Youth mission trip reflection: Pouring out love
Editor’s note: Andy Langdon is the director of youth ministries at St. Paul. He led the devotion at staff meeting this week, where he shared his thoughts on the youth mission trip last week to Cincinnati, Ohio.
It’s the week after the mission trip to Cincinnati and I thought it might be a good time to share a little from the experience.
First, here is the scripture that we focused on each day and night: Colossians 3:9-15
See that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
As we read this passage each night we let it’s words seep into our trip – focusing on how God unites us as a community, chooses us to be loved, gives us peace in our perspectives, allows us to forgive and bear with one another, and ultimately shows his love through his death on the cross.
On a mission trip, Bible stories seem to come to life and that’s certainly the case this past week as our kids lived this passage as much as heard it.
For instance, we talked about being chosen – the idea that we make choices in our life that reflect how God has chosen to love us. We are an outpouring of God’s love in this world. We saw that at one of our work sites, Victoria’s House of Hope. This is a transitional housing facility that can accommodate two families. We spend time painting and maintaining the garden in the backyard. But that house exists because of a choice that Victoria made. Victoria is a teenager who passed away last winter from an aggressive brain cancer. During her treatment and loss of functionality she remained positive, and continued to serve at her church’s food pantry. She was granted a wish from Make-A-Wish, and though her family discussed ideas of travel or meeting someone famous, Victoria kept coming back to serving others, which is what made her happy. Victoria’s House of Hope is the wish that she used to help others.
Another example from our trip is when we consider the idea of bearing with one another. That’s a concept that resonates with teenagers who are often pushed into relationships with strangers on a trip like this. That would be challenging enough, but the real struggle was when our kids visited the Stepping Stones day camp for developmentally disabled. That was an experience that our kids won’t soon forget. Most kids were paired up one-on-one with kids and youth living with significant disabilities. The camp was designed like a normal summer camp filled with activities, art projects, swimming, and music… but you could tell that our students were seeing the world differently because of their partnership with the campers. Every aspect of the day was difficult, but at the end of the day, many of our kids didn’t want to leave. They were able to see people the way that God sees them. It was a challenging site, but beautiful to behold.
Just one more story to tell, though I could tell more… many more stories. A new twist to this trip was that we rarely had the whole group in one place at one time. Our entire group was together only for breakfast, one hour of free time after the work projects were completed, and closing worship at the end of the day. Outside of that was a carefully orchestrated dance of sending kids to different locations around the city both for work sites and evening group time. That carefully orchestrated dance was due in large part to our desire to help an urban church VBS program each evening. We weren’t really sure what we were getting into when we volunteered, but we knew that we could only send about 24 people each night as volunteers, so we rotated through our group, each group taking a turn volunteering.
When I say urban, what I really mean is that this church is basically a homeless center. The pastor described his experience with Sunday morning worship as a free breakfast, after which most people walk upstairs to the sanctuary and sleep until worship began.
We showed up on night number one with our team of 24…and there were 6 kids in VBS. Whew. That could have been a disaster, but the college kids we had brought with us kept reminding our youth that they were making a difference.
As the week grew on the VBS program grew: 26 kids on Tuesday, 32 on Wednesday… a place of spirit and our energy, a reflection of God’s love.
On the last night we sent a team as normal. One of our other groups was downtown. As part of their evening downtown, we give each student a $10 bill. The kids each received their $10 bill with the direction to find a way to be generous. Maybe they tip big, or give to someone on the street, buy someone else food, or perhaps they are generous with themselves in a way that they usually aren’t. We don’t put strings on that money, we just ask them to consider what it means to be generous.
One of our students that night had an idea to share his $10 with the VBS church. His idea was inspiring for others and many of them chipped in to give a gift of $300 to the church at the end of the evening. You can imagine the scene as kids found each other in that downtown park asking “have you given away your $10? We’re giving it to the VBS church if you want to do that with us…”
This is the kind of love that we experience with Christ. A love that enters our world, breaks down our preconceived notions, and pours out. It’s an infectious love that we hope keeps pouring out as we return here to this community.