No van for you.

I made the reservation in March. I had someone call the week before to confirm the reservation. Which they did.

And yet at the end of June, just five days before our youth group was schedule to leave on their mission trip, a gravely female voice from the rental company informed me, “We won’t have a van for you.”

“What do you mean? We have a reservation. We made the reservation months ago and you said we were all set.”

“All I know is that we won’t have a van.”

Great. The kids have been planning and saving up money for this trip for six months. And that is the best you can do for me? It’s not like, “OK, I’ll just try someone else.” There aren’t many places where you can rent a fifteen passenger van. And not at the peak of mission trip season. I know, the thirteen of scripture – Jesus and twelve disciples – got to their mission sites on foot. But our eleven kids and two leaders had to get from Palm Coast, FL to Chattanooga, TN. It was this Seinfeld episode in real life!

We had this problem five years ago. The same company claimed to not even have our reservation a week before departure. I had to shake the bushes to come up with a member’s minivan and another’s pickup truck. I swore I would never use this company again. Yet, I gave them another chance. And now I had to live with that decision.

My office manager got on the phone and you know what? Within half-an-hour, she had located a fifteen person van from another company. The words, “What are we going to do now, Lord” were barely out of our mouths. The pickup arrangements were more complicated, but we could have it in time for the kid’s trip.

As you can tell, though, the story isn’t over. I took one of our leaders down to a little airport where the van had been left on the top deck of a parking garage. When we drove through the airport, that garage was full and the ramp closed. So I dropped him, he scrambled up the stains, found the key lock box and was soon on his way with a van. It was Saturday, less than a day before the group’s scheduled departure. Yes. Thank you, Lord.

A few hours later, I got a call. “There’s only room for eleven people in the van.” “What? It’s a fifteen person van.” “Yes, but the back seat isn’t in it.” Great. I got on the phone and called the number they gave me for questions. The person fielding questions knew how to prep a van for rental, but not much more. “Uh, can you bring it by tomorrow?” “No. The group is leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

Deep breath. I need two more spaces. One of the leaders drive? No, that won’t work. Have one of the youth drive? That doesn’t sound legit. But one of them is over eighteen, has his own car… That was our eventual solution. He would drive himself and take a friend who’s mom said could ride along. They made it there safely and back, and faithfully served that community with other churches and youth.

One of the top three principles I had learned on mission trips to third-world countries is “be flexible.” Much of a trip won’t go according to plan. Times, people, places and equipment will be different than you expect. You better pray that God pours out that spiritual gift on your group, because you’re going to need it!

I won’t throw these van companies under the bus in this piece. There’s only two in Jacksonville, FL. You can figure out who they are.

Haiti (prequel)

We are headed out to Haiti tomorrow morning with a Mission:Haiti team to a small community not too far from Port-au-Prince called Bien Amie. Google Maps and Earth doesn’t show much out there. Helen, our trip leader, reports that no mission teams have yet been to this area. This will be their first exposure to the medical care and education we can bring to them. Bien Amie 1

It’s been five years since my last trip to Haiti. Where did that time go? The last time we took a group from our church and did a lot of work with Lutheran Schools in the Port-au-Prince area. It will be interesting to see what has been repaired and rebuilt since my last time there and since the earthquake six year ago.

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YW Mission Trip 2014 (day 6): The trip home

The final day of this year’s mission trip came quickly. Up early, we packed up, ate breakfast, cleaned up the church, filled out evaluations, took a few group pictures, got our trip t-shirts and hit the road about 9:20. We pulled into the church parking lot about 7:45 pm. Torrential rains going through Jacksonville, FL, but an easy trip otherwise.

Overall, it was a great trip. It is so easy to plug into a YouthWorks site for a summer mission trip. The team of Sam, Nathan, Tonia and Helen were well-matched, enthusiastic, great examples and leaders, and great people to get to know. Continue reading

YW Mission Trip (day 5): Demonstrate

Our last full day of the mission trip (Thursday, July 10) was a flip-flop of day three. My work crew spent our morning at Audubon Acres widening a trail, followed by an afternoon at the food bank, sorting donated food. We went through box after box of non-perishable food, everything from canned beans to fruit snacks. And pickles. Jar after jar after jar of pickles. (Note to self: just donate the basics — canned green beans and corn, pasta and sauce, tuna, peanut butter and cereal. Omit canned artichoke hearts, capers, cream of yuk soup, and pickles.)

 

Following our afternoon showers, we shopped for some Youth Enterprise shirts, went to Chester Frost park for the end-of-week community BBQ, and then came back to church for Club.

The last night of every YouthWorks trip ends up with footwashing for each group. We circle up in our respective church groups and the staff washes the feet of the leaders. Then, we leaders wash the feet and pray with each of our youth. It never fails to be an emotional and unforgettable part of the trip. It’s one thing to read about Jesus doing it. It’s another to experience it. I am thankful to have seen each one of our youth grow during the week. Afterwards, we our group talked about some of the lessons they learned. I think each point is profound:

(1) Don’t take today for granted. There’s no guarantee of a tomorrow.

(2) Jesus doesn’t pressure us to serve. He sets us free to serve.

(3) I wasn’t sure anyone liked me. I feel differently now.

(4) It’s nice to be with other believing youth. I don’t feel so alone.

Some profound lessons I believe a lot of us Christians need to be reminded of often. A number of our group said they would be interested in working as YouthWorks staff in the future. I think each of them would be great in that role!

 

 

 

 

 

YW Mission Trip (day 4): Let go

On day four (Wednesday) our work crew took on some new projects, spending the morning at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and then the afternoon at Audubon Acres.

wpid-Photo-20140719090933.jpgThe “Chatty Food Bank” is an amazing operation, a 40,000 square foot warehouse where one million pounds of food comes in and goes out every month. It supplies food to agencies in a twenty-two county area around them in Tennessee and Georgia. We were a little apprehensive after another group told us they spent their time throwing out rotten, maggot-infested potatoes. We were spared that duty. We spent the first hour packing up small bags of food that would be distributed to families. After we packed up about 135 of those, we moved on to filling bigger fifty-pound boxes. I think we loaded up five pallets of those. Continue reading

YW Mission Trip 2014 (day 3): Step in

photo (30)Day three in Chattanooga (Tuesday, July 8) took us to the beautiful 100-bed St. Barnabas Healthcare Center in the morning. We made some birthday door decorations for the residents and then attended the Tuesday healing and prayer service led by one of the chaplains. The service was attended by about two dozen residents who all enjoyed singing a variety of old gospel songs. After prayers, we chose our partners for “dancing with the starts,” holding their hands and swaying to some upbeat music. Evan got to talk to Ed, who goes by the nickname “Cadillac.” Ed is an avid sports fan with just about as much knowledge as Evan, and with just as strong opinions about the Heat, LeBron, draft picks and the like.

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YW Mission Trip 2014 (day 2): Reach out

IMG_8048Days begin early on these mission trips. I snuck downstairs and found the coffee about 6 am, taking advantage of a little quiet time to read, write and pray. After waking the kids up at 7 to be ready for breakfast at 7:30, I attended the daily adult leaders meeting to get our assignments for the day. 

Our group was divided between two work crews, nicknamed Wicked Awesome and Free Falling. My group, Wicked Awesome, included a leader and some youth from Marysville, MI, incredible new friends to work with. The rest of our church group joined some of the youth from Texas, Michigan and Indiana to form the Free Falling crew. 

After we cleaned up breakfast, packed our lunches and had some devotional time, our (Wicked Awesome’s) first day involved planning for Kid’s Club and then implementing our plan at the Avondale Recreation Center in the afternoon. We divided up into teams that would read a story, make a craft and then play some games with age grouped children. We were told to expect as many as sixty children, but there were only thirty-some — ages five to eleven — to entertain that afternoon. The staff and children at the rec center were great, energetic and loud, but a lot of fun to work with. Games? Forget it — everyone just wanted to play basketball. Evan was glad to oblige them. Crafts? They were definitely into it? Reading? FInished the story (Feeding of the five thousand) in about ten minutes, then looked at other cool pictures in the story bibles we were using. IMG_8126

After showering at the nearby YMCA, we had pizza for supper and headed out for Rock City. Our group size got us a huge admission discount, and we really enjoyed the passageways, gnomes and views. 

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At club that night (the group evening program time), we talked about how to “reach out” like Jesus. When two blind men asked Jesus for mercy (Matthew 20:29-34), he stopped, asked, loved and touched them (SALT). A great acronym to help us engage the people we encounter. It’s hard to do all that in our loud, busy and impersonal world. 

At the end of the day, our church group met to talk about our experiences and prepare for the next day. I was a bit concerned about some of the “I’m bored” and “I’m so tired” comments, but I knew I just needed to give them some time. We collected all the cell phones and music devices when we arrived, 017d5794f729b667b128376f4c35f356ea9bef0838so some of them were still detoxing.

This year’s program and material was excellent, from the Club talks to the devotional guides to the church group discussion questions. Nice job, YouthWorks!

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