They invited us to a picnic, and to worship with them and hear their stories. They’d traveled by caravan, as they had for eight summers prior, to a neighborhood in the hills of West Virginia. There, they had unpacked suitcases and sleeping bags, paintbrushes and scrapers, craft supplies and musical instruments.
They’d returned to a neighborhood where many had served before, one where jobs for able-bodied men are few and households maintained by elderly women are many. Poverty had moved in as the jobs moved out, bringing crime, decay, and loss of hope in its wake. One elderly resident seemed just plain angry, one who could remember the neighborhood the way it used to be.
They came to rebuild and repair porches, to scrape paint and apply fresh; to pour juice, offer snacks, and tell Bible stories to neighborhood children. They came with a desire to point to the One who will:
During the report-back service, team members, by turn, walked to the front of the sanctuary to share a verbal snapshot, a particular memory of their week of service. One handsome, dark-haired young man—one especially near and dear to my heart–sat upon an African Cajon box drum during the worship service. He spoke of joy he found in joining with professionals and other members of his team as they offered music to the residents they had served during the week.
To some he gave the gifts of being apostles, prophets and teachers; to others he gave gifts to paint, build, make crafts, pour juice, and play music.
Because this was the ninth year team members served in this particular neighborhood, many have formed relationships with its residents. They returned to re-repair some homes they’d worked on in previous years. Despite their hard work, painting and patching proved sadly temporary. The lives they’d touched had experienced only brief respite from their troubles.
One of the young team members spoke of her grief, as the week went on, in knowing she would soon leave behind the sweet children she had hugged and held and loved. She knew that once the caravan headed north and toward her home, many of the dear ones she’d loved during the week would return to the dangers of theirs.
And there was nothing she could do about it.
Tears in her eyes, she offered what she had gleaned during her week of service. She said it was hard leaving these children behind, knowing she could hold them, love them, and allow them to sit in safety in her lap, if for only the space of a week.
But I can’t change their lives, and I can’t save their souls, she said. Only Jesus can do that.
Such wisdom, from one so young.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what work God is doing when a group of young people is willing to offer themselves like this to others, even for a short time. In his recently published book, Wrecked, Jeff Goins talks about the value of participating in short-term mission projects like this. He wrote:
All of us need that first wrecking, we need it to be about us, to make us question everything, to break us of our selfish ways. But then we need the wreckings we experience to help us change the realities for the people and stories and faces and injustices that are wrecking us.
During their week in West Virginia, the team was surprised by a visit from a young man they’d met the first time they’d served there. He’d been one of the kids who had attended the Vacation Bible School they’d offered that week. He’d eaten snacks, made crafts, and listened to Bible stories.
He’d finished his first year of college, he said, and just wanted to stop by and thank them for coming.
After the worship service, those of us in the congregation shared a beautiful picnic meal with the team members, within the comfort and safety of a church and our lives. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worshiped and sung with them and listened to their stories.
And I hope they’ve been wrecked, and that their hearts are open to the ways God has gifted each of them to live out those word on the backs of their shirts.
Linking with Laura @ The Wellspring and Michelle @ Graceful:
Source Cited: Goins, Jeff (2012-08-01). Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life (Kindle Locations 1758-1760). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
All Scripture references are from the English Standard Version (ESV)