My Mission Trip Memories: Youth Works Atlanta 2008

It has taken me a couple of weeks to even begin to put into words my experience during our student ministries annual mission trip. And even now I'm reduced to short sound bite highlights as this was one of those, "you had to be there" kind of experiences. This summer we served for a week with Youth works ( in Atlanta, Ga. I've decided to break this walk down memory lane into three parts: The Good, The Ugly, and The Beautiful.

The Good
1) The places we served were all absolutely amazing
- (aka Cafe 458)
- Set Free (daycare for needy kids)
- Bethlehem Senior Center
- Atlanta Community Food bank
2) Our youth and adults were all pushed way out of their comfort zones
3) We faced more adversity on this mission trip then any other I have ever been on
4) The bonding that took place between our youth will be a part of their lives forever
5) Nightly excursions: Centennial Park, MLK Museum, Destiny Church
6) Thursday night foot washing service
7) Folks at Emory Hospital (keep reading)

The Ugly
1) We leave 30 minutes later then we had planned. (I'm OCD about time so this was a big deal to me)
2) We got stuck in traffic less then 5 miles from our destination. It took 1 1/2 hours to go 1 mile. The vans began to over heat so we had to sit with the a/c off. All this in downtown Atlanta at 1:00pm in 100 degree heat.
3) Once we got to the church we would be staying at we discovered it was not air conditioned. Which was fine except on the 3rd floor where we stayed it was hotter then outside.
4) Food poisoning. Long story short - approx 25 of the 54 campers at the church (we had 30 from our church and the other 24 were made up of people from two other churches) got food poisoning after eating some bad tacos on Tuesday night. When it was all said and done we had to take nine people to the hospital, five of which were from our church. From the time I got up on Wednesday morning (6:30am) to the time I went to bed at midnight on Thursday/Friday I got one hour sleep (between 6am and 7am on Thursday morning) and I wasn't even sick. I was busy moping up puke, scrubbing toilets and taking kids to the hospital. (which I stayed at from 9:00pm until 5:30am)

The Beautiful
Short term mission trips get a bad rep from a lot of folks. They don't understand how one week away from home can really make an impact on the community you're serving. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. All I can say is for one week in July 2008 we brought hope and love to a group of kids and adults who might not normally receive it. We did our best to be the face, hands, and feet of Jesus to strangers regardless of their age, sex, or color. And one thing is for sure, all of our youth and adults came back impacted even if the places and people we served weren't. Sure the heat and food poisoning sucked. It was miserable. I would have given anything to be back at my air conditioned house taking care of my own kids instead of sweating it out caring for puke covered teens. But that's not what I was called to do. I was called to step up and and care for those in need. This trip it just happened to be I was forced to care more for my own students then the people we originally went to serve. I got to see the other 29 people from my group pull together and lean 100% on God to get them through what would have devastated most folks. The life lessons learned from this trip are invaluable. Leadership retreats and team builders spend countless hours trying to achieve the same thing that happened on our trip. A group that was kind of close went through a very challenging ordeal and came out closer and stronger on the other side. Life comes at you fast. We never know what tomorrow will be like. What our group learned this week was 1) God is your constant in god and bad and 2) you need a strong support group around you to help pull you through.

Final Rant
One argument against short term mission trips is the idea that sure the students come back fired up and "changed" but it never last. My question is who's fault is that? The mission organizations? No. The teenagers? no. The responsibility for making sure what the youth experienced does stick with them is solely up to the adults and churches that work with these teens. If you take a field and plow it up and get it ready for planting but you leave and never touch it again, do we blame the weeds for taking it over, or the dirt for allowing the weeds to come in? No. It's the same way with our youth (and adults) that attend a short term mission trip. Their hearts and souls get plowed the week they are gone. It's the churches job to make sure the seeds and planted, the weeds kept out, and the harvest is made. The problem is to many churches do NOTHING once the soil (aka hearts and souls) have been plowed and prepared for planting. I for one am going to do all I can to make sure a harvest comes from this good, ugly, beautiful week.


Joel Smith said…
Great closing rant. At best, youth ministry serves as support for the parental role in discipleship. If parents don't sow some seed and weed the field there will be little or no fruit. You are on the money brother. Events provide the mountain top experience. Everything else sustains it (or is supposed to).
Mark said…
Thanks for the review.

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