This summer, after receiving a generous $1,000 grant from the Pilgrim Association, I led a local youth mission trip. But the youth and I received more than just a donation; we received God’s love through the work we did with each other, for the community.
If you had asked me on Tuesday, August 11 (the first day of the trip) if I would take on Local Youth Local Mission next year, you likely would have heard a resounding, unequivocal, emphatic ‘no.’ There were too many curve balls that were thrown at us during the process: losing the sleeping space, finding out there would be no showers, having difficulty getting chaperones, figuring out how to accommodate the constant changing of group numbers, and re-planning for new expectations at work sites. Some curve balls were of my own creation, due to my not-yet-fully developed organizational skills combined with my well-developed procrastination skills; but many of the challenges were out of my control.
But fielding curve balls can only make you a better catcher, right? Hopefully... By the grace of God.
Local Youth Local Mission is an urban mission experience, organized by a Pilgrim Association church and coordinated with City Mission of Boston. For several days and nights, the group of teens and their chaperones work at a variety of sites around the city doing everything from creating art work through a ministry of presence at Common Art to preparing and serving meals at Boston Rescue Mission to weeding the gardens in the Victory Program in Dorchester.
This year the chaperones and I brought 19 teens from five churches to First Church of Braintree, a church who graciously opened their very, very busy doors to us at the last minute when the facilities at Wollaston fell through. We squeezed into their church hall (one of them), eked out a few minutes of sleep and set about our week's work.
The days were long, and travel time was often an hour and half or more on either end or between sites. These sites were not places where we would get a tour and a brief lecture on the work done there. We worked. And we worked hard: weeding row after row of vegetables in the hot August sun; painting wall after wall (even the ones behind the toilets!) of an historic school in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city; slicing case after case after case of cucumbers to help in preparing the over 3,000 meals that come out of the Pine Street Inn kitchen for agencies all over the city every day; and packaging meals, filling food pantry baskets, and peeling potatoes and carrots (in record time, we were told!). We worked hard. Really hard.
Yet in the end, the reflections the teens wrote told a moving story of eyes being opened to a world they knew little about -- to the enormity of the world's grief and to the many, many faces of homelessness, drug addiction, and domestic violence. But they also experienced the many faces of love and the many faces of God: Joy's, Coffie's, Ron's, Roy's, Joanne's, Allen's. In the candor of newly formed bonds, one young woman who said she doesn't believe in God, wrote of developing a new respect for Christianity and the positive, transformative power it can have in people's lives.
These teens were moved both by their interactions with the people we met on site as well as what they learned about themselves and each other. Could there be a better measure of success than that?
Which leads me to the next question: how can I not be a part of making this happen again next year?
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