Sunday, October 30, 2011

Concluding Thoughts on the Summer Mission Trips of 2011

Alright.  A long time ago I promised that I would finish up blogging about the stories of our last mission trip with the Junior Highers to Chicago.  I apologize that I am just now doing this but I am making a more concerted effort starting today to get back to blogging and reading!  So here we go!


The two teams headed out to their YMCA sites for the morning.  The kids at our site had a lot of fun this morning because they had one of those big blow up water slides to play outside with.  Of course any time I seemed to get near it an Epiphany teen mysteriously got wet.  Attempts were made to avenge but they soon discovered that I am indestructible.  

For the afternoon we took the "ethnic plunge" into Albany Park.  This is similar to a scavenger hunt.  We were given a list of things we needed to accomplish that would force us to immerse ourselves into the neighborhood cultures.  We had to do things like finding products in a store from other countries.  Find how many different ethnic restaurants we can find.  Talk with people about their cultural backgrounds.  See how many different languages we could find.  Buy a paper in a different language.  Along the way we met this one guy that I initially thought he was working on something that seemed like a part to a skateboard.  He noticed me looking at him out of the corner of my eye and called us over.  He showed us what he was doing.  He had what started out as a silver dollar that he was hitting with a spoon.  What was strange was that he did this over a long period of time and eventually transformed the silver dollar into a ring!  It was kind of crazy yet wild at the same time.  But he was very proud of his rings that he showed off for us.  

After that experience we headed out to the Ravenswood Community Services to help serve dinner.  This was a church that provided groceries and dinner for the poor in their community.  We started out by bagging groceries down in the pantry.  We worked fast and hard to get the job done quickly.  Then the teens helped to give out the groceries and serve the dinner.  It was a great experience.

Team #2 did several activities during the afternoon.  They did a "meet-a-need" activity where they were given $5 and they had to go out into the neighborhood to find someone and meet a need of theirs with the money.  They are also told to try and spend some time talking with the person and get to know their story.  Team #2 also served dinner at Cornerstone Community Outreach and then ate dinner at a Vietnamese Restaurant.  This is the team that Doug went with and of course, some of our most colorful stories have come from.  Apparently when they were driving through the city somewhere a very loud "pop-pop-pop" went off.  As the teens began to look around to see what the sound was, our awesome driver, Arlene Wise, very discretely with out making a scene, just put her foot on the gas to get away from whatever that noise could be.  Unfortunately, Doug did not take my class on how to be discrete in a potentially dangerous situation.  At the sound of the noise, according to many witnesses, he began looking around wildly declaring, "WAS THAT A GUN? DID I JUST HEAR A GUN?"  This of course, made the teens even more excited looking around like scared Barney Fifes.  Now, keep in mind, no one can confirm if they for sure heard a gun.  It could have been a car backfiring, a jackhammer, or any number of things.  There were police chasing someone, but no one in the van could confirm if they actually saw a real gun.  So myth busted.    

Team #2 had dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant and it did not get great reviews. My team on the other hand went to a Mediterranean restaurant and it was delicious!  We still have some teens freaking out about the food.  I won't mention any names but the initials of one of them is Rachel Mellett.  She did try some of the food so I had to give her credit for that I guess.  

After dinner we had our team debrief, took our showers.  I told the teens that we would be going through the letter to the Philippians for our morning devotions.  So they needed to make sure that they read one chapter a day and be ready to discuss it the next morning.  What was really cool was that Doug and I were talking church talk in my room while all the boys had some free time before lights out.  As we were talking, all of a sudden Doug hushed me and said to listen up to what is going on in our dorm.  As we eavesdropped, we listened to our one Senior guy, Max, reading out loud Philippians chapter 1 to all the boys.  This was an awesome thing to experience for me.  This was confirmation for me that this youth ministry is working!  Typically it is common to lose many of your Juniors and Seniors due to many factors.  One of them being the "been there, done that" attitude, which quite frankly, I can understand.  So I tell my upperclassmen that if they want to stay connected and not be one of those "drifters" then they need to learn to give back by actively finding a ministry and pouring themselves into it.  Max did a great job of modeling this.  It was one of those moments where I felt very proud to be a youth pastor to this bunch of teens.  They didn't even invite me or ask for my spiritual insights and THAT WAS JUST FINE WITH ME!  After that we all hit the sack.

We woke up, ate breakfast, made our lunches and had our devotions.  Each morning we had a different adult lead the devotions.  I did the morning before,  Doug did this morning and then the interns took the other two devotion times.  We all sat outside in an alleyway for our morning devotions.  It was a really good way to start the day off.  

Once we finished we headed off to our 2 YMCA sites.  Today I decided that Doug and I would switch groups so that he could spend a day with each one of the teams.  I headed off to the other YMCA.  I had the chance to bounce around from room to room and watch our teens assist and help with many of the early childhood groups.  There was also another mission group there under a different organization so I took some time to talk with them and find out who they were. Some of our teens did really well interacting with the little kids and some felt out of their element.  With one of the rooms that felt a little awkward, I went ahead and taught everyone the glorious game of "Honey, if you love me, won't you please, please smile?"  This broke the ice for everyone as you attempt to try and get someone to crack a smile by saying the above line to them.  

For lunch we decided to meet at one of the Chicago pizza places.  We decided on Lou Minalti's.  I have never had this pizza before but I can say that it was definitely one of the best!  It was soooooo delicious.  I highly recommend this if you ever head into the Chicago area. 

In the afternoon we all meet back at the main site.  Doug headed back to Loveland at this point.   The rest of us were split up into groups of 5 or 6 for a challenge called "Immersion".  Each group was given different instructions.  My team had to walk down to the corner and take the subway train into downtown Chicago.  We had the assignment to initiate conversations with people to find out their thoughts on homelessness in Chicago.  We headed off to an area with several small parks.  I sent the teens in groups of two so they did not overwhelm any one person with this mob of teens coming at them.  Our teens did a great job engaging people and learning about the city.  After some time we headed down to the park with the giant fountain.  We came across a man who was selling "The Onion" newspaper.  I bought one and the teens took it from there and talked with this guy for at least half an hour.  He voice sounded a lot like Denzel Washington.  We then proceeded to the "Giant Bean" park.  We sat down and tried to come up with a plan for dinner.  This was one of the challenges.  We had $2 for each person on our team and somehow we were supposed to come up with dinner for all of us.  We eventually ended up at a 7/11 and bought some nasty hot dogs and slushies.  That was dinner.

We then headed back for debrief.  At the debrief we processed all the different experiences each team had in learning about homelessness and trying to find food with so little money.  They were also challenged to not eat any snacks that night so that they really do feel hungry.  The teens got a lot out of this experience.  

We started out the day like usual: get up, eat breakfast, no bag lunches though because we had special plans for lunch, and then do group devotions.  Then we headed off to our YMCA sites, hung out with the little kids all morning and had fun with them.  

We then had a little time to waste so we headed to the Navy Pier for a few hours.  The teens all had a lot of fun exploring all the cool stuff there.  I, on the other hand, found the food court, got some food and sat down for a little quiet time just to enjoy the opportunity to sit down and relax for a few moments.  

Later in the afternoon we headed back to the North Park University campus for a dinner and program involving all of the teams with the Center of Student Missions for this week.  We were all taken out to their main entrance where there was a nice open area where they had the group play some goofy games.  After that we had a Mexican dinner catered in for the entire team.  After a delicious dinner we went to their theater hall.  There we spent some time in worship and sharing as we got to hear how other church groups were experiencing the city and their faith throughout the week.  We then got to hear a speaker that was simply amazing.  I can't remember the name of the speaker but her story blew everyone away.  Here is a single lady who felt that God was calling her to minister to one of the worst gang areas of Chicago so she bought a house in the neighborhood and just started reaching out to the gangs.  Her house has evolved into a place where all the kids in the neighborhood know they can go to for safety, help, support and encouragement.  She went through a list of teens and kids who have died from gang related violence and the extreme hopelessness that so many of them feel as a result of believing that they may die at any moment.  None of them think of a future.  As she explained the impact that her ministry is having, you could see how what she is doing is beginning to help open the eyes of these teens to believe that they can have a future.  Through her ministry she has been able to see God restore many of these teens into people with hope, faith, and love.  It was very, very powerful.  

We debriefed later that night, hit the showers and lights out!

Again, the morning went like clock work: wake up, eat breakfast, make sack lunches and do group devotions, then we head off to the YMCA sites for the final time.  It was another beautiful day so many of the kids enjoyed playing outside on the play ground.  It was during this time where two of the young boys were pushing each other around until one of them fell and hit his head on the steel frame of the fence going around the playground.  He opened up a gash on his head bad enough to have to call the paramedics and the police.  The boy would need a few stitches.  The other boy was hiding in the playground equipment thinking he was going to get arrested.  The YMCA staff were all apologetic and frustrated by the whole thing.  But it seemed to all work out.  Leaving was a little sad for many of our teens knowing that we will never see these kids again.  So there were a lot of goodbyes.  

In the afternoon the other team did their "ethnic plunge" while we while we did a prayer walk, meet-a-need, and served dinner at the Cornerstone Community Outreach.  The first event involved us going to a particular area of uptown Chicago where homelessness is the most visible.  We walked to a variety of sites where we would stop as a group and lifted up a prayer for the neighborhood.  At one point we came across the rather large mural painted on the side of this building.  It was a beautiful painting of Jesus.  As the story goes, apparently the local gang gave permission for a painting of Jesus.  And some of the gang members came down and helped with the painting.  The message and symbolism used throughout the mural was awesome.  

Meet-A-Need was the next activity.  The group was broken down into 3 smaller groups and we were give some money with the challenge to find someone who as a need and find a way to help them.  I thought I was quite sly in noticing a woman sitting along the sidewalk that we passed by about a block ago.  I took my team and quickly retraced our steps to go find that lady and see if we could buy here lunch.  Of course, when we found her she said some other group was getting her food at McDonald's but if I really wanted to get her something she would love some beef tips from the nice restaurant across the street.  I politely backed out of that and we found another person who was homeless.  We bought him some lunch and spent a little time talking with him.  Before he took off we also prayed for him.  After that we walked around and took advantage of opportunities to talk with people and invite them to dinner at the soup kitchen we would be serving at that evening.  

We then walked down to Cornerstone Community Outreach where we would be helping to serve dinner.  As we walked there we went down this alley that we were told was made famous by Al Capone and his gang.  It used to be called Blood Alley because you could not walk through it without getting blood on yourself from people getting whacked.  At the outreach we helped to prepare the food and then the people came in.  A couple of interesting things happened.  First of all, I love how hard working and fun our teenagers are when they are given just about any challenge.  This especially becomes apparent when you are working with teens from other groups who don't seen to be there for the right reasons.  Also, we encountered a lot of different types of people.  Those who were thankful for the food and very friendly and personable.  Others who were ungrateful, mean and just nasty about what they wanted and thought they deserved.  But it was a good lesson for our team to be reminded that when we serve, we do it for Christ.  People may be grateful or ungrateful.  It doesn't matter.  We don't serve to have someone pat us on the back and think we are great.  We serve in obedience to our faith.

That night we went to dinner at Silver Seafood.  It was an amazing Chinese restaurant.  We ate a lot of family style portions of many, many things that tasted so delicious!  Right across the street and down from where we were at, the speak-easy that Capone always hung out at was visible.  

We headed back to our campus and had a time to debrief with our CSM leaders.  It was a good time to process all that we learned throughout the week and how it can apply to our lives and change our perspectives on how we see our world.  

After that it was time for showers and lights out.  But being the last night and all, I knew that the Junior Highers over the past few days were getting themselves all tense about practical jokes.  In fact, just a couple nights ago I laid down the law that they needed to relax on the practical jokes.  But being the last night and all I did not want to end this week with the reputation of the big party-pooper.  So I thought if I could manage to control a simple, harmless, non-destructive practical joke, then the boys won't label me!  So I recommended that we go up to the girls dorm, open up their door, and then yell as loud as we can, and run back.  They were very happy that I threw them a bone so we quietly scaled the stairs up to their main entrance.  Just as we were about to open the door one of my junior high boys decided to drop his shorts so that he only had on boxers.  With a very perplexed look on my face I asked him what the heck he was doing.  He responded back to me as if I had no sense of humor explaining that it would be funny if he ran in there with his boxer shorts.  My response came rather quickly: GET YOUR FREAKING PANTS BACK ON!  Then we opened the door, yelled loudly and ran.  The boys were happy, I was no longer the party-pooper, and now we could all just go to bed.  

Today was the day to pack up and head off.  We managed to get everything back into the vans rather well.  But I will admit that when we held onto these vans for back-to-back mission trips on two weeks where it was pretty hot, and saving the last week to be with Junior Highers, the vans we quite a mess to behold.  We said bye to our group leaders and then left.  Knowing that we had to travel through Chicago, we just had to stop for a few hours.  We parked our vans, walked around for a while, and then ate lunch at Ed Debevic's.  This is one of the most classic 50's diners were the waiters and waitresses are very obnoxious and fun.  The kids loved it.  After a nice, full, and entertaining lunch, we left for home.

As I look back over the Summer now I do have to say that it was really interesting to go on an international, urban and rural mission trip all in the same Summer.  There were many, many different experiences that come with each type.  I loved it.  I really enjoy doing mission trips.  I love helping teens see that they can make a difference in their world.  I love teaching them how to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are hurting and hungry.  I love helping them to get a much bigger picture of life outside of our safe suburban neighborhoods.  But to do 3 trips crammed into one Summer was a lot.  I did not like the fact that if a teen was not signed up for a mission trip then there was very little else going on back here in Loveland.  So I hope to limit myself to 2 trips each Summer.  I want to continue to add variety to the locations and types of trips we do as I believe that this gives us a new perspective and challenge every Summer to help grow our faith.  And I also want to make time throughout the Summer to do fun things back here in Cincinnati just to keep everyone more connected.  Now if you made it this far in this post I will reward you with letting you know what we are doing for next Summer!  I am trying to work it out for the Junior High to go to Cleveland and serve with the Nehemiah Mission from July 8-14.  The Senior High hopefully with be going on a trip to Washington D. C. through the Center of Student Missions on July 22-28.  I hope these dates work well for everyone so that we can get maximum participation.  Both trips will be awesome!  

No comments: