The first days back from a high school mission trip are ordinarily tired ones. It’s a time to catch up on sleep – and return to a healthy diet.
I can’t ever remember craving a leafy green vegetable as much as I did yesterday.
Working in the Florida gulf coast heat is one thing, but being responsible for 25 high school youth 24-hours a day for five consecutive days is another. There is no down time. It’s hard work.
So, I’m back home, and I’m tired. And I’m achy from sleeping on the floor. But I’m happy too. I’m thinking our church has some great kids.
When I was in high school – back when the earth was still cooling – I don’t remember being nearly as sincere and earnest as these kids are. Last week we divided into small groups after the evening programs, and I was frankly a little scared that first night about what was going to happen.
When I was their age, I was sarcastic and not very willing to engage with the topic, whatever it was. I think the other kids back in those days were pretty much the same way I was. But times have changed. The kids from my church engaged during our small group time with sincere and thoughtful responses. They wanted to talk. And they listened (or pretended to listen) when I talked.
I’m not much of a youth leader. I’ll admit that. I’ve worked with some outstanding youth leaders over the years, and I’ve admired their gifts. But I’m not one of them. I tend to be soft hearted and a push over, and as you can imagine kids can size up that situation pretty fast – and take advantage of it.
So, when I go along on these trips, I like to take a secondary role, with lots of one-to-one conversations and relationship building. I know where just about all of our kids are thinking about going to college and what they’d like to major in when they get there. I know where all of them were born and where they grew up. I know what high schools they attend and whether or not they like their school. I even know a surprising amount about their homes and families – and about the relationships there.
While painting a large wall last week I learned that one of our girls, who came to our church because her father is incarcerated and because our church has an active support system for families with incarcerated moms and dads, is planning to join the Army after high school and become a nurse. She’s got her future planned. When she graduates from college she expects to be a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
I’ve taken an interest in her since our first mission trip together two years ago. A few months ago I had the privilege of baptizing her. And now I get to encourage her as she pursues her goals. It’s not going to be easy, given her current circumstances, but she’s one of the hardest-working high school students I’ve ever met. And if anyone can accomplish an ambitious goal, she can.
Yes, I’m tired, but I’m happy too.
(Photo credit: I don’t have any photos from this year’s trip, but here’s the gang from two years ago – in Putnam County, Florida.)