Lessons Learned From Our New Orleans Mission Trip Part 1 – High School Students Can Do Just About Anything

High School Students Can Do Just About Anything
I’ve always held this suspicion but like many great truths, I have doubted. My working theory is my perception is due to the “modes” that I find students in. There are many of these modes: apathetic, passionately motivated, committed to missing the point, brilliant, rowdy, rude, and messy, almost behaviorally perfect. There’s many more of course, and they depend on a number of circumstances. It’s interesting to note how this reflects adulthood but considerably more exaggerated in the teen years.

I hold the belief that you need to push, motivate, lead students to do great things*. In ministry it becomes difficult to do this without inflating their collective ego and revolving the group not around God but around them. Sadly, this is among the mistakes that I have made numerous times. My intentions never started out that way but between the frustrations, criticisms, weak attendance, parental complaints, compromises were made and the trajectory drifted off-course.

This was running through my mind throughout our time in New Orleans. When we first walked into the Gathering building and saw the work we needed to, I admit that I felt the feeling of intimidation. But I was not intimidated by the task, in fact, I was confident in that. I knew our team could do it (especially after last year and this year was also a strong crew), but worried our attitudes would struggle and that we would not take the work as seriously as we should. Doubt crept in, I second-guessed myself, and wondered if the numerous criticisms of student short term missions held credibility. Of course, it’s at this point in the reflection that I am supposed to say that I prayed, the heavens opened up and God gave me his divine “thumbs up” and I winked back at the clouds, filled with courage, and gave a Braveheart speech that not only impassioned our students but simultaneously stopped the oil spill.

But nothing dramatic like that happened after my prayer. In fact, I prayed several times, and as a group we prayed regularly. Perhaps the wisest part of our prayers was that we had dedicated the work and time to the Lord and asked that He would bless it. From where I stood, it was that consistent submission to God that helped us maintain focus, kept our unity, provided energy in the forms of physical strength and encouragement in the forms of words, hugs, notes and presence.

Like all mission trips, nothing ever goes as planned. We had equipment problems, transportation glitches, missing lunches, and we constantly rotated students to different job sites (from kids camp, to menial labor like moving bricks, delivering furniture, to hanging insulation). There were days we ran out of work and had too many people and then too much work and not enough people and numerous other potential distractions. We began numerous conversations with, “I can’t do anything with these 5 until those 4 finish that and then …” Then there was the heat.

To their credit, they not only kept it together and we all witnessed moments of growth. Watching that final piece of insulation go up was more than just the pride of physical labor but the result of a youth group serving with good reason (and we had quite a few ranging from Christian service to reaching out to those that are in need). As you can tell I’m very proud of our students and I was reminded to never underestimate them.

* I know some may be inclined to say that it’s not us who do the great things but God. Certainly this is true to some extent but it has some obvious shortcomings. For instance, at car wash fundraisers, when a vehicle is cleaned poorly, it seems ridiculous to shake our fists at the heavens in protest of God’s performance. It’s usually more effective to communicate to your students, “Hey we need to bend our knees and scrub.” I know that may not qualify has a “great thing” but you get my point right? We are to serve and build his Kingdom, and this is truly an extraordinary thing.

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