My rant is over now. Deep breath . . . . proceed . . .
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!
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.
Well I know that there are most likely some of you who have been waiting to hear from us! We are on our second full day of our trip here at Mountain T.O.P. and all is going well. Very, very hot, but well.
After a tasty dinner and enjoying the sights and sounds of the strip, we booked it to our hotel. I did not originally set up a hotel stay. I thought that would be one of our “adventures”. But one of my mom’s caught wind of this and took it upon herself to make arrangements for us as soon as she got home from dropping off her teen at the church. I could not praise a mom more on this day. I was tired, it was dark, and we were way down in the South way past the Ohio River. I would not have been in the mood to begin looking for a hotel. I was tired and I just wanted to get to some place with a pool and a bed. So as we were looking for this hotel, it began to get a little scary as we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I was recalling the beginning of “Psycho” as the girl was also tired and just needed a place off of the main road to crash. I was nervously praying that we did not find Bate’s Motel. But then as we turned a corner a wonderful “Best Western” sign popped up. We have arrived!
We got everyone into the rooms. Strange enough, all the boys decided to pile into two rooms which left me alone in the third room. I did not complain. I am starting to realize that sometimes rejection can be a wonderful thing. So most of us all ran to the pool since it was closing in 30 minutes and we swam and hot tubbed as much as we could. Then everyone headed to their rooms and slept well.
The next day we got up, loaded up, gassed up and made our way to the Cumberland Pines site of the Mountain T.O.P. mission. The first day was interesting as the entire day was pretty much devoted to orientation. The teens got their team assignments and cabin assignments. There are about 180 participants this week. All the churches are split up into large groups of about 28. That is your large group for the week. Then that large group is broken down into 4 small groups. The teens are given the challenge to split up the large group into small groups trying to equally split them up according to the sexes, the churches represented, and experience in service project type mission trips. This means that each large group will have about 5-7 people from our church. But then when you break them down into their small groups you may only have 1 or 2 from Epiphany. Some of the teens were not happy with this but I challenged them to try it out and see this as a new and different experience from our previous trips. There is a lot of comfort in being in your small group of friends only. But the reality is that when they go off to college those friends will not go with them. And according to statistics, many teens fall away from their faith in college. SOOO if they can learn to adapt and take leadership in this context where they need to interact with a variety of teens from different backgrounds, churches and experiences and learn to work together as a team, then they will be better prepared when they go to college. They will know that they have the leadership skills to make and create spiritual opportunities with complete strangers instead of waiting for a spiritual group to come and find them.
Our first day started out with us heading out in many different directions. So it will be hard for me to tell you what we did “as a group”. Many of us Epiphany people eat breakfast together and spend the afternoon and evenings together. But the worksites are different for many of us. Henry is on my team. On the first day we helped to install some stairs for the back deck of a lady’s trailer. We also have two boys and two girls as well as a female adult leader from another church group. We had a good time trying to install these stairs. I have never done anything like this so I was not sure what we were supposed to do. But there were enough instructions that we slowly began to figure it out.
During the time that we were working, the lady came out in the front and seemed really upset. I asked her if anything was wrong. She told us her car was being repossessed. So I told her we would pray for her. We braked for our lunch and we did what we told her we would do. During our lunch she came out to talk to us with the news that her brother is taking it upon himself to just pay off the car in total for her. So she was very happy. It was awesome to see God use our prayers to help out the situation.
Once we were done for the day, we had some of our veterans to this mission trip introduce us to the ice cream shack that is very much frequented by Mountain TOP teens. Ice cream is soooooo good on a hot day working outside.
When we got back to the camp we had dinner, played group games, had a time of worship and free time before bed. So far, I think the food has been outstanding. Also the facilities have been great. The area we are staying at looks and feels like a Summer Camp ground. Of course it would be complete with a swimming pool but there is none. It is very beautiful here. A lot of pines just like the name of the camp says.
Also we are being introduced to many great goofy games. Monday nights worship experience was really cool as the theme focused on strength through the storms. They had the teens dip one of their hands in paint and make a hand print on a big sheet. Then they lifted of some tape that was on it, and lifted up the sheet with lights behind it. The sheet said “Strength” with a tapestry of hand prints in a variety of colors. It was a very cool way to artistically create a collective experience centered around the theme of the day.
This concludes our first two full days here!
Also, for your information, Verizon Wireless is not available where we are at. So you cannot get a hold of us through many of our cell phones. Maggie’s phone seems to be working as she has Sprint. So if you need to call us you can try to reach us at this number: 348-7135. Don’t forget the area code. Also, if you have left a voice mail on my phone I cannot access it right now. I can still pick up wireless internet so you can communicate to me through emails (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am checking that regularly. So please don’t leave voice mails or text messages because I cannot respond that way. If I need to get a hold of you in an emergency then I will use Maggie’s phone when I see her in the morning or afternoons). Thanks for your prayers! Now enjoy your time without your teen! They are all doing great! And you deserve a break.
Overall, this was another great trip. As I look back on it there are many reflections that I have had as I processed all of our experiences. So here is my TOP 10 Reflections of the COZV Trip of 2011!
1. Change is a constant. Lisa and I had many memories of the previous trips we have gone on, but after 2-3 years pass by, there are going to be a lot of changes. I think that sometimes we hold on to the memories of the past hoping for an identical trip, but with all the time that has gone by and a major transition between missionaries, there is going to be a significant amount of change. And in all honesty, from everything I could tell, all the changes were positive and in the best interests of the children. Your first experience with any mission is going to be amazing from the stand point that the experience is all brand new to you. But when you go back several years later, hoping to recapture that “magic”, it just won’t happen the same way as before. Be flexible with each trip as so much changes between each visit if you go on any trip more than once.
2. New missionaries. The Curry’s on so many levels were just amazing. They interacted and engaged with us and all of the children all the time. They had a great approachable spirit for anyone. Their story was just amazing considering the stage of life that they are in and then deciding to sell all their stuff and go be missionaries in Africa! But on the other hand, after observing 2 weeks at COZV, I came away thinking that you needed to be super-human to be the only couple taking on the responsibilities of 59 kids (30 of which are teenagers now!)! Although they were doing a great job, I expressed my concern to them about burn out. I believed that they needed to have a least one other couple there if not 2. Then they could split up responsibilities so that no one person would have to be available 24/7 for everything. Plus, just to have one other couple there for their mental, emotional and spiritual benefit, as well as sharing in all the responsibilities, I believe will help tremendously in keeping them engaged on a healthy and positive approach with the mission for the long-term.
3. The Epiphany House. If there is one thing that we as a whole church have jumped on, it was raising the money for us to be able to cover the cost of a brand new transition home. This is such a critical and necessary step to help the kids who are growing up to begin their transitioning into their adult lives. So many of the kids are growing up! I was shocked by how handsome many of the boys were as they are developing into young men and just how pretty many of the girls were as they have grown into being young women now. This transition home is a very necessary and critical piece for the long-term success of the Children of Zion Village. And it could not of come at a more critical time.
4. Networking. It was so awesome to see how Travis and Lorna were networking. They were making strong connections with the town, other Christian missions, with tribal leaders and with people who were new friends to them. Travis and Lorna seemed to have so many positive connections now all throughout the community. I even got to see Travis interact positively with 2 very important tribal chiefs.
5. College Students. I know that I own a lot of books that bemoan why the college age students seem to be leaving the church in droves. In Africa, I ran into 5 different college students who gave up months of their lives to come and serve at COZV or another mission in the area. I was in awe of their faith, dedication and joy as they served with reckless abandon. I, along with the rest of our teenagers, was very inspired by all of them.
6. Mission Organizations, the local church and the missionaries. I became even more curious on this trip about the interconnected relationships between the home church, the COZV mission organization as an independent mission, the mission that represents Travis and Lorna, and the village. I had a lot of questions as to how these things all tried to worked together, and why it is independent instead of being a United Methodist mission. With every decision that needs to be made I am sure there are positives and negatives that need to be heavily weighed and prayerfully sought after. In the end, I know that God works through it all and brings out the best. I just became really curious how this all works between all the parties involved and how and why decisions were made with certain details. None the less, I stand in awe of all that is being done in the best interests of the children and teens at the village! It is just that sometimes my inquisitive mind wants to understand all the aspects that go into how the mission is administrated locally and internationally between all parties involved.
7. The experience. Money will never be an issue when you consider the impact that this kind of trip has on our teenagers. They end up being a huge blessing to so many people at the village as they also feel blessed by all that they interact with. Just throwing our money at an issue does not even compare to physically going and helping at the mission. You will make an impact on the kids themselves, but I would dare to wonder if you also come back with a life changing experience. Every teenager needs to experience this trip just one time before they graduate from High School. It will really give them a lot to think about as far as their own spiritual life, what God is calling them to do with their life, and it also provides them with something to compare and contrast when it comes to worship, culture, materialism, spiritual growth, and relationships. It will open their eyes to the reality of sin, grace, love, and many, many other aspects that will impact their spiritual growth.
8. Support! We discovered that there is a difference between supporting the mission and supporting the missionaries. So Lisa and I came back with a new effort to make sure that we are doing both!
9. The USA. I am in love with COZV and the people of Africa. And I am sure I will stay connected and go back with other teams in the future. But here is the catch, I also learned to be very thankful and grateful for the country I have grown up in. I find it easy to get cynical about our country, government and culture at times. And I do know that there is plenty to be cynical about! But I am so glad that crossing a boarder here is not a big event. I love the choices that are available to us each and everyday with the freedom that we have. I am grateful for our government, although not perfect, really is the best thing going. I love the creativity that we experience in our lives through culture, music, gadgets, technology, etc. I also love, love, love our food and the choices we have in that category. I especially love that I am a native Ohioan. I feel I have the right balance of Northern Ohio cynicism and Southern Ohio optimism. I love the four seasons we experience. I love football season. I love youth ministry. I love the home God has provided for my family to live and grow up in. And I love the opportunities available to my kids to get involved in so many great things (including a great youth group). I love roads that are relatively flat and not crazy bumpy. I love camping where all I need to worry about are raccoons and skunks as opposed to being trampled by an elephant or eaten by a tiger or lion. I love the great lakes and area pools where I don’t have to fear being killed by crocodiles and hippopotamuses. I love all Ohio sports teams. I love that anything I attend will have a reasonable time to begin and end except for Loveland High School “Meet the Team” events. I already explained to my kids how that is not an event I can attend anymore. But most sports games will begin when they are scheduled and they end at a reasonable time. And I attend as many of those as I can be a part of! I love all of that! Sometimes it is all too easy to just grumble about the things we don’t like or gripe about the things that rub us the wrong way instead of being extremely grateful and thankful for all the God has blessed us with, and then to be used of God to share his blessing with others locally, nationally and internationally. To know that we have such a significant connection and relationship to a group of kids in Africa where we are able to provide for them and give them a future is just profound and amazing. I love it!
10. Our teens. What I love about trips like this is the profound impact that it can have on the lives of our teenagers. As adults, many of us have ourselves planted into a community with work, community, church and family responsibilities. To go on a mission trip for a couple of weeks is great but ultimately we need to get back to our routine. Teenagers, on the other hand, are at a stage of life where the sky is the limit as far as how an experience like this can change and transform their lives. It truly is priceless when you consider what God can do with an open heart to further the Kingdom of God. I am always anxious to see weeks, months and years ahead to watch how our teens will filter this experience (along with all the other experinces) into who they will become, what they will choose to do, what major they pursue in college, and how they will develop a missional lifestyle into their adult years. This generation has so much potential if we just step aside and allow God to do what He wants to do instead of our limited ideas that at times can be a distraction from the true purpose of their life.
We woke up early so that we could go to the kids Monday morning assembly and the staff devotions. After that we got ourselves and our cabins all cleaned up. We packed our van, said our goodbyes, and headed off to the airport. There were many tears in the van as the teens did not want to go. But Lisa and I were both smiling as we were anxious to get back to our homes and families.
God was very, very kind to Lisa and the team as we seemed to run into more animals as we traveled to the airport, more than we saw during our actual safari. We saw many zebra and elephants. And then when we arrived at the airport, we noticed a big wart hog enjoying some grass on a little island area in the parking lot that had grass growing in it. When we got into the airport, we were told that the flight was overbooked by 7. This did not make Lisa happy. She began arguing why we had to be bumped. As the attendant began explaining I saw that although this is a little inconvenient at first, we were still going make our flight at Johannesburg. It’s just that we were going to have to take a different route to get there. So I got Lisa to back off and accept our fate. I only had one stipulation: we need some free food! So he let us get anything we wanted from their snack shop.
We ended up having to take 3 different flights to get to Johannesburg! The cool thing was that the last flight we had was a very tiny plane! It only had 8 seats in it! We were excited to be traveling on this tiny, little private jet. Soon after getting to Johannesburg airport, we were loading up on the big plane that would take us back to the states. Of course, we almost didn’t make the plane because Natalie and Olvia were shopping and got caught up with a very slow cash register attendant. But we all made it on safely. On the way home I watched a ton of movies as I was unable to fall asleep for any extended period of time. Here are my ratings on what I watched:
Must see: 13 Assassins, The Adjustment Bureau, and Win/Win!
A fun movie: The Green Hornet
Just Awful: Paul
Once we landed in Washington D.C. we were all off to find food! Almost all of us were dead-set on Chipotle. We had to go to the complete opposite side of the airport but we managed to find it. That meal was like heaven to us. We enjoyed every single bite as we reintroduced our stomachs to the fine cuisine of American food!
Just as we were about to board our last plane to take us back to Cincinnati, I was told that my little dog just got hit by a car! So the ability to relax and breathe a sigh of relief was gone. In fact, I found myself getting a little emotional thinking that I might be putting one of my dogs down later that day. Once we landed in Cincinnati, we got all of the teens to their families and I took off in Lisa’s car to go see my family and help with figuring out what we were going to do with our dog Buckeye! Luckily, with some surgery, he will hopefully return to normal in the weeks and months ahead.
The last two days were great! Saturday morning I had a particularly hard time getting going in the morning. I was trying to work on getting my clothes clean. Eventually once I got myself cleaned up I went on a hike with many of the smaller kids. Lorna, Lisa and Jimmy also came along. We hiked over the sand dunes to an area of the Zambezi River where there was this rock shelf that went out into the water several feet. It was under water about a foot so we could wade our feet in the water. Many of the kids were throwing rocks into the water and jumping around off of the sand hills.
When we got back to the village, I took the opportunity to go drive over to the school that Annia and Dorothy attend hoping that I could catch both of them and visit. Jimmy, Olivia and Natalie went with me. We ended up being able to connect with both girls! They are both doing really well at their school. Annia has already gotten a scholarship to go to the local university after she finishes at the school she is at. Both girls had their hair buzzed as that was a requirement for all girls at this school. In fact, many of the girls at the village had buzzed haircuts. It seems to be the style at the moment for many of them.
When we came back to COZV, the paint has finally arrived! So with all of the kids free for the day, a bunch of them walked down to the Epiphany House and either watched, danced or helped to paint the transition home. We managed to spend the afternoon getting just about 95% of the front finished. Had we gotten the paint a few days ago we would have been able to finish the whole building but the job would have to be left for the next group to finish. We had a lot of fun with some of the teens pitching in and helping to paint. We painted all the way up until it was dark.
Later that evening we met as a team at my cabin to get ready for the church service we were doing in the morning. The team was a little nervous about it, not knowing what exactly they wanted to say, so we worked through them processing all that they have learned from this trip and how they can communicate their experience effectively. After talking about each one’s experiences they all went off to spend some time writing down what they wanted to say as we called it a night.
The next morning we went to lead the church service! Josie got us going with songs. After that we had each person on the team share how God has challenged them through their experience here at COZV. Each one of them did such a great job. Once we were done speaking I got on the case of the COZV kids because I wanted them to do some choir singing. The teens came up and started to sing a song but their music director did not like their effort so she came up, made them start again, and got the teens to sing confidently and loudly! They did 3 songs that were amazing. Not to be looked over, all the little kids wanted to do some songs when the teens were done. So we were treated to a great amount of music! There were even a couple of teens that did a bongo drum routine also. After that, Lisa and I lead a communion service. It was just amazing to share in this experience with all of the COZV kids.
At the end of the service we made our way over to the Epiphany House for a dedication service. Lisa led in the service. We did a prayer and blessing of the house. We also announced that Uncle Leonard and his wife were going to be the home parents to start out with. So we prayed over them. Then Travis also announced the teens who would be the first to transition into the new home. Some of them seemed to be both excited and nervous about all that this meant. But they were assured that they will still have a strong connection to the village and that they will have plenty of food at the transition home.
At the end of the Epiphany House dedication service, we all heading back to the main building and had a big picnic outside. We had chicken with a side of collard greens and a giant plop of pap with gravy. The pap was like a corn paste that when it hits your stomach, it feels like it expands to make you feel full. After one plate, I was stuffed. But it was amazing to watch how some of these teenagers would put down 2-3 heaping platefuls of this stuff. Throughout the rest of the afternoon we just goofed around with the kids. I initiated shooting a spoof of “India Love Story” featuring many of the teens. It is currently in post-production with a release date of sometime at the end of August. It will be classic!
As the sun was setting we had a big campfire that we hung out at with all of the kids. It was a nice evening just to be together and enjoy the fire as we talked and goofed around one last time.
The morning began with staff devotions and our teens lead it. They did a great job. Noah opened with pray, of which he got a lot of praise from the adults afterwards.
We sang songs and then Josie, Natalie and Olivia did the devotion on Philippians 4:4-7. Finally Tyler took prayer requests and closed in prayer. I was impressed. They all did a great job.
Today was a very big work day. I wasn’t sure how much we would get done but our team tore it up. We also had the random help here and there that gave us the second wind to keep going. Uncle Leonard wanted us to dig out a 6x6x6 hole for the new septic tank to the Epiphany House. We also needed to dig out one of the existing pipes and a trench that went from the house all the way back to the new hole. Today we were able to get 2 out of 3 done. We got the septic tank hole completed and we also dug up one of the old pipes to the existing septic tank. I must have drank at least 4 liters of water during our dig. Josie was not feeling well so she stayed in her cabin and rested. Natalie and Olivia helped out a lot then after lunch they went to do a Bible lesson with the younger kids. Tyler, Noah and I kept on digging. We got a lot of help from Malinga. That boy can work hard and fast. He made us all look sad. Although he is unable to speak, he would often make gestures that once again seemed to be mocking my work in contrast to him. We had fun. Even though we were just about dead after digging that hole, I got some of the other teens to help us dig out the pipe. It was a pretty easy job with about 5 of us working on it. After that we called it a day.
One of the fascinating things about where we were working was that Uncle Leonard was building a mud hut right next to us. It was very interesting to watch the process of how they put it together. There is a family whose mud hut deteriorated so they are temporarily in the Epiphany House until the new mud house is completed.
Later that afternoon after I got cleaned up, I ended up taking some of the teens to a basketball practice down at the Sports Complex. This was the second time I did this. It was hard to watch the practice. The team only had one basketball post to work with and there must have been about 25 teens total. So they would all line up and one-by-one do layups then jump shots and so on. So of the other teens there seemed like they have never touched a basketball in their lives. Some of them did not understand dsome of the basic drills or how to do a layup. Everything in me wanted to go out and help but I did not want the coaches to be upset with me. Nico and Mateo were the best ones out there. What was funny was that the boys were making their shots until the coach made the rule that if you miss, then you have to do so many pushups. At that point, Mateo starting missing his shots. So I teased him all the way back to COZV about it.
When we got back, our team had a cookout that night. I grilled hamburgers and hot dogs along with help from our teens and Anna who appeared out of the darkness and got my fire going after I spent about 15 minutes on it myself. Of course she got it going very easily and quickly. After out meal our debrief time was run by Travis and Lorna. Travis showed the teens the video called “The Chisel” by the Skit Guys. It was an excellent video of how God shapes us into Christ’s image, and at times, the process can be painful. Then the Curry’s told us their story of how they met and the journey that ended up bringing them here to the Children of Zion Village. It was awesome.
Everyone seems to be feeling better. Travis is finally coming around and Josie is back to normal, so that is good.
On Friday there were many of us going different directions. Tyler, Josie, Natalie and Noah were in charge of digging out the big, long trench that went from the Epiphany House to the 6 foot hole for the septic tank. They eventually recruited Malinga and got the job done in about 2 hours.
Olivia had the experience of helping to take one of the dogs to the local vet. Keep in mind that any type of medical care here is much different than what we are used to in the States. Olivia said it was very interesting.
Lisa, for all of the week, has been helping with teaching over at the school. It has been interesting hearing her talk about the curriculum as it is hard core conservative and heavy on missionaries. She has really enjoyed being with the kids.
I got to go with Travis to go pick up log poles for a mud house. Uncle Leonard came with us and took us at least 45 minutes down a sand path out in the brush. We came up to one village where there were two older guys sitting in chairs under a tree. Travis explained to me that one of the guys was one of the main tribal chiefs of this region. The 2 guys had a very “Godfather” appearance about them more so than what you would think of a tribal chief. Then another older guy came up on a nice bike. Travis was surprised to see him and told me that this was the big, big boss man of the whole area. So it felt like we were in the presence of the President and some Senators. We were very respectful and kind. I just followed Travis’s lead and did what he did. Once we left there we continued down the dirt path, found another guy that was helping us, and eventually came into a clearing that had two trees holding up about 20 log poles. I am always amazed that these guys have any clue where we are at. Everything looks the same but yet we made it to the poles. We loaded them up, headed over to one of Uncle Leonard’s properties, and unloaded the poles there.
As we began to head back, the truck got stuck in the sand really bad. We tried to get it going many times but it just made the situation worse. Uncle Leonard eventually headed off to find help while Travis and I had about 30-45 minutes to kill time. We had a lot of great conversation. Leonard came back with about 10 high school aged boys all dressed up nice for school. They all helped us get out quickly then we gave them a lift back to their school. It is very interesting that although many of these people live in mud hut villages, their schools and churches are nice solid cinderblock buildings that would pass for any of our churches or smaller schools. It shows that they place a high importance on education and faith. We thanked the school administrator and he told us anytime you need help in proximity to the school, he is more than willing to give us students to help. Everyone was very well dressed and very friendly.
We eventually made it back to the main road and headed into town. We checked on the paint. It is there but they still need to do inventory and mix the paint so it will be ready tomorrow. Yeah, I am already placing my bets on that one. At least if we do get the paint on Saturday, we can get a lot of the teenagers to help and make the job go faster.
When we got back to COZV we enjoyed an afternoon of play! I have been feeling guilty because the kids and teens want to do things together (sports and games) but I just haven’t had an extended period of time in the past few days. I have been really focused on our team getting a lot of work done around the village. So this was a much needed break for the work. We played volleyball for a while. Then Tyler took it upon himself to try and teach these guys American football. It was actually quite funny. They kept on turning it into rugby. If someone was about to be tackled they would throw the ball. They had a hard time understanding all the stopping and starting of football, and when the ball is down. But they were eventually catching on. It was fun to eventually watch Tyler get brutally tackled by Malinga. Once some of them got frustrated enough with football, we switched over to their style of football – soccer. Their whole soccer field is covered in a very fine sand. So when you play sports in there you have to deal with a large cloud of sand. My lungs have most likely sucked in about a pound of this sand. After that we played some table games until dinner time. We played this new game called Farkle. It is a game that my family has played for years that we called 5000. Of course someone else marketed it off and is reaping the rewards. Yet another idea I failed to capitalize on!
We ate dinner over at the Curry’s. Lisa made one of her famous pasta dinners. It was very good. I am getting to the point that my appetite is not what it usually is. I’m not sure why. I’m not sick or anything, just not hungry. I think my body is needing food I am used to back home. Also, I have never slept as much as I have than on this trip. We all have such a busy day constantly working or entertaining kids that we just crash almost immediately when we get back to our cabins around 9 or 10.
After dinner we had some German South African group stop in to do a puppet show. When I got over to the meeting house the show was wrapping up. The kids seemed to like it but our teens were kind of surprised by the lack of quality and the shortness of the program. So to bring things up a notch it was time for “India Love Story!” Jimmy and I tried to make adlib comments through the show but we were told “Be serious!” by many of the kids. After the TV show we played music and did a little dancing. Lisa bought some really nice, warm pajamas for the little kids. So we handed those out, watched then change very fast and then show off their new clothes! A lot of SpongeBob and Transformers pj’s. It was awesome. The little boys asked me to read them stories before they went to sleep. We did the David and Goliath story and then “If a Mouse Asks You For A Cookie”. When we made it back to the cabins, we all crashed hard.