It was every bit of 97 degrees when the motley crew of teenagers assembled for the fourth annual odyssey in self-denial known as Local Missions Week, a trial of physical and emotional testing: living and serving together, on mission, here in good ole Fredpatch. As the youth loaded their gear into vans, having little notion of what actually lay in store the upcoming week, two things were notable, an uncanny bonhomie as well as a notable dearth of adults. The team of fourteen high school students was to be shepherded (using that term liberally) by a few recent grads and a couple of pseudo adult types.
“Wait, sorry, what was that? We’re not going to the camp now? …We’re going door to door to find kids? …If you say so…” While it’s easy to introduce the vision behind Local Mission Week (to share the love of Jesus by serving our own community for a week), explaining the evening service activity is an exercise in asking the listener to imagine something he has probably never contemplated. For starters, our high school students are tasked with combing areas of our town that we have identified to be overlooked or neglected, areas where residents are not likely to be plugged in to community life, in particular, to Christ-centered community. So our students, working in small groups, spend hours traversing trailer homes, dodging aggressive dogs, and knocking on doors with the knowledge that the person on the other side of that knock probably does not speak the same native tongue or share similar cultural experiences. Then, if that door is opened, the charge is not merely to express kindness and joy, but to actually convince that mother of three to entrust you with her kids for four evenings of Jesus-centered and water balloon-enhanced craziness. After stumbling through a conversation that may or may not adhere to the above guidelines, you just tell mom that the “church vans” will be by around 5:30 to pick up the kids. Smile, and say thank you and good bye. If you’re able to overcome the sensory overload of the strikingly foreign environs (despite the reality that this whole scene is being played out a few miles from most of our homes), our students are also asked to walk in prayer for these families, these oft-ignored pockets of poverty within our own backyard.
And, yes, the kids do come. Sixty such kids, appearing from all corners of our community, came to the evening community wide VBS, and encountered a team of extraordinary high schoolers, extraordinarily eager to pour out love, creativity, patience, and, yes, water balloons, on them. Lifelong memories were made, subconscious socioeconomic barriers were set aside, and unity in Jesus was enjoyed by all.
In preparation for these intense evenings of community-wide VBS, our team fortified ourselves by camping out in the heat of July, going to bed late, rising early, and serving for several hours each morning at the Boys and Girls Club, a place where the decibel level is comparable to the runway at DFW airport. In this week of intentional sacrifice, there was little down time, save for a couple hour lunch break, time which was mainly spent inventing new methods of exploring and enjoying the river that ran alongside our ragtag collection of tents, cots and hammocks.
While I do admit to enjoying the luxury of not being constantly pestered by bugs as I type these reflections in my air conditioned place of employment, I know I am not alone in deeply missing our time together as a team, united in spirit and in exhaustion: awakening to the cool peacefulness of the morning, groggily finding my way over to the outdoor chuck wagon to be greeted by the smiling face of Curtis Allerkamp, who not only offered a smile but piping hot cowboy coffee and breakfast tacos. Spending time each morning getting spiritual nourishment with fellow followers of Jesus. And, perhaps most of all, I long to go back in time to those evenings spent in a nondescript field, staring up at the canopy of stars and singing praise songs to Him that created and sustained all that we witnessed. As the praises were lifted, the walls of our own hearts melted, and everyone present was touched by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. Sins were confessed and prayed over. Anxieties were voiced and bathed in prayer as well. Tears were shed and joy permeated every corner of our hearts. Though we each return to our ‘normal lives,’ each of us will never be the same.
I am so grateful for this courageous group of spiritual brothers and sisters, willing not only to sacrifice a week of summer vacation for the sake of serving others, but willing to embrace the intense and at times awkward adventure of living the shared life, of leaning into Jesus and trusting Him more and more each day.