Background: On Sunday, August 5, a team of young people and adults from the The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights journeyed about three hours north to the community of Irving, NY, where we will spend the week in relationship with our friends from the Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church. This tiny congregation is located in the midst of the Seneca Nation of Indians and we are eager to not only come alongside these folks in service, but to also learn more about what the world looks like from this perspective. This is the final update from this year’s trip.
For as long as I can remember, if someone asks me “What is the purpose of Youth Group?”, one of my top three answers has been “making memories”. When I say that, I don’t mean to imply that spiritual growth is not essential or that passing on the faith is unimportant. To the contrary, I am deeply convinced that the Christian Faith is, in the words of the late Dale Milligan, “better ‘caught’ than ‘taught’.” We help form the spiritual lives of the children we love by enculturation – by helping them not only to know the story, but to see how they can fit into the story. And so each mission trip provides us with an amazing chance to create both individual and shared memories of sacred space, time, and stories.
One of the ways that we did this on Friday was to spend a few hours in the morning tending to some last-minute details on our work site and then taking advantage of our proximity to Niagara Falls by visiting one of the great wonders of the world together. We drove through the heart of Buffalo (remembering several mission trips to that fair city in previous years) and then sailed on the “Maid of the Mist”, hiked up the steps, pondered our own insignificance as well as the amazing power and majesty of God (no surprise that Marla opted to read Psalm 29 in our devotion), and laughed an awful lot. In the process, I trust, we added to our storehouse of shared experiences and celebrated the connections that place us in each other’s memories. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not convinced that too many of the young people at whose sleeping forms I’m now staring while I pen these lines will process this in this way – but I am sure that they will at some point.
The reason I’m sure of that is because of what happened after we got back from the Falls. We enjoyed some wonderful tacos, and then sat together for our final debriefing time. It is a tradition for us to invite the seniors to address the group at the end of each mission trip. There are often a lot of tears, and Friday night was no exception. It was wonderful and humbling to hear Tommy, McKenna, and Lindsay talk about the ways in which connection with this group has been formative and life-giving over the years. Each of them chose to speak of Youth Group as a place of safety and joy in a world that is often thin in both of those places; each pointed to stories of previous trips or experiences as evidence of God’s willingness to meet them in this context. I was filled with pride and joy as I watched them share with their younger sisters and brothers – and as the younger ones soaked in the affirmation, challenge, and gratitude that was shared.
Each morning I wake up at the old-man-ish hour of six and write this. This year, since we’re all in one room for our sleeping, eating, and recreation, I am watching them sleep each day. It’s not creepy. I look at the young person who was paralyzed with fright earlier this week, but worked through it; at a girl who found the bravery and the courage to step outside her comfort zone in service or speaking; at someone who is here for the first time but has, I hope, developed some bonds that will last during a difficult future; at several young people who go to great lengths to be a part of the youth group experience each week; at the one who has been told every day that she/he is insignificant and doesn’t matter; at the one who is always measured by what she/he achieves or does, but finds in Youth Group a chance just to be and be loved anyway… I am filled with gratitude for my brother Tim Salinetro, who has come on more trips like this with me than I can even count, and I marvel at the ways that he opens path of joy for young people… I celebrate the gifts of Marla Barrett, who thinks, “why wouldn’t I spend a week with these kids two months before I get married” and does so with great humor and deep passion… I’m glad for Josie Miller and her willingness to dive into this craziness as she offers herself with joy and encouragement each day.
I say, not as often as I should, that it’s a good life, and we ought to be grateful. Today, I am deeply grateful, and also hopeful. Thanks for your prayers and support on behalf of these young people!