I don't think there was ever really a moment where I felt excitement for this trip. In all reality, I felt a little anxious- the unknowns of trying to be a "leader" for a bunch of middle schoolers whilst not embarrassing my own middle schooler (not an easy task) were heavy on my heart. I dreaded the thought of sleeping on a thin dormitory mattress. Lord knows sleep is sacred to me. Beyond all that, I just felt like I was overwhelmed at home. I didn't think that I'd be able to keep my focus on where it needed to be that weekend, and I wanted to be a good example. So, my heart didn't feel prepared as I got on the bus that Friday morning.
God's funny like that. Funny in the way he moves people despite their current situations. First let me back up a second. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Urban Plunge, it is an organization that works with youth groups like ours to put service projects in the hands of kids and allow them to experience being the hands and feet of Jesus. Our group had a very busy weekend. We spent time at the Cross Training Center helping to take apart TVs, cut down branches, and sort cell phones for a place that works to give people jobs who may otherwise have a hard time getting one. These include ex prisoners, homeless people, or people who have different disabilities. Once we finished there, we went to the St. Francis house, a homeless shelter, to serve people juice and watermelon, pass out socks, and listen to their hearts. On Saturday we went to the Food Pantry where some of us stocked shelves, brought groceries to their cars, sorted and displayed clothes for people to "shop" for, and many other various tasks. The afternoon was spent helping a lady remove a very large tree that had fallen onto not only her backyard, but the backyards of her two neighbors. We spent a few hours cleaning up branches, trimming her hedges, sweeping the cement in her backyard, and taking a part the tree with a chainsaw piece by piece. Finally, we spent Saturday evening helping out at Scatter Joy Acres, a farm that houses more than 100 therapy animals. We did various volunteer work on the farm including ripping out old carpet, tearing down a tarped "shed" that had been destroyed during a wind storm, and moving playground equipment for the animals so that they had room to add a few more animals to their farm. Finally on Sunday we got to attend a church service very different to ones our kids attend back home. Drugs, alcohol, and murder are all words that are all too familiar for this congregation. There was a lot of hurt at this church, but more importantly a lot of hope and a whole lot of Jesus.
We didn't have a lot of downtime obviously, and so it has taken me a few weeks to reflect on my time there that weekend. What it meant to me. What I took away from it. How I feel God is calling me to respond.
I think a lot of people expect service projects to be this life changing experience. And for a few it can be. For some, it becomes a platform for how they serve the Lord as they get older. It gives some kids a passion for a certain group of people in God's Kingdom, but for many, it becomes this high that you are on, and once you get home, you don't know how to channel that into the real world. This is so familiar to me. I did many serve projects as a kid. All of them touched me in some way, but I couldn't say that any of them were "life changing". So I'm sitting here trying to piece together my perspective and put into words what I took away from that weekend.
Here's what I know. I love people. I love to hear their stories. I enjoy being a village to others and definitely appreciate the village that is my own. So I guess for me, it was a reaffirmation that ALL God's people need a village. That village can be as close as your next door neighbor, your brother, or the people in a tiny town an ocean away. God's people are everywhere. On Friday night, Joya and Sharon took us to this beautiful park overlooking the city of Omaha. It was sunset, and we were all in awe. We were encouraged to take 10-15 minutes to silently walk the trails or sit and reflect on the day. The people we met. The stories we heard. So we did. We walked the trails, and oogled at the beauty of the landscape in front of us, and when we all got back together, she told us something that stuck with me. She said that this was such a beautiful picture of what this city looks like from afar, but we had just come from the depths of it where there was a lot of hurt and pain and brokenness. There are places that are so obviously in need of people who are willing to step up and help. To be servant hearted and show people the love of God, yet it's easy to step back and only see what we want to see- the beauty, the silence, the normal.
|The beauty of Omaha from afar|
|Doing a little reflecting on the trails|
On the other hand, you could take this symbolically as how our little town can portray itself. We don't have near the amount of "obvious" brokenness that we experienced in Omaha that weekend. Sure there are people who are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction or have been to or have a loved one that is in jail. Do we extend Christ's love to them? Are they welcomed in our churches? Do we have the time of day for them? Are we the broken ones? Are we in need of a village? Do we push away our pain or our struggles to save face? It's easy to put on the mask of perfection when you don't feel like you can spill the contents of your heart to those around you. How do we break down these walls of pain, hurt, shame, guilt, and suffering? How do we let people in? Where does it begin?
With me. With you.
What did I take away from this weekend? That we are all children of God. That we all have hurt and pain and brokenness, and it's the job of all of us to be a village to one another. Some of us will be called to help the homeless or the widows. Others will be called to feed the hungry and help the poor. Some will be called to the Foster care/adoption front lines. Others will be asked to serve the children or the addicts. At some point, our hearts will break for an injustice. THAT is where God is calling you to go. I've always believed that when God breaks your heart for something, that is where he is calling you to serve. That may look different to each person. God's talking. We just need to listen.
How is God asking me to respond? He's asking me to Be Still. Listen to his voice. Be compassionate. Compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands. I think that we forget sometimes that we can be His hands and feet every single day in very small ways. Maybe it's asking that single mom if she needs help with childcare or that homeless man you see sitting on the sidewalk. Maybe ask him to lunch WITH you. Get to know him. Maybe it's in your school. That student you have that shows up with holes in his shoes. Maybe buy him a new pair.
You don't HAVE to leave your town to love other people. You just do it. And if your heart is breaking for bigger injustices around the globe, our country, our state, our county, our town, your neighborhood.....then listen carefully. That's your purpose.
I'll leave you with a few photos of our weekend.
|Cross Training Center|
|Hope Food Pantry|
|Cleaning up the tree and debris|
|Helping tear down the building at Scatter Joy|
|Making friends at Scatter Joy Acres|
|Hot dog eating contest|
|Group picture at the church before coming home|
|My roommates. :)|
|Serving Jesus with my lady|