churches, both teens and adults.
As things wound down for the evening and we had some time to relax before lights out, I took the time to connect with some of the adults from the other churches to see how our teens did on their teams. I heard so much positive, affirming, kind, loving, passionate, powerful comments about our teens and how they conducted themselves on their teams. It was a great feeling to hear this from adults who have just only spent the past 6 days with our teens. No scary stories. No disrespect. No laziness. It was all 100% positive.
July 23: The final day came! We packed up our vans and headed off to clean up our assigned areas of the camp. As I was deep in conversation with Kristin about many important things, all of a sudden someone whipped my hat off and I received a lemon meringue pie right in the face from a teen who was with another church group. I must say it was a very tasty pie! They all had a good laugh but I got him back as he jumped into his church van to head back home I followed behind him and dumped a cup of water in his lap just as he sat down. No time for paybacks now! We were even.
We all gathered as one large group, then each church was called out. This was symbolic of the fact that now the work teams were being dismantled and you were being put back together with your church youth group to continue the work that God is doing in your life. The teens were empowered to take all this home with them and apply it to the rest of their lives. Pictures were taken. Hugs were given. Phone numbers were traded. And then we finally were able to shove off and head home for an uneventful and quiet trip home. In fact, I got stuck with the cargo van again because with all of the completely soaked and saturated sweaty clothes from 21 people it was somewhat stinky. And anyone who has worked with me for some time knows that for whatever reason, I cannot smell bad smells. Seriously. Skunks, bodily functions, BO, outhouses, decomposing and rotting things have no effect on my nasal passages. It’s kind of like color blindness but with the nose. So I drove with peace a quiet and Mitch sleeping in the passenger seat once he got used to the smell.
To be home that night was a delight. It went way to quick though and was doing my laundry as fast as I could so I could turn around and do it again with the Junior High on the next day.
Some random thoughts on Mountain TOP:
1. Absolutely beautiful camp setting.
2. One of the most well organized and managed staffs I have ever worked with.
3. The feel of camp and the work of a mission trip were nice! In typical urban settings you are confined to a building and not ever allowed out!
4. The food was outstanding.
5. The structure of splitting the teens up was not my favorite idea but it worked for just about the whole team. They caught a picture that the body of Christ is much bigger than just our youth group and our church back in Loveland, Ohio. Also, they can make the initiative to build up the body of Christ in a new context with new people with a vision and goal to accomplish together all in a week’s time.
6. As far as the rural mission trip goes, this was the best one I have been on. They have a long standing positive relationship with their community as they have been serving there for 35 years now.
7. Many of the teens wanted to go back again. I am not inclined to do the same mission trip 2 years in a row but I am open to putting Mountain TOP on the rotation list. I believe that it is good for them to get a well rounded approach to missions by participating in a wide variety of experiences: local, national, international, urban, suburban and rural.
8. Rural poverty is still a shocker in contrast to urban poverty.
9. Mountain TOP actually would be the perfect type of mission trip if I ever needed to take both the Junior High and Senior High together. And you can bring adult teams too.
10. They also plan on having many of their own tools so that gradually you will not have to bring any tools, just the teens and the vehicles.
Kudos to Mountain TOP for a great experience for us to build on for a new school year!