When we come on mission trips with the young people, we try to do a lot of important work. A large part of that important work involves the labor that the kids invest on behalf of others: most years that involves something like building wheelchair ramps, framing walls, dropping mulch, watching children, or painting buildings. Some of that important work goes on inside the lives of the young people themselves: we engage in conversations about things that really matter as the kids trust me or another advisor or even each other in reflecting on things that really matter to them.
But one of the most important things that we do when we come on a trip like this is simply making memories. We try to create a well of shared joy-filled experiences that can sustain the members of the community when they feel alone, scattered, or simply un-joy-filled. Memories bring a shared story to the group that grows and evolves over time and informs the group identity – and reminds each participant that she or he shares in that identity. In fact, one of the greatest times in any mission trip or retreat comes when some of the younger people gather around Tim and me or some of the other advisors and ask us to tell them stories about when they were new in youth group, or when their older siblings were in the group. They are learning the stories and finding their places in the history of the group.
So yesterday, we didn’t do any “real” work on the mission trip. We drove 90 minutes southeast of Deep Roots to Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes Delaware and we jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. We swam. We rode waves. We played paddleball. We watched a whole bunch of dorsal fins that we assumed to be dolphins and not sharks. We gathered shells, we got pummeled by waves, some of us ignored Pastor Dave’s warnings about sunscreen, and we laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
Afterwards, we drove a little further south to the little town of Rehoboth, where we strolled the boardwalk and then ate a little of Delaware’s famous “Grotto Pizza”. We had a Bible Study and sang on the beach, and then Tim bought us all ice cream. We didn’t get home until nearly 11 pm. And we were tired – from not working all day.
Today, we’ll be stiff (particularly those of us that are north of 50 years old). Some of us will be a little touchy as the effects of sunburn become more apparent. And all of us will be richer for the memories we’ve made.
It is my hope and prayer that these memories will help to sustain the kids and remind them of who (and Whose) they are when questions come in the days ahead.