Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mission Trip as Vacation

For this article, we welcome guest blogger, Jennifer Kitchens. She is blogging from Joplin, MO where she is working with Rebuild Joplin.

On a typical Wednesday, I am up at 5. I work out, shower, blow-dry and flat-iron my hair and put on make-up - all before 7:15. After breakfast I scramble off to work from 8-4, then run errands and do other chores before winding down for the night in preparation for the next day.

But this was no ordinary Wednesday. I'm on vacation, and that means I'm recharging. Ah, yes. The joys of vacation. Road-tripping over 400 miles with rap music blasting; sleeping on a sleeping bag; subsisting on teen-designed meals (PB&J, Oreos, orange Gatorade, pizza, pasta, hamburgers); convincing teenagers to do sweaty work, share games, or drink water when soda sounds better. Best recharge ever.

Disagree? Hear me out, because, all sarcasm aside, this IS a total recharge. It's not the typical - of the spiritual kind. Today is only Thursday, and already I feel my spirit coming clean.

First, I have faced my awful, yucky, no-good sinful tendencies head-on. When we got the less-than-glorious tasks to do to help the citizens of Joplin, I found myself groaning selfishly. "I came here to make a difference!" I thought to myself. "Not to pick up trash or guard spray paint on the street! Those jobs aren't big enough. If I'm going to sweat, I want to be doing something physically demanding or ministering directly to people! I want to SEE the results of my work!" But, biting my tongue, I tried to be positive and give the students the gratifying work that I wanted to do. I also find myself selfishly comparing everyone to everyone else and judging who is "good" and who is "bad." That was especially obvious on Tuesday, when I saw some "good" kids have to be disciplined, and later learned how much pain some of the "bad" kids have already faced in this life (it's much more than I've ever known). These are just a few of my sinful tendencies. They have come out in such sharp relief this week, so I can see very clearly how much I truly need God's love and forgiveness.

But wait! There's more. This trip has already reminded me why I got into Youth Ministry in the first place. Kids - babies, toddlers, children, preteens and yes, teenagers - are so much fun to be around! They're not perfect at any age - they definitely need discipline and get grumpy when they're hot, tired and dripping in sweat (but then, so do adults!). But kids have such great qualities that seem to fade in adults. They are so quick to forgive, for instance. They don't hold it against you forever if you forget their names, give them hard work to do, separate them from their friends, turn down their music or lay down the law. Kids are also much faster to make friends. Here in Joplin there are students from Mexia, Ennis and Desert, Texas as well as Guymon, Oklahoma. By now, though, a total stranger would never know who came from where. Girls from Guymon and Ennis work side-by-side, guys from Desert and Guymon team up during games, and photos can include guys and girls from all 4 church groups. Even inside jokes have sprung up, and none are confined to kids from just one church. Still more, kids are so willing to open up. Just a few hours after getting here, the girls started really talking to me, and I am amazed simultaneously at the beauty and pain in their stories. It's not just about who plays which sport or has a boyfriend or lives in a really nice house - the real stories are how much they have already experienced, how much they need Christ, how very human they are. We as adults tend to emphasize the differences between youth and adults. As I sit among them, I cannot help but see how very similar is all humanity. We have all sinned and fallen short of God's perfection. We all face personal failure and much pain as a result of our sin and others' sin. We all have no way out of the sin-pain-sin-pain cycle we try to use to heal ourselves. We all need Christ to truly bind up our wounds. We are all human.

Last but not least, this trip is filling me with hope. The people and community of Joplin are truly amazing. Everyone we meet has been so gracious, welcoming and appreciative of our coming here. Members of Bethany Presbyterian Church have asked if we needed anything - this in addition to the church facility they've already offered! People driving past our work sites have slowed down just to thank us. To top it off, last night some Bethany Church members even had us out to their property and grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for all 29 of us! From the stories we've heard to the pictures we've seen, everything here speaks of destruction, but instead they all have hope and love and joy and peace. The true fruits of the spirit flow freely from the natives of Joplin. I can't help but pick up on it!

I could go on, but I need to eat breakfast and make my lunch. We're about to head out to work another day. I can't wait.

Jenn Kitchens