2017 Youth Mission Update #4

Our week of service, learning, fellowship, and fun in the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is nearly complete, and we finished strong!

Evan starts the demolition of the steps.

Thursday was, like most other days this week, a rainy day.  Yet this team of young people worked through the showers to dissemble a rickety set of steps on Miss Charlene’s home and install a safe, sturdy, spacious entryway for her and her family to use.  Everyone did something – in fact, I can’t recall seeing more people at work on an area that was approximately 5′ x 5′ in my life!

We got to be expert diggers and rock removers on this trip!

Katie using a “Saws-All” for the first time

While we were hard at work outside, Miss Charlene was hard at work inside, and at lunch she treated us to an amazing meal of what she called “Cherokee Tacos” – the “shell” was a delicious fry bread, and the fillings consisted of lettuce, tomato, cheese, beef, beans, cucumbers… wow! It was delicious.

At the end of our work day we were further surprised to be called onto the porch by Miss Charlene’s children.  Isaiah, a high school student, presented Tim and myself with some woodcarvings on which he had been working.  Catherine, his younger sister, gave the two of us hand-made baskets.  And every single participant on the trip received a handmade necklace made from glass and corn beads.  This is an especially meaningful gift given what we have learned about the corn beads.  In the 1830’s, the Cherokee were rounded up from the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains and herded like cattle to the “Indian Territory” of North Carolina. This is called either “the Removal” or “The Trail of Tears”.  The legend says that as they walked, their grief was so profound that as they wept, plants sprung up from their tears.  The seeds of this plant look like tears and their color is that of grief.  Cherokee today wear these “corn beads” in memory of the grief and horror of that time.

Delicious!

 

Isaiah shares his carvings

Catherine and her basket

The steps – finished as far as we could with the materials available.

The porch and roof we were able to construct.

Friday is often what we call the “fun day” on a mission trip.  We try to take some time to learn more about the places we visit and the people who are there.  This year was no exception.  In fact, I’ve been on many trips to and through the Great Smoky Mountains, and I have never heard much mention at all of the Cherokee story.  This year, that changed in a beautiful way.  We started the day at the Ocunaluftee Indian Village, a “living museum” where re-enactors  shared the Cherokee way of life before and since the Removal.  We saw demonstrations of pottery making, weaponry, stonework, and more.  Our group particularly enjoyed the traditional dances, and a few of us even took part in the same.  In fact, the reason that there are no photos here is that your author was among those “whooping it up”!  The group was unanimous in that the time spent at the village was amongst the best things we could do.

At the Village

Levi gave us a demonstration of how a “blow gun” works – accurate at up to 50 feet!

At the dancing ceremony

Following a quick lunch, we stepped it up a little bit in the adventure department and tried our luck tubing the Ocunaluftee River.  Normally, this is a “lazy river” experience, and for much of the time, that’s what we had.  However, with all the rains this area has had recently, the waters were higher and faster than normal, and so a few of the rapids were bumpy and some of us emerged with some new aches, pains, and scars.  I think that at the end of the day, however, most everyone was glad that they’d tried it – whether the took the leap from the rope swing or not.

We ended our evening, and our week, with a devotion on “Wild Love” and the charge that we’ve been given to keep looking for love in the places to which we are sent.  We heard from our graduating senior, Katie, and we prayed over her.  Some of us might have cried…  And it was good.

So now it’s all over but the packing and the long drive home… I’m so impressed with the ways that this group of young people has handled themselves in situations that were challenging to say the least.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for them in the years to come!

Cherokee Youth Mission Update #1

The New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia is a favorite stop on our way out of Pittsburgh.

The Youth Group from the church/Open Door is spending the week at the Qualla Boundary with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. We are staying at the Cherokee United Methodist Church, and we came in order to encounter aspects of the culture, our faith, ourselves, and our world in order to learn something about being more fully God’s people in this world. To get here, we left Crafton Heights immediately after church on Sunday and drove approximately ten hours south.

These smiles kept us going all day long! 521 miles!

The PLAN was to spend this day laying the groundwork for the construction of a deck and porch for a family in need. However, for the first time in memory, we’ve had a day that is simply a “rain out”. Buckets and buckets of water poured across the Great Smoky Mountains, and we were forced to adapt our plan. We spent the morning wandering through the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which contained a number of informative displays concerning the history and culture of the people who lived here when the Europeans showed up in North America. We learned about pottery, games (like stickball and lacrosse), and handicrafts; we saw something impressive about the empowerment that the Cherokee traditionally accorded to the women in their midst; and we were saddened to read of “the removal”, or the “Trail of Tears”. In fact, the church in which we’re staying is the oldest Native American congregation in the Eastern USA, and it boasted about 440 members in the year prior to the “removal”. Three years later, the church had only 40 members.

I was haunted by this quote in the museum…

We spent the afternoon, in Paige’s words, “pretending it’s a retreat: let’s get to know each other!” You might have enjoyed working a puzzle or playing Apples to Apples; I know I got a kick out of Tim doing his best Jimmy Stewart impression to a group of adolescents who have absolutely no idea who Mr. Stewart is.  When the weather gave us a little bit of a break we took a quick trip to measure out our job site and a brief hike to the beautiful Mingo Falls.

A little “Apples to Apples” on a rainy Monday!

Mingo Falls

 

The Group at the Falls

If the success of the trip is measured in how much wood gets cut or how deep the holes we dig are, well, today was a washout. But if we’re here to encounter and be encountered, well, then – today was a success.   And hey – no splinters!

Report from Malawi – 8 January 2017

On Christmas Day, 2016, a group of five young adults and I embarked on an African adventure that was over two years in the making.  Carly, Katie, Joe, Rachael, David and I are pleased to be in Malawi for nearly two weeks embracing (and being embraced by) the gift that is the partnership between the churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) and Blantyre Synod (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian).  Here is part of our story.

Having been refreshed by time at the lake and as a team, on Saturday morning 7 January we headed south to explore the last two days of our time in Malawi. As we drove from Mangochi to Blantyre, we made several stops. One of these was at the Naming’azi Farm Training Center. This is a demonstration farm and educational facility used by the Synod of Blantyre to help local farmers learn the best techniques for animal husbandry, crop rotation, natural weed and moisture management, and more. Because a significant partnership has recently ended, there is not much actively going on at Naming’azi at the moment, but it remains one of the best ideas going – God’s people grappling with issues of food production in an era of climate change and increased attentiveness to the problems associated with chemical used in agriculture.

The Naming'azi Farm Training Center sits at the base of the massive Zomba Plateau. Here David and Joe tour with BSHDC Director Lindirabe Gareta

The Naming’azi Farm Training Center sits at the base of the massive Zomba Plateau. Here David and Joe tour with BSHDC Director Lindirabe Gareta

From there we proceeded to the region around Chileka, where we were honored to visit a support group for individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS. The village where we were hosted is one of many that is home to such groups across southern Malawi. The Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC) invites community members to form such peer groups in order to promote awareness, reduce stigmatization, enhance adherence to drug therapy treatments, and monitor individual concerns at a local level. One concern that has been noted is that many of these families struggle with nutrition, particularly for their children. Using funding provided by Pittsburgh Presbytery’s International Partnership Ministry Team, the BSHDC is making bags of specially-enriched corn flour called Likuni Phala available to families during the “hungry season” of January and February. This flour contains corn, soya, sugar, and vitamins and is extremely effective at forestalling malnutrition (especially in children). We were surprised not only to be present for a distribution, but to have a role in it.

Part of the communal support group for those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Part of the communal support group for those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Sharing some Likuni Phala in the community.

Sharing some Likuni Phala in the community.

One of the benefits of a trip like this is to be able to call attention to challenges and possible responses. Here I am talking with the Malawian Broadcasting System television and radio teams at the food distribution center.

One of the benefits of a trip like this is to be able to call attention to challenges and possible responses. Here I am talking with the Malawian Broadcasting System television and radio teams at the food distribution center.

On Sunday, we achieved our goal of sharing in worship with an urban congregation. Unlike Mbenjere CCAP (where we visited on 1/1), St. Michael and All Angels CCAP is comprised city dwellers who are significantly better educated than the average Malawian and many of whom hold key positions in the nation’s business, governmental, and philanthropic communities. We were asked to provide leadership for the 8:30 service (one of five worship services at St. Michael’s each Sunday), which meant that each of us had a reading, and I preached and led the prayers.

Preaching at St. Michael and All Angels church in Blantyre.

Preaching at St. Michael and All Angels church in Blantyre.

Katie reads from Philippians 1 at St. Michael's.

Katie reads from Philippians 1 at St. Michael’s.

I was delighted to run into Glomicko Munthali, who I believe was the first chair of the Blantyre Synod Partnership Committee in 1991.

I was delighted to run into Glomicko Munthali, who I believe was the first chair of the Blantyre Synod Partnership Committee in 1991.

Following the worship, we were treated to an amazingly delicious Farewell Luncheon hosted by the Blantyre Synod Partnership Steering Committee. During their speeches, members of this body, along with General Secretary the Rev. Alex Maulana, expressed their deep appreciation for the presence of a youth missionary team from Crafton Heights and they expressed a desire that the vision and diligence of this group (especially in terms of fund-raising and preparation) might serve as an encouragement to a group of Malawian young people to embark on a similar journey. A personal highlight of this occasion was the fact that Davies Lanjesi made a special effort to include Mrs. Sophie M’nensa, and she and her grandson Gamaliel were able to join us for both worship at St. Michael’s and the banquet.

With the Revs. Billy Gama and Alex Maulana along with Davies and Angella Lanjesi at the farewell luncheon.

With the Revs. Billy Gama and Alex Maulana along with Davies and Angella Lanjesi at the farewell luncheon.

With Sophie and Gama after the luncheon.

With Sophie and Gama after the luncheon.

Continuing to tell the partnership story: here Rachael and I are interviewed by Blantyre Synod Radio.

Continuing to tell the partnership story: here Rachael and I are interviewed by Blantyre Synod Radio.

Our travels concluded with a stop to visit my old friends Silas and Margaret Ncozana in their modern/traditional Ngoni-inspired home in the Chigumula area. Here, we shared much laughter, deep appreciation for the work of partnership in our own lives, and an expression of the challenge that lies in front of all who would serve the Lord and his people. The young people were grateful for the Ncozana’s hospitality and humor; they listened to a few more stories about the old days in the partnership, and heard Silas charge them to become leaders in the days to come. It was a beautiful ending to a good and rich journey.

Sharing time with Silas and Margaret!

Sharing time with Silas and Margaret!

Silas shared with us the Ngoni tradition in which he said that anyone who was a witch was forbidden to enter the home. Each of us drank from the gourd - and a witch would die immediately. We all lived, and later discovered that the beverage was a home brew made from baobab fruit.

Silas shared with us the Ngoni tradition in which he said that anyone who was a witch was forbidden to enter the home. Each of us drank from the gourd – and a witch would die immediately. We all lived, and later discovered that the beverage was a home brew made from baobab fruit.

As we prepare to pack and weigh our bags in preparation for the longest flight these young people have ever known, we are filled with appreciation for the opportunities we have had, and we ask your continued prayers as we seek to continue to learn from and grow into these challenges. I will say again that I cannot imagine this trip having gone better – the hospitality was amazing, the team was pliable and energetic, we grew in our understanding of so much – it was all simply beautiful. I hope that these few blog postings have given you at least a little bit of a window into the richness of this experience for this team. Thank you so much!

Report From Malawi – 6 January 2017

On Christmas Day, 2016, a group of five young adults and I embarked on an African adventure that was over two years in the making.  Carly, Katie, Joe, Rachael, David and I are pleased to be in Malawi for nearly two weeks embracing (and being embraced by) the gift that is the partnership between the churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) and Blantyre Synod (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian).  Here is part of our story.

We left Ntaja on the afternoon of 4 January, and drove to Liwonde, the site of one of Malawi’s National Parks. On property adjacent to the park, my old friends Sam and Lonnie Ncozana have opened up the Kutchire Lodge. This proved to be a wonderful jumping-off point for a day of fun and adventure after the formalities and responsibilities of the previous week.

Sam and Lonnie Ncozana

Sam and Lonnie Ncozana

We stayed overnight (the girls were given the “treehouse” lodging, while the guys had a safari chalet to share. Each of these was essentially open air – that is to say, there are fine screens as well as mosquito nets, but no glass. It was a little frightening for the team, at times, to fall asleep with the sounds of the African forest all around us – but it was a delightful experience we’ll not soon forget.

The Treehouse at Kutchire. The blue is the mosquito netting and the lumps inside it are some of my favorite people in the world.

The Treehouse at Kutchire. The blue is the mosquito netting and the lumps inside it are some of my favorite people in the world.

On January 5 we had a brief boat safari as well as a jeep drive through parts of the Liwonde National Park, and it was a real thrill for all of us. Seeing so many animals in the wild – from tiny Malachite Kingfishers to elephants and hippos – was simply marvelous.

The Malachite Kingfisher - my favorite bird. For the first time, I saw a pair together!

The Malachite Kingfisher – my favorite bird. For the first time, I saw a pair together!

9elephant

Have you ever seen a hippo jump? Look closely - none of this one's legs are touching the ground as he races into the Shire River.

Have you ever seen a hippo jump? Look closely – none of this one’s legs are touching the ground as he races into the Shire River.

January 6 we spent on the shores of Lake Malawi, engaged in a retreat/day of reflection. We might or might not have expanded the definition of “reflection” to include hiring a local gentleman to take us out to an island a mile or so offshore where we were free to admire amazing birdlife, see the beautiful Lake Malawi cichlids (fish), and take a swim in the lake.

Heading toward "Bird Island" for a swim!

Heading toward “Bird Island” for a swim!

I’ve asked each of the young people to offer a reflection for this issue of the blog. There was no assignment other than simply writing a few sentences saying something about their experience. I am so proud of the way that each of them has wrestled with trying to see things from a variety of perspectives and has tried to enter so deeply and fully into this experience. I am eager to see what they might say six months from now!

9joegreetingFrom Joe: With so many new sights and sounds, traveling to a new place can be easily overwhelming. Myself, I’ve always wanted to see the world. I have always been interested in the languages, cultures, foods, and different lifestyles of the world. My time in Malawi has been a perfect way of feeding that interest, as well as helping it grow into a passion. The people of Malawi have been nothing but kind, courteous, and lovable. For instance, we stayed with a man named Davies, whom loaned us his vehicle without question. So many good people have opened their homes and their hearts to us. Something interesting about Malawi is that nobody expects you to even attempt to speak to them in their language. I don’t know all of them, but I do know a few small phrases in Chichewa that will make any Malawian happy. Asking them how they are doing is a great way to get a smile and and unexpected giggle out of someone. As for the food we have been blessed to feast nightly, and it never disappoints. Being able to experience the different aspects of life in Malawi has been very eye-opening to me, as I had no idea the highs and lows of a country that is sometimes ranked as the poorest in the world. I love Malawi and I love the people of this country. It makes me happy to say that I feel like they love me just as much.

David with Gift, one of the Youth Leaders at Mbenjere

David with Gift, one of the Youth Leaders at Mbenjere

From David: Where do I start? There is always so much to talk about to keep this short. We have traveled all around Malawi to places like Blantyre, Mulanje, and Ntaja. We have seen people with so much and people with so little. We have seen people taking care of few children and some taking care of 20. There are so many struggles people go through here and the list just doesn’t stop. But what I’ve noticed is that the people are happy. People still possess so much joy when there is such a lack of “stuff”. People here have made sure we have something to eat before themselves, or even their children. It is hard to experience when you are in the moment, but when you look back on it later in the day it starts to make sense. They are the hosts and we are the visitors. They make sure we have more than enough food, more than enough water, more than enough of anything. They give us everything to make us happy and that makes them a blessing. Anyone can give up $5 when they have $500, but they will give you $5 when that is all they have. God, bless them all, and everyone here in Malawi.

The girls and their "mom".

The girls and Mrs. Tongwe, their “mom”.

From Katie: In the days leading up to our trip to Ntaja, I was very nervous about everything that could possibly happen upon our arrival there. The drive up Saturday was quite a challenge between the fear of the unknown and being extremely tired. In addition, it was long, hot, and uncomfortable. I rode in a minibus with some of our hosts along with David and Joe. I was frustrated by the fact that we couldn’t drive up all together and didn’t understand why we needed to be picked up in Blantyre anyway. When we got to Ntaja, I realized they came out of hospitality and excitement. Although I was annoyed, I came to see that it is just part of the culture. When we got to the manse, we were greeted by our host families and waited two hours for a meal during a blackout. After eating, we were taken to our host “homes”. I was thankful that Carly, Rachael, and I were all in the same house – we had a small room of our own with a single bed and two bunks. The first night was very difficult for us as we tried to navigate the small space and endure the heat. I thought that these four days would be the longest ones of my life. As we got to know the host families, we were more and more comfortable with our situation, and it got better and better. We enjoyed long conversations with our “brother” and the neighbors. When we gave our gifts, we could easily sense how something so simple meant so much – and they were all hung up when we got home. We received chitenges and were taught how to wrap them. I never thought I would be sad to leave. Our “mother”, Mrs. Tongwe, said that she just waited for us to get back every day. On Thursday afternoon, I cried while saying ‘goodbye’. The family meant a lot to me and based on the 3 messages I have already received from Mrs. Tongwe, I think we meant a lot to them as well.

The folks from Ntaja waving as we depart.

The folks from Ntaja waving as we depart.

From Rachael: Our first few days in Malawi I felt like we were just going with the flow. We would wake up and do so many things, shake a ton of hands, and always be hours late. But when we got to Ntaja, that changed. The first night there was overwhelming – the power was out and it was very hot. At one point I was sure that there was no way I would make it through the next four days. But as the days went on, we found ourselves waiting and sitting more and more in between our planned activities. We took advantage of the “down time” we had to build friendships – even while we were walking in some difficult places. Those were the moments that made saying goodbye to our sister church so hard.

9classroomFrom Carly: Since I want to be a teacher it was interesting (and a little difficult) to see this classroom. I loved seeing how well-trained these first or second grade students were, and how much they were engaged in their learning. It was hard for me to see more than 100 students in a classroom, each of them sitting on the floor and none of them having their own books. I could never imagine teaching like that. One of the young women we met, Jean, gave me some thoughtful gifts, so I thought it was only right to give her my Jerusalem Cross necklace in return. I could tell how much she enjoyed it as she clutched it. That made me feel so happy.

Carly and Jean

Carly and Jean

Youth Mission 2015 Update #4

 

In a few hours we’ll be loading up the vans and heading for Pittsburgh. Most of us are a little sore. All of us will be ready for a good night’s sleep. And if we did it right, none of us will be the same. As has become my tradition, I’d like to allow the young people to write this final “Mission Trip Update”. Last night, I asked them to think about what it meant for them to be able to spend a week in this community called “Deep Roots” with each other and the folks who are calling it home right now. Here are their responses, and I’ve given the names of the people who are willing to be so designated.

This is a wonderful trip and I hope we can do this again. It’s nice to try. We helped.

Tim had a whole week of games for the group.  Here he is getting a taste of his own medicine.

Tim had a whole week of games for the group. Here he is getting a taste of his own medicine.

This trip changed me on Day One when John [our site coordinator] told us at orientation to put the idea of service out of our heads. From that point we were no longer here to serve the less fortunate, we were just here to share some things we were able to do for each other. It has less to do with who has more cards in their hand and more to do with humbly and willingly evening out the playing field. If you’ve got more, you want to help out however you can. You don’t want to make a big deal of ‘serving the less fortunate’ because it just makes it more obvious that you place yourself higher than them.

Tim created this game where we had to balance pencils on the back of our hands and then snatch them out of midair. Tommy was pretty good...

Tim created this game where we had to balance pencils on the back of our hands and then snatch them out of midair. Tommy was pretty good…

...but Noah was a master.  He eventually made it to the point where he could do it with 35 pencils in one hand!

…but Noah was a master. He eventually made it to the point where he could do it with 35 pencils in one hand!

If I have learned anything from this trip, it’s not to appreciate the things I don’t have. It’s to be thankful for the people who don’t mind throwing themselves into a bucket of paint or under a building just to make a person’s life easier. I love every person that came on this trip and all of those who couldn’t come too.

This photo does not do the job justice.  The building looks brand new!

This photo does not do the job justice. The building looks brand new!

My favorite thing on every mission trip is the stories that are made, told, and heard. I enjoy everything that I learn from them. I think I learn more from the stories made with the youth group than I do in school.

This mission trip meant a lot to me because like I said [in closing devotions on Friday night] I was in a depression stage and didn’t think a lot meant to me and I thought I was at the lowest of the los but helping people who needed help really hit me and I was like I have a reason. God created me to help people who need it and I decided to come help these people before I get my own help. But helping others I would do again and again but this mission trip means a lot to me. (Tim W)

This trip was one of the best trips that I have been on. The work was great and I felt like we really made a difference. The group was amazing and we all could contribute something. (Katie P)

My first mission trip. I had lots of fun. I had much more fun moving mulch than painting the building.

Loading all of S's possessions into our little trailer to help her move her little family to their new home.

Loading all of S’s possessions into our little trailer to help her move her little family to their new home.

Out of 6 mission trips this was the hardest. The work was not hard but the circumstances we saw were hard (although definitely not as hard as Dave’s experiences in South Sudan). Watching these people who live here made me very frustrated. I felt like we needed to show the kids a lot of attention because the parents were not always doing that. Then helping S. move into her new home I became frustrated with the idea of her kids living in that area and being away from Deep Roots. Coming into this trip I expected to do some work and learn someone’s story. But we did more than work and I did not learn a story. I know our work and me alone could not change these families’ situations but it did open my eyes to more things I can change about myself. Overall the tripo was a success and it allowed me to do a lot of thinking, learning, and reflecting. (Rachael P.)

I was excited to join this group for the first time and I was not disappointed. The work that everyone did with each other was inspirational. I was happy to wake up every morning and serve with these people. (Nick V)

Our evening Bible Study.

Our evening Bible Study.

I really haven’t formulated a thought on this trip. I had good days and I’ve had bad days but I truly learned so much about myself. I did things I never thought possible and I wanna thank everyone for the wonderful work they’ve done here and I look forward to next year’s. (Ricky L)

It is a privilege to be with such amazing young people who care for each other and those they encounter. This group adds so much joy to my life and for that I am so thankful!

This has been a complete eye-opening experience seeing the people that live here and how little they have but also how much they have to give. It makes you appreciate what you have been given. (Josh D)

The "underneath", with a new ground cover and vapor barrier in place.

The “underneath”, with a new ground cover and vapor barrier in place.

This trip has been one of, if not the best trip, I have ever been on. Productively I feel that it has been the most successful, and it has also changed me spiritually. It has changed the way I look at my everyday life and I feel it has changed me for the best. Can’t wait for next year! (David S)

While painting was not Evan's favorite thing, he sure gave it his all and I'm proud of him for that.

While painting was not Evan’s favorite thing, he sure gave it his all and I’m proud of him for that.

I have mixed emotions about Deep Roots or, as other people know it, Meeting Ground. Day 1: Everything was great and it was hot. Day 2: Lots of mulching. Day 3: BEACH = awesome. Day 4: A lot of paint and dirt. Day 5: Three-quarter day and then we swam in the lake. (Evan W)

In this past week I have realized that the littlest things can make a difference in lives. Like how we put down mulch in the playground and later on Pastor Dave told a story how one of the residents said that it made a big difference because of the weeds growing so fast, and how when it rained it was too muddy to play in and when it doesn’t rain the ground is too hard to play on. (Caleb C)

This group works well together and works hard. People look out for each other and look for how they can contribute and serve to make things better for the residents here.

Using a text from Galatians 6, Carly led our devotions on Friday evening, talking about the ways that we are to do all we can to help others while taking responsibility for ourselves.

Using a text from Galatians 6, Carly led our devotions on Friday evening, talking about the ways that we are to do all we can to help others while taking responsibility for ourselves.

Friday was my favorite work day because I got to help someone who has lived in Deep Roots for a couple of months to finally move into a new home. As she was leaving a lot of her friends were saying their goodbyes and had tears in their eyes. It made me realize that while people are living here they make real connections with each other and even become an odd type of family. It made me very grateful for my own family. (Carly B)

This mission trip I feel like I accomplished the most not only physically but this year spiritually too. The group worked very hard this past week and I am very grateful that I was able to come.

Singing is a big part of our evening devotions - it helps us create a safe place to be with and for each other in the presence of God.

Singing is a big part of our evening devotions – it helps us create a safe place to be with and for each other in the presence of God.

There you have it – in their own words – a small hint of the stories that God is writing in the lives of these fifteen young people and five of their leaders. Many of the kids paid $125 to get here for the week. Others were not able to afford that. None of us could have gotten here if it were not for generous donations from people who came to the baked potato luncheon or who made other gifts that allowed us to rent the vans, to buy the meals, and to offer a day at the beach. As I said in the first post, it’s one of my favorite weeks of the whole year (I am, however, ready to spend a few nights in my own bed!). Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

Maybe you can guess that this is one of my favorite images from the trip.  I'm not sure who took it, but it expresses well my hope for this and other trips.

Maybe you can guess that this is one of my favorite images from the trip. I’m not sure who took it, but it expresses well my hope for this and other trips. You probably can’t read the writing on my shirt, but it has the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s motto on it: “Out of chaos, hope”.  For too many of the kids who came with me on this trip, life is chaotic.  In the past couple of years we have buried too many parents and seen too much grief…we’ve had trouble in school and made horrific mistakes…and we’ve seen great joy and made wonderful strides.  In the same way, Deep Roots brings a sense of hope and purpose to the lives of even the littlest residents, and the opportunity to think that we can make positive steps in the days, months, and years to come.  That’s not insignificant – not at all.  It’s a little step, some days, but at least we’re walking into hope.

Youth Mission 2015 Update #3

Making memories.

Paddleball in the surf

Paddleball in the surf

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.

A couple of veterans show 'em how a wave ought to be ridden.

A couple of veterans show ’em how a wave ought to be ridden.

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.

Yeah, we're pretty sure that these were dolphins.  Sure enough that we sent a few kids out to check them out, anyway...

Yeah, we’re pretty sure that these were dolphins. Sure enough that we sent a few kids out to check them out, anyway…

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.

We saw a lot of this yesterday.  A lot.

We saw a lot of this yesterday. A lot.

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.

Tim led the search party that discovered this horseshoe crab, which was a source of wonderment not only to our group, but dozens of other curious beach-goers.

Tim led the search party that discovered this horseshoe crab, which was a source of wonderment not only to our group, but dozens of other curious beach-goers.

At Grotto Pizza.

At Grotto Pizza.

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.

Devotions on the beach at sunset.

Devotions on the beach at sunset.

The end of a great day. There are lots of memories here.

The end of a great day. There are lots of memories here.

 

Youth Mission 2015 Update #2

 

I sat with John, the Farm Manager here at Deep Roots, as the young people from Crafton Heights were buzzing around us engaged in a variety of tasks. Several members of the team were caring for children whose parents were on job or housing interviews; many were distributing mulch throughout the compound; still others were engaged in a variety of small repair jobs. John smiled at me and said, “So Dave, the first thing I did when we finished work on Monday was to call in some help from the members of our board. I said, ‘Ed, you’ve got to get me more supplies. We’ve got a group here who gets it. I mean, they really get it. We have to be ready for these kids because they are moving.’”

The mulch pile seems to have grown overnight!

The mulch pile seems to have grown overnight!

“They get it.” I was so proud to hear someone say that about our group. As we rolled into Maryland, I asked some of our team what their hopes for the week were. I heard things like, “I hope that we don’t run out of work”, or “I hope that this year we get to meet the people that we are working with”. The work ethic that these kids display, by and large, is admirable. Their willingness to engage those with and for whom we serve is a mixed bag (it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), but for some of our young people it is a real highlight.

Today, our team spent the morning weeding and mulching the remaining garden beds, exploring solutions for a water condensation problem, and playing with children. Afternoon, we had two main teams: one was crawling through the foundation of the education building removing a problematic insulation system and the other was beginning to paint the dining hall. Throughout, the group was encouraging, helpful, and eager to serve. I am delighted to be associated with this team.

Ricky with a couple of the children from the Deep Roots community.

Ricky with a couple of the children from the Deep Roots community.

Each day we take our meals in the dining hall with the families and volunteers who form the Deep Roots community, and with each meal, I’m more likely to see tables in which CHUP-sters have integrated with others.

After dinner tonight, we played another round of exciting and unusual games led by Tim, and then Karen facilitated a discussion on the parable of the sower and the seeds as found in Matthew. We sang a few songs, we talked about important things, and then we split into groups for a little free time and relaxation prior to bed.

 

Caleb  is clearly in control of this group of kids!

Caleb is clearly in control of this group of kids!

I am as tired as I have been in a long, long time. But there is no place else I’d rather be right now. CS Lewis might say that “Aslan is on the move” amidst this group of young people, and I’d agree. Important things are happening in them, and perhaps through them.

 

Here are a few images from our day:

Solving the insulation and condensation problem...

Solving the insulation and condensation problem…

I'm not entirely sure what is going on here, but trust me, safety is our first priority!

I’m not entirely sure what is going on here, but trust me, safety is our first priority!

Noah shows off the largest slug I've ever seen.

Noah shows off the largest slug I’ve ever seen.

The team begins to "cut in" on the painting of the Dining Hall.

The team begins to “cut in” on the painting of the Dining Hall.

Painting progresses...

Painting progresses…

Jake sets the pace in a game that left us in stitches.

Jake sets the pace in a game that left us in stitches.

Ricky attempting to collapse the cups into a stack.

Ricky attempting to collapse the cups into a stack.