Reflection on Adirondack Mission Trip

Summer work trips are often used to immerse adolescents in a new culture to broaden their world view. This church has taken its youth to Guatemala, Nicaragua, an apache  reservation, and this summer, on a work trip in the adirondack state park with a fairly conservative Christian program. 

The program lasted from a Sunday evening to a Friday morning.  Breakfast was served at seven o'clock sharp, followed by a thirty minute devotion. The work projects consisted of beautification of a poor community, working with the elderly in a skilled nursing facility, and organizing a daycare program for children.  Evenings were spent doing assigned chores at our base church, going on mini field trips to local attractions, and ended with a time of worship.

We were a group of six surrounded by fifty "Others"; mostly high school or college aged, from various youth groups across the country. The stark differences in expression of faith were shocking. Walls were covered in bible verses or trivia, we sang praise songs not hymns, focused on the sin of humanity, and listed "yay gods" not "grace notes". 

The first few days were pretty rough - the anxiety was palpable every night during the hour and a half worship.  Led by a serious 19 year old Texan, these "clubs" as they were called, consisted of singing, prayer, a short homily, and questions to discuss in small groups. 

 They'll catch on to us!, we worried in those early nighta.Theyll know we don't belong! We were afraid of what was unfamiliar, and in our fear, we all became a little defensive & judgmental. We sometimes focused too much on differences and that focus made us negative. 

During the days, however,we didn't have any time to entertain our fears. Spc joined a group of six from Detroit every morning and spent a few hot days pulling weeds at a camp called "Jesus is Lord". Mentions of the literal flood slid off our backs as we grew to love the people beside us. "Yeah, their ideas about God are kind of crazy", one of our youth later said "but their hearts are in the right place." We bonded with the Michiganders over countless renditions of Country Road and Wagon Wheel (west Virginia's true anthems), over the blazing sun and 95% heat, and the sharing of calamine lotion after the Mosquitos came. 

Even the nightly worship time became more enjoyable as the week progressed.  The terminology remained a significant hurdle, but we invented SPC approved translations. One of our girls suggested mentally replacing "Jesus" with the word love, and Joshua suggested replacing the word sin with the phrase "absence of love". I remember suggesting the kids call devotions "meditations" and gave them permission to toss the assigned workbook. Suddenly, things didn't seem so foreign or scary.  Our anxieties began to ease. What had seemed from Monday's perspective as an infinite stretch of days flew by. Friday caught us off guard as we found ourselves hugging our new friends goodbye.  

I reflected about the week on the long drive home, and a few things stood out: it is so incredibly important to teach our children the value of acceptance & to provide them with the tools necessary to do so, and this community did a remarkable job equipping these teenagers with both.  I learned a great deal about how to see the humanity in others from those kids that week, and had an incredible amount of fun along the way. To be honest, I had brought a great deal of baggage on this trip that clouded my vision - a year spent at a conservative Christian college had left me distrustful and bitter of its members. It is thanks to this experience, and to the open minds of our younger people, that my mind has shifted from feeling defensive to a place of peace. I haven't joined a bible study or started speaking in tongues, but I managed to bring my newfound tolerance home from NY with me.  And so, in the words of my new friends: Yay God.