The alarm rang at 2:15am on a muggy July morning. With hardly any sleep, I packed a few remaining items, loaded luggage, and spent a few minutes saying goodbyes to our unsuspecting dog. When the rest of our carpool arrived, it was official: The mission trip has begun. No turning back now. Time to flip the dial from ‘apprehension’ to ‘façade of confidence’.
To an outside observer, the apprehension is understood. For the next nine days (204 hours) I will be embarking on an adventure like none I’ve ever done before. I will be one of 10 adults shepherding 45 kids to a faraway land in what our fearless leader Ian has previously described as a ‘life-changing’ experience. “Life changing” can mean so many things. Like, if you are a kid on this trip and we forget you at the airport, or we leave you at Alcatraz that would surely change your life. I was determined to keep things positive knowing so many parents were counting on me.
If you are a parent of someone who went on this trip, you have a lot to be proud of. God is present in your children; they could not have represented your family, congregation, and state any better. To put it another way, ‘the kids are alright’.
I witnessed kindness. Whether it was helping another youth, an adult, or anyone on our service projects, the youth exhibited an abundance of kindness. For example, one youth give up his seat on the airplane and sat with complete strangers so that a mother could sit with their child for the almost three-hour flight. Kindness was present in discussions. I overheard three of our youth talking about one of their senior pictures. “I wasn’t pleased with how they turned out,” she said. “I’m sure you were beautiful in them,” another reassured. “I saw them in Ian’s office and they were beautiful,” the other confirmed. Kindness was also present in actions. One youth lost his sunglasses on the trip. Three other youth offered to buy him a replacement. One actually did buy him a replacement pair. The kindness I saw was genuine and sincere.
God is present in your children; they could not have represented your family, congregation and state any better.Matt Kasik, Mission Trip Adult Leader
I witnessed acceptance. When we arrived at camp, our young adults faced a harsh reality: We were going to have to share our space with kids. Young kids, like 7-10 years old. To many, this was a slap in the face. I’m pretty darn close to being an actual adult; why are we at a summer camp for kids?!? Yet, as the week waned, our youth gained an appreciation for this company. The hokey prayer chants and hand symbols, and the kids bop style worship songs all became enjoyable. Our youth actually played games and had a dance party with the younger kids half way through the week. They accepted that instead of being ‘one-of-them’, they served as a mentor and someone the younger kids looked up to. During our service projects, our group work side-by-side with complete strangers. A few of the other volunteers were completing sentenced community service hours. Other volunteers were homeless. Still, our youth did not judge and treated each individual with dignity and respect. They talked to them and learned their stories. Instead of instantly judging, our group was open-minded and accepted all of those around them.
I witnessed encouragement. This trip pushed everyone to their limits. However, the encouragement that each youth provided to others in the group was awe-inspiring. The high ropes course illustrated this better than any other instance on the trip. The group’s ability to walk across a plank that was 20ft in the air with no railing was very broad: Some did it in under ten seconds while others were too terrified to even get to that point. Still, each youth (or adult) that was up in the air was comforted by the chorus of reassurance from the ground. “You are doing great” or “You are almost there” or “Keep your eyes up” were all commonly yelled as the person in the air pushed themselves to achieve something in the face of their natural fear. Much of what I witnessed on the high ropes course played out in our day-to-day life on the trip. Our youth would encourage each other at every critical juncture on the trip. Reassurance was given to a youth who had never flown before. Those who tried surfing were uplifted by those in the ocean and those on the shore. Hugs were given to some youth who missed home. The collective positive energy of the group was strong enough to power a modest electrical grid for months at a time.
I witnessed hard work. Every service project that we worked for all said the same thing: ‘these kids work twice as hard as any group of California kids we have!’ The sentiment was true. Our group accomplished a prolific amount of work. At the Second Harvest Food Bank, we accomplished so much that a foreman was able to go home early for the first time in months to be able to enjoy his granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. On the Habitat for Humanity build site, the degree of difficulty was very high. Our youth dug, by hand, footings for a driveway, chiseling through rock and stone. A three-foot drainage hole was dug as well as backfilling of an entire home foundation – again, all by hand. This type of work would have been handled by machines and contractors at most Habitat for Humanity affiliates throughout the country. It was refreshing to see that the stereotype of ‘lazy millennials’ was most-definitely false.
I witnessed the Holy Spirit. There were several instances throughout the trip in which I saw a higher power guiding our youth. During our worship on the beach, I witnessed our group lead worship, rejoicing and singing. To put it another way, I watched 45 teenagers singing church songs on a public beach, unafraid of what anyone around them would think. Worship at the cross was the same way. The prayers and sentiments shared by the youth were so powerful I was left to wonder, ‘Why am I crying; I should be laughing after such a joyous week”.
Through these experiences, the notion of a ‘Life changing’ trip became clear to me. Not only was every youth affected in a positive way, but my own life has changed. I learned that I should never underestimate our young adults. They are smart, kind, and genuinely good people. Do not stand in their way; you will only limit what they are capable of. Each night, our small groups would discuss god sightings: Where have you seen God in the past 24 hours? Through this trip, I learned how to look for God, and I see God in our youth.