Mingo County mission trip: reflecting back, looking forward

I never quite know how to encapsulate all that happens on one of our mission trips. There is just so much that happens: tine in the vehicles there and back, staying at churches on the road there and back, inside jokes, inside disputes, conversations that cannot be reconstructed let alone shared, insights shared in confidence, logistical frustrations, transcendent moments not caught on camera or phone but merely glimpsed in the mind and captured in the heart, tears shed, laughs shared, worship offered…the list is innumerable.

So, because it is easiest and most accessible, we end up talking almost exclusively about the work we did and the people we met. And it makes sense to do so, as the work and the relationships are the main reasons for such trips!

19 youth and 7 adults from Woodridge United Methodist Church spent the week of June 19 in Mingo County, West Virginia. Once there, we joined groups from Wauconda, IL and Laverne, MN for a total of 70 people.

Good and meaningful work happened:

  • An entire house was cleaned, scraped and repainted.
  • At another house repairs were made, a wall built and painted, a garden tended.
  • When rain made outside work impossible, the inside of a house was cleaned.
  • Kid’s Club for children aged 4-12 was offered with lunch, skits, games, snacks, crafts, songs, and reading.
  • At Mingo’s only nursing home the residents spent time with us in conversation and in song.

Through all of that and more, love was offered to residents of Mingo County. However we served that week, we did it with the people in need there. One of the most commendable features of YouthWorks, the organization we partnered with, is their commitment to building not just homes but relationships with the people being helped. We spent time talking with the residents, sharing our stories and listening to theirs. I believe that in such exchanges – real conversations that recognize another human being as a beloved child of God worthy of respect – God is honored.

So we want to share not just the description of what we did, but also a few glimpses into lives that touched us. People like:

  • 6 year old Alvin, who came to Kid’s Club each day at noon, having had nothing to eat yet that day. We were so thankful that the host church for Kid’s Club (First UMC, Williamson) provided healthy lunch and snacks for the children. Because of them we were able to offer Alvin something good to eat.
  • Joy, the nursing home resident who could not speak so communicated through pointing and grunting. She clearly loved being in the presence of all those high schoolers! And they felt the same about her as they laughed, sang and played games.
  • Verna, the homeowner who started the week by handing the crew at her home a list of 42 items to complete. By the end of the week she was working along side the crew as much as she could and was grateful for the help provided.
  • Joshua, the 17 year old nursing home resident. All the youth were moved to meet someone their age in that care facility. We talked with him about movies, games, music…and what we were up to in Mingo County. The youth decided to take a collection and use it to replace a game that had been stolen from Joshua.

All week long Luke 6:27-28 was used to challenge us to Be Different. In that passage, Jesus is speaking to a large group of followers. He says:

If you’re listening, here’s my message, here’s what life in the Kingdom of God looks like: Keep loving your enemies no matter what they do. Keep doing good to those who hate you. Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you.

Each morning we spent time in silence. As we thought, read and prayed we considered how we could believe different, act different, react different and love different. Not just there in Mingo County, but back here in Illinois. Back here in our usual routines and among our usual friends and colleagues. How will we be different?

The answers to that question are still being written. It is my hope and prayer that those answers are written over and over again throughout our lives as we love all others and serve those in need wherever we are.

What significant mission trip experiences have you had lately (or ever)?

What do teens think about bin Laden?

God’s love extends even into the place we think is, by definition, the absence of God.

Over the last two weeks, the responses to the news that Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden have been legion. As have been the tone of those responses. In all that I have read, this post by Eugene Cho and this one by Jim Wallis most closely echo my thoughts. I recommend both to you. (Yes, I know. Wallis is getting hammered this week and rightly so. More about that soon. In the meantime, what he wrote about a Christ-centered reaction to bin Laden’s death is still excellent.)

For me, the first real opportunity I had to react to the news with a group was on May 4 when we gathered with our teenagers for our weekly youth group time. What follows is how we dealt with the bin Laden news together. I don’t know that this is any kind of model for, well, for anything. I just know that it seemed like what would work for our group, given the structures we have in place.

We started as we do each week, with a meal together. Then, because it was a beautiful day, the kids played a game outside for a bit.

As a way to symbolize that this week was different, we gathered in our sanctuary. We do that each week for worship but not usually for discussion. We – junior high & high school youth and adults – were gathered on the floor. We began with a brainstorm about everything we know (or thought we knew) about hell.

After bantering that around a bit, we watched a short video from the re:form Confirmation collection we’re using this year, entitled “Why did Jesus go to Hell?”

We processed that for a while. The main takeaway seemed to be: to show that nowhere is apart from God. That God’s love extends even into the place we think is, by definition, the absence of God. (Not saying we understood all that entails, just that that was our main response.)

Then we transitioned into stuff on Osama bin Laden. Where is he now? Why? What sorts of responses/news/chatter did you hear about his killing this week? Next, we divided into groups and I gave each of group a bible verse to look up. I told them each verse was one I’d seen offered on social media that week in response to the ObL news:

Ezekiel 18:23

2 Chron 20:27

Romans 13:5

Matt 5:43

Proverbs 24:17-18

Joshua 10:22-26

We also included the MLK, Jr. quote that got amalgamated with another’s words and widely distributed on Facebook and Twitter.

Then we just…talked.

Talked about why someone would respond with these particular verses.

Talked about how we use Wesley Quadrilateral to help us understand scripture.

Talked about the community of faith as a place and a way to help us understand living faithfully in the world.

Talked about our own feelings about bin Laden, about his death and about the way people have responded to the news of his death.

And we talked some about Sept. 11, 2001 (our kids were between 2-7 at the time! They don’t remember much first hand.) Several of us adults, including me, shared our personal reactions to the news and our reactions to other reactions. This was my initial thought.

And, perhaps best of all, one of our leaders talked about how his anger over the attacks on September 11, 2001 welled up a desire to join the military (but was too old to enlist). Eventually, he shared, he found a way to include bin Laden in his prayers.

I think – I hope – we didn’t tell our kids what to think about all this, rather helped them consider how to think about it all. I hope we modeled what it means to be the church, to live the life of faith, following God in the way of Jesus in the world. It’s messy. It’s uncertain. It’s hard. But it’s our calling and we’re not alone as travel this road.

Now my friends, (to borrow a phrase) how do you read?

[Note: If it weren’t for posting stuff I write for my church‘s eNewsletter, this blog would be pretty empty. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

Wisdom speaking?

Some time ago I was given a hand-written note on an obviously oft-folded piece of paper. The giver, Vi, is one of the sweetest women you could ever hope to meet. She passed her 90th birthday several years ago but continues to be an active part of our church. The note was meant for our young people as we were confirming a new group of teenagers at the time. I remember reading it and thinking it was good and genuine and sweet, just like the one who gave it.

And then, I lost the note. Or forgot about it. Or both.

But in the midst of cleaning out a drawer the other day…what once was lost, now was found!

Certainly the ideas in this Teen Creed are familiar enough that Vi wasn’t the original author of every line. But it was she who complied this – by hand! – and passed it along. Thank you, Vi, for sharing your wisdom. I share it for the edification of us all!

Teen Creed

Don’t let your parents down; they are bringing you up.

Be humble enough to obey; you may give orders someday.

Always be careful when you drive; drive with safety and arrive.

Be master of your habits or they will master you.

Think uplifting thoughts; what you think, you are.

Read good books, and don’t forget “the” Book.

Choose companions with care; you become what they are.

Don’t let the crowd tell you it’s the “in” thing; stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.

Treat your date and yourself with respect; you will never be sorry.

Get in the habit of talking with God, the payoff is out of this world!

UPDATE: (how did I forget this part earlier? No idea)

Now, how about you?

What advise, what words of wisdom, would you share?

What do you wish someone had said to you or, perhaps better, shown you when you were a teen?


A little something to help Haiti

On Wednesday this week, 30 dedicated youth and adults from our church traveled to Aurora to work at Feed My Starving Children.

FMSC is a Christian non-profit dedicated to providing food for, well, children starving all over the globe. They currently send food to over 70 countries. All the meals they send are hand packed by volunteers. That’s what we did on Wednesday.

Working with groups from two other churches we packed 14,688 meals in less than two hours. That’s enough to feed 40 children for a year.

Let me say that again: working for a short time we fed 40 children for a year!

Praise God! I’m proud of all who helped make this happen!

But it gets better. Did you notice when we were there? Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. FMSC sends a lot of food to Haiti. We had the honor of completing and praying for a shipment that was scheduled to leave for Haiti today.

One of FMSC’s directors shared a few Haiti-related stories before we started packing meals: FMSC planned and budgeted to send 25 million meals to Haiti in 2010. As a result of the earthquake the need was much greater than that. Enabled by some generous donations, they sent 50 million meals there last year!

Then the director told us a disappointing, though not really surprising, story. She said that a year ago, right after the earthquake, their phone rang off the hook and their parking lot was full of media members doing stories on their organization and the work they are doing in Haiti. But this week, on the one-year anniversary, FMSC couldn’t get a single media member to cover their anniversary event. An event that even included the presence of some of their Haitian partners!

You and I can do better than that. 300,000 people were killed, 300,000 more were injured and a million people were left homeless. Add to those statistics this story about Haiti’s quarter million child slaves, and we have in Haiti a country in dire need.

So let’s remember the people of Haiti. Continue to read about the situation there. Keep the country and the rebuilding effort in your prayers. And, if you are able, consider giving a gift. You can still do so through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). As always with them, 100% of your gift goes to relief and development. Donate directly here.

Continuing the anti-bullying conversation

A friend of mine watched the video of my Oct. 10 sermon online and declared, “the best part was when you said ‘Amen’ and the clapping commenced – you were shocked and awed with love!”

I’d say that was exactly right: both that I was awed by the loving response and that was the best part. I cannot thank my congregation and many others enough for the incredibly supportive response, both that day and since.

But the question before us now is, what’s next? As great as it felt (and still feels!) to be united in our opposition to bullying of all kinds to all people (which really, given the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus the Liberating King, is not at all a radical position), we cannot let that be the end of this conversation. Because kids are still being bullied. And not just “out there” somewhere, but right here in our communities, right here in Naperville and Downers Grove and Woodridge.

One critique that I’ve heard is that it appears to some readers that I think the only bullying that is happening (or the only kind that matters to me) is anti-gay bullying. So let me put that to rest. All bullying of any kind to any one is wrong and needs to stop.

Here is the first ‘next step’ from my church’s Youth Ministry leaders: Led by Christine Byczynski, our Youth Ministry adult leaders created a card for our young people to carry. A card to remind them of who they are and that they are not alone. Take a look:

The back reads: We are here for you. We love you. You can call or text any of us at anytime.

Then it lists several leaders’ names and cell phone numbers.  Every one of our young people who have attended Wednesday Night Live in the last two weeks has gone home with one of these cards. And more are available. We’re going to keep giving them out. We want all our kids and all the kids we can reach to know they are a beloved child of God and that they are not alone.

How about some next ‘next steps’?

-Woodridge UMC ‘s Wednesday night sessions have included some very honest conversations with our teenagers and will continue to.

-Woodridge UMC’s next session for parents will focus on bullying.

Now, how about you? What are you or organizations you’re connected with doing to stop bullying? Let’s share best practices so that together we can do all we can to keep our young people whole and healthy.

Related Links

A three-part series on bullying on the UMC website: http://ow.ly/31i7B

UMC Board of Church & Society article on cyberbullying: http://ow.ly/31if5

Clergy Against Bullying petition, which I signed and you can too: http://ow.ly/31i9a

I wrote about signing that petition here: http://ow.ly/31ib9

Collection of Christian responses to bullying from all over the USA (including one from yours truly): http://ow.ly/31icq

And, of course, you can watch my Oct. 10 sermon right here


My sermon from Oct. 10, 2010: Settling In & Coming Out

As I wrote previously, the sermon I gave at my church (Woodridge UMC) garnered quite the reaction. I’ve never been more scared about the possible reaction to a sermon. I’ve never been more gratified by a response.

6 dead kids is 6 too many. Anti-gay bullying must stop. All bullying must stop. Every human being is a beloved child of God. You are not alone. I’m coming out as a LGBTQ ally!

Here’s part one, the set up and the disclaimer:

Now part two, the good stuff: