Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sault Ste. Marie Youth Mission Trip

What a week.

On Saturday, June 16, I left with Sam, Seth, Stuart, Tim and Neal (students from my youth group) for a Youth Works mission trip to Sault Ste. Marie, MI. A lot happened over the course of the trip. I’ll throw down some highlights for your education, edification and pleasure. And for my own sanity.

Father’s Day
Over Saturday night, we spent the night at Saranac Community Church along with the crew from Libertyville Covenant Church. Because of this fact, my wife and daughter were there with me on Sunday morning, which just so happened to be my first Father’s Day. It was a wonderful gift to be able to spend one last morning with the loves of my life before heading off for a week-ish. Father’s Day actually means something once you become one. Weird.

That night, we arrived in the SOO around dinner time. My boys didn’t know what to think about Youth Works after the first evenings’ activities. Everything was very corny, and they just weren’t in the corny mood. I was a bit worried that they wouldn’t have that great a time.

We had found two loves by this point, though: hackey sack and inventing new slang.

Early Week
Monday, we got into the swing of the mission. We took a ferry over to Sugar Island and worked with Bud Byron at his Cultural Camp. We helped move their main sign closer to the road, weedwacked a TON, and painted a bunch of picnic tables and a couple sheds. Our new slang reached new levels, and the boys covered their bodies in paint. Neal got some wicked paint tan lines. It was pretty much a jiminy jehemoth.

Later that evening, the boys loosened up quite a bit. In a bit more corny mood, the evening activities no longer bothered them. What a bunch of jokemasters.

Jerad Birge, RIP
We were hacking on Monday night before bed, when Seth received a text message. After a bit of clarification, we found out that a good friend of Seth, Stuart and Neal had died. He was also good friends with Zach, another kid from the youth group who did not come on the trip.

At first, the guys were just in shock. They made some initial comments, and we went upstairs to get ready for bed. After a while, I asked them if they wanted to go downstairs to talk and pray. They did, and I’m glad. They opened up, shared stories, and I could feel the group gelling and growing closer by the moment. It was really tough, but it was good for everyone to talk and get out their frustrations, as well as brainstorming ways to honor Jerad’s memory. Little did we know that Zach was back home putting together a tribute video of Jerad that would be shown at his viewing and funeral.

I continue to pray for Jerad's family and friends. May the peace of Christ be with you all.

That news changed the complexion of the trip. The guys thought much more deeply about everything that went on. They were more gracious with others, and they served wherever they could. We picked up trash all day on Tuesday. It was a bit depressing, but the guys had a good attitude about it.

That night, I shared what happened with all the adult leaders and the Youth Works staff. Unbeknownst to me, the Site Director emailed a prayer request to all the staff in the US, Canada and Mexico. Over 300 Youth Works leaders were praying for my boys and for Jerad’s friends and family.

Wednesday, we did Kid’s Club. It was pretty fun, and the guys did a great job with a modern day Moses skit. Tim’s old man voice is hilarious. “Get off my green!”

Some Great News
Later in the week, I received two pieces of good news to temper the bad news we received from home. One was news that some dear friends are pregnant. Pretty sweet, but I’m not sure if it’s public yet, so I’m not using names. This news was a huge answer to prayer.

The other one was Marcie’s job. She will be working as a Human Resources Generalist at a large and well known Christian college in Grand Rapids, MI as of mid-July. This was also the answer to much prayer. It’s a perfect job for Marcie and right in her field. Her major at TIU was Business—Non-Profit and Human Resources, and now she’ll be doing Human Resources at a Non-Profit. Pretty sweet, eh? For you Office lovers, she’ll be Toby, but hopefully her boss won’t hate her as much at Michael Scott hates Toby.

Late Week
Thursday, we went out to someone’s house on Lake Superior to play football, throw the Frisbee, and hang out. I didn’t know until afterwards, but Stuart and Neal had an impromptu funeral for Jerad out on a beautiful part of the beach. They fashioned a cross out of some sticks and watched some pigeons congregate in Jerad’s memory. I was so impressed that the boys did that.

Later that night, we had a footwashing ceremony. Some honesty from a new friend made the experience extra emotional for me, and I couldn’t stop crying. As I prayed for and washed the feet of each of the boys and girl (Sam was the one girl on the trip from my church and was technically registered on the trip with Libertyville, but is really part of our church), the tears poured out of me uncontrollably. I felt the Spirit’s presence in a very real way. I pray that the experience was as memorable for them as it was for me.

The Trip Back
On the morning of Friday, June 22, BZ decided to break his van about five miles after we had left the SOO, so we stayed an extra three hours before heading back home. We got some pizza, shared some children’s stories, reminisced of the old days, and thanked each other for an awesome week…which it was.

Eventually Bucky Cook (give him a call if you ever have car trouble in the SOO) fixed the great white beastly van, and everyone made it home safely.

It was the best mission trip I’ve ever been on as a leader. God orchestrated things in ways I would never have expected. My group totally exceeded my expectations, and Christ was glorified in amazing ways.

Believe it or not, that’s not even the half of it. But that’s enough for now. Thanks for reading.

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