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Monday, November 17, 2008

Love Out Loud: Reflections on a Youth Mission Trip

Note: As I wrote yesterday, this past Sunday was our twice-a-year celebration of the ministry of our young people. The Confirmation Class, along with the High School and Middle School Youth Groups plan the liturgy, read the lessons, lead the prayers and the hymns they select, bring up the oblations and give the dismissal.

The process tests my patience, leads me to question my already questionable sanity, and the high energy of the service leaves me completely exhausted, but at the end, I'm delirious with joy.

This year, two kids gave the testimony in place of the homily. I am so proud of them I could simply burst.

I present them to you with joy and pride. They are gospel parables of how investing your blessings in unlikely places like two adolescent boys will return to you in double measure, pressed down, and overflowing. (See Matthew 25:14-30)

2008 Mission Trip Reflection
by Jeffrey

This summer started off perfectly for me, I hung out with friends, went to the pool and just relaxed. And then came the news that would cause a wrinkle in the fabric of my carefully laid out summer plains.

That wrinkle was the 2008 mission trip to Parsons KS. When my mom informed me that I would be going I complained, moaned and pestered her not to make me go. If you did not know what me and my mom are talking about, who would believe that she was about to violate the Eighth amendment preventing cruel and unusual punishment?

Well all of my complaining did little because I found myself on the morning of July 20th standing on line to weigh my bags at Newark liberty international airport. The trip to Kansas City Missouri took about three hours and once there we had to rent a minivan and two SUVs to carry us the rest of the way to Parsons, KS.

During the trip, I got to meet some of the people who would be leading the trip. There was Tim the master planer, John the talented musician, Suzy the person who kept every body real and Courtney the toy maker ( no really that what she dose).

The road portion of the trip confirmed what many people had told me to expect in Kansas and to sum it up in one word: corn, lots and lots and lots of corn.

Now Parsons proper is a lovely little town with small stores and quaint little shops and other nick-knack stores. However, the houses were in a much more dire shape. Many looked as though they had not been painted in well over fifteen years and some had roofs that where sagging. This was just a hint of what was to come.

We arrived at Parson’s middle school a little late due to the fact that we were one of the few groups to have flown. My notions about the trip soon began to dissipate. The school was air conditioned and the room that we would sleep in was quite comfortable. We ended up sharing the room with a Lutheran church group from Illinois.

Later on we were all assigned into different work crews with different tasks. My crew was assigned to fix up a house whose family had adopted seven, yes seven kids. The father was a minister and the mother was a teacher’s aid. They told me a few years back a terrible tornado had come through and wrecked havoc on the town. A tree had blown into there house and they had barley enough money to pay for the repairs. Since then they had not been able to paint their house or keep up with scheduled maintenance.

That is where we come in. We helped paint a whole side of a three story house. We replaced a section of the porch and then primed and painted the whole front of the house. After that, we sanded and painted the side of a toy house so that the family’s younger kids could once again play in it.

After the first day of work we received a pleasant surprise from our resident’s father. He brought us donuts and told us how long he had prayed and looked for help to come to this all but forgotten town. A few moments later, a van carrying cold water donated from the local newspaper came around and believe me this was very welcome in a climate of hot and humid weather.

These two events got me thinking about the theme of this trip which was “Love Out Loud”. All throughout the week we had heard this slogan “Love Out Loud”. The term had been discussed in detail at our nightly devotions, but I still did not understand what it means to “Love Out Loud”?

This was a question that had nagged at my thoughts throughout the week, but after the week was over, I believed I had finally understood what “Loving Out Loud” is. Mind you, different people may have completely different interpretations, but here is mine.

In Chatham, New Providence and Madison, we have only begun to be affected by this worsening economy, but this town of Parsons, KS had lingered on the brink for so long and finally pushed over by a devastating tornado. They had prayed for help to rebuild and to reenergize the community, but most of all, to not be forgotten. To know that people would hear about what happened to this community and come help.

That help came when 12 kids from Chatham and hundreds others from around the country gathered for a week of rebuilding houses, but more importantly, rebuilding lives and families. This is “Loving Out Loud”.

Showing people that you care and that they are not invisible and help is out there. “Loving Out Loud” is the volunteers from the local newspapers who came to the homes we were working on and gave us cold water on the hottest days. “Loving Out Loud” is the cafeteria ladies at the Parsons Middle School who prepared our meals and fed us.

Remember that wrinkle in the fabric of my carefully laid out summer plans I told you about in the beginning? Well that wrinkle was the best thing that happened to me over the summer! Amen.

2008 Mission Trip Reflection
by Gregory

Parsons, KS was my second mission trip and with each mission trip, I learn a little more about myself. I feel lucky to live in a town like Chatham and going to places like Belize and Parsons, KS and seeing how people live in other parts of the world makes me realize how fortunate I am.

My work crew for the week consisted of youth from Texas, Illinois and Minnesota. We worked hard everyday at our resident’s home and we would share stories about our home states. Our resident’s house we worked on was damaged six years ago in a tornado and the assignment we were given was to repaint the entire house. We worked hard and completed our project in four days and the family thought their house looks great!

Our family consisted of Colleen the Mom, who worked at the local paper, her daughter and her grandson. It felt so good helping this family and I know the people of Parsons were glad we were there.

The people of Parsons were very nice and would come up to us and thank us. One man even gave us money, which our work crew decided to use for the family. We bought a toy truck for Colleen’s grandson and also a picture frame with a picture of our work crew in it so Colleen would always remember us.

Every night after dinner, we would have evening program with everyone followed by devotions with our youth group. Devotions are a time when we would gather with our youth group and chaperones to reflect and share our day’s activities with one another.

Every night we were tired, but had such a feeling of accomplishment knowing we were helping people who needed us and giving of ourselves. We would then relate what we had done to bible passages and sing songs lead by John Mayer, one of our chaperones. Every night the St. Paul’s group would get together, play games and have bedtime stories. It was a great bonding experience for us.

Wednesday night is known as “cry night”, which lived up to its name. It was a time to reflect on your life and choices we’ve made and this made me realized how much my family meant to me. I’ll admit, I don’t always tell my family how much they mean to me, so I decided to call my Mom that evening to let her know…and of course I got her voicemail, but I left her a message which she received later that evening and she too cried!

As I reflected on my week, I thought of all the new friends I have made and still keep in touch with. The things I have learned about myself like being able to set my mind on a project and completing it. I realized how much faith plays in my everyday life and that giving of yourself makes you feel good. I also realized how much of a difference one person can make and that it really doesn’t take that much effort.

When I got home, I wanted to keep that feeling and spirit from the mission trip going, but I found it difficult as I adjusted back to “real life”. In an attempt to keep that feeling and spirit from the mission trip in my everyday life, I try to do something to help my Mom or grandparents every week, to give back to them what they have given to me… unconditional love.

I am looking forward to our next mission trip in June 2009 to West Virginia and all the new experiences that will bring. Amen!


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Loved your HB/D post today about "Dave" of this group!

Fran said...

Reading these reflections made me cry. It is beautiful to see how faith works in teenagers and I love how they both meet up with it in their journey to Kansas.

Thank you for sharing this.

Fr Craig said...

Tell your kids how deeply I was moved by this. I am from Kansas, been in Parsons and St. Pauls many times. I grew up out there, and my first churches were not far from there. I've watched the small towns in Kansas struggle to survive and I know how good the people are. I'm now in Pennsylvania and love it here, but the pictures of your beautiful young adults doing the Lord's work out in my home state left me in tears. God bless them!
(and it's not just corn - lots of wheat and cows, too!)

suzanne said...

I too was moved by this piece. I think it is terribly important for teenagers to learn that they can make a difference in other folks lives, and by reaching out beyond themselves and their own little world they can make that happen.
Congratulations to your youth group!

Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Newton, KS, I'm gobsmacked that these young leaders went to Parsons in the wake of a tornado. My parents (both deceased) have dear friends in Parsons with whom I still try to keep up at Christmas-circular-letter time.