I spent four eventful days with about 60 12-13 year olds and a handful of adults on a mission trip called "Big House." It's a youth mission outreach program of the United Methodist Church here in the Texas District. We were about an hour from home, staying at the local Methodist church, showering at the local swimming hole, and performing build-and-repair projects at churches, nursing homes and the Salvation Army.
I confess I was not looking forward to the trip. Last year's middle school excursion was downright torturous at times. But this year, the kids were good. I had a great work team of six youth and one other adult. We worked for 2 days at a church in a low-income neighborhood that has about 50 members. We trimmed bushes, replaced rotten fascia board, did some outdoor painting, and painted a large indoor room that is used for adult Sunday School. The indoor room was wood paneling, requiring the use of killz-it on day 1 as a primer and then regular paint on day 2. One of the frustrating aspects was the kids' trouble with performing detail and precision work. You had to paint the baseboards, the cracks between the paneling and the trim, while NOT painting the crown moulding. And I guess they thought we would run out of killz-it because they were putting it on pretty lightly. I must have said 100 times, "If you have to press that hard when you are rolling, you need more paint on your roller!" Another frustrating aspect was all the paint trails. We put down drop cloths, but the kids were forever spilling and then stepping in paint and distributing it throughout the room. But you know what? The job got done and it was pretty darn impressive in the end.
There were 3 boys and 3 girls on my team. On the first night when the teams were put together, we sat around a circle and told interesting details about ourselves. One boy next to me complained that he had a headache. I confess my first thoughts were, "This kid is a wimp. He's going to be my problem child, I just know it." Guess what? I was dead wrong. His name was Dennis and he was about the sweetest, most helpful kid I've ever met. In fact, he started calling me Den Mother on the first day. Soon, all the boys were calling me Den Mother. Now that was sweet! Dennis has a pretty mature faith for his age. He told me about some dreams he had where he felt like God was revealing some things to him. He also told me about some Christian theology books he hoped to read by summer's end. Amazing.
At night, we did fun activities. One night, we went to the lake. Another night, we played Frisbee golf. My new friend, Michael, the other adult on my work team who looked all of 17 years old (but apparently is 23), taught me how to properly throw a Frisbee. How did I make it all these years without knowing that? Michael was a gentle and patient worker. No matter how many times the kids messed up, how many times I missed a turn, how many times he was left finishing what the kids started, he never complained; never even sighed. What an example. Oh, and guess what? Michael is looking for a youth director job ... and our church is hiring. How amazing. God put him right there in the seat next to me for 4 days.
I guess another amazing story was Ian. Ian is new to our youth group. He went with us on a kayak trip about a month ago. When one of the youth backed out of this trip at the last minute, I called Ian's mom to see if he would go. She said yes. I had to beg the Big House staff to make the last-minute substitution (just 2 days before camp), even though I knew this was expressly against the "rules." One hour before we're supposed to leave, Ian's mom calls. "Ian's changed his mind -- he's not going." What?? I got him on the phone and said, "Look, buddy, I jumped hoops to get you in. You have to go. I cannot show up at that camp without you. Please!" He went.
Without a doubt, Ian had the best time of any of our kids. And I'm certain he made a real God connection. His family is unchurched, but he is now very excited about returning to youth group and attending church with us on a regular basis.
Probably the final amazing story was my friend JD, one of the 3 adults from our church who attended. JD was pretty worried about being put on a build-and-repair job that was clearly out of his league. He confessed he didn't even have a tool box. Wouldn't you know it that JD's team got assigned clean up detail at the Salvation Army one day and planting a garden and visiting with nursing home residents the other? God's provision! But more than that, JD spent a lot of time walking down memory lane with me and our Pastor, who also attended. JD told so many stories that I had forgotten about; stories that typically involved me and him and a few other partners in crime at our church. I thought, "Wow, how could I have forgotten all those ways God has made use of me through the years?" It really ministered to me.
A group called Audio Adrenaline recorded a song years ago called "It's a Big, Big House." The lyrics are fun and the refrain reminds me a little of the experiences I had at my Big House this past week:
Its a big big house
With lots and lots a room
A big big table
With lots and lots of food
A big big yard
Where we can play football
A big big house
It's my fathers house
There was a whole lot of cooperation and a whole bunch of love and a whole bunch of amazing events among a whole bunch of total strangers during those four days. Only God can pull that off -- in his Big, Big House.