Senior High Trip to Clendenin, West Virginia 2019

Clendenin 2019

On June 21-28, 2019 the Epiphany UMC Senior High youth group went to Clendenin, WV. for our Summer missions trip. The story in Clendenin was very similar to the events in Rainelle. In 2016 there was catastrophic flooding that significantly impacted the town. We were there to help continue the efforts to bring restoration to the town in some small way.

We left for Clendenin earlier than usual. Instead of arriving on Saturday we arrived on Friday so that we could participate and help with the town’s Homecoming Festival. This is a festival that celebrates the hope and restoration the town has experienced since the flood. During the festival we did a variety of things from going on rides, hanging out at concerts, eating fair food, running and serving in a 5K race, serving at a hot dog stand that had A LOT of traffic, and walked in a parade. All the funds that we raised went to the local United Methodist Church. We also learned what a WV hot dog consisted of. It is a hot dog with coleslaw and chili on it. It is actually very, very good! We also had an incident when one of our teens had an asthma attack after running in the 5K race. We took a little trip to the hospital and everything turned out well.

On Sunday we attended the Clendenin United Methodist Church. It was a great experience. The message was really good and the pipe organ was amazing. The people were really kind and receptive to our team.  In the afternoon we headed out to a home in which we were invited to go swimming in the river. We had a lot of fun.

The work days were split between three sites. The first sight was an old church building damaged by the flood that the Praying Pelican Mission bought to renovate into a mission site for teams to use as their home base. We had a team of teens work there to do cleaning, dry walling, painting, and yard work.

The second site was a home that needed a lot of help to restore it. The teens did a lot to clean out the home and put a lot of the belongings into storage so that we could get into the house and do a variety of things such as cleaning, painting the shelves in the kitchen, put in a new bathtub, some basic plumbing, electrical and dry walling. The teens accomplished a tremendous amount of work at this house but it would need more teams to complete the job over the Summer.

The third site was a home out in the country that also needed a lot of help. At this house we were able to clean up a big trash pile that was in their yard, rip out the flooring in the living room and replace it with plastic covering, rip out the counter and sink in the kitchen and replace it with a new one, and put a temporary covering over a corner of the house that had a lot of damage to it.

Overall the teens did a tremendous job of working well together and doing a lot of work. I received a lot of complements from our Praying Pelican leaders on the work ethic of our teens and adults. I can say enough good things about them.

Some of the fun things that happened during the course of the week was that we celebrated two birthdays! One with a cake and one with donuts! We had some new adults and teens with us as well as our Senior Pastor and her husband so it was important that we teach them our classic games we play. There was a lot of Euchre going on too. The week was capped off with a very physical game of hockey using pool noodles for sticks.

On Thursday we went white water rafting with ACE Adventures. We went down the New River Gorge at a different spot that the previous trip with the Junior High. We were able to go down the part of the river that had Class 5 rapids. Everyone survived! We had a few who fell out of their rafts but made it back to safety just fine.

Our last night was very memorable as many of the teens shared how God has been working in their lives throughout the week and how they were going to apply what they learned as they head back home. I always emphasis that mission is an attitude that we instill within us everywhere we go. It is not just a one-week trip out of the Summer. We need to be missional everywhere we go. Our Seniors said their parting words as they are about to begin a new chapter in their lives as they are about to head off to college. Many of the other teens shared from their hearts how God is working through them.

If you would like to see the trip journal that was created by our Praying Pelican leaders just go HERE

If you would like to see more pictures in a Google document that you should be able to add to if you would like then just go HERE

If you would like to see all the White Water Rafting pictures taken by ACE Adventures just go HERE

Overall this was another great trip with Praying Pelican Missions. I would highly recommend them to any youth group. I love that they connect you to a local church. There are a lot of benefits theologically to this in that we are always an extension of the local church as we go out and do missions. Our leaders were amazing. In the small world we live in I found out that our trip leader lived in the very towns I lived in as well as played football with my wife’s cousin. Our team bonded really well with the Praying Pelican staff. I love leading these teens and seeing their spiritual development over the time they have been in the youth ministry. Many of these teens have been with me for a long time. Their spiritual growth and work ethic are amazing. I would take them anywhere, locally, nationally and internationally. They inspire hope for the future of the church!

2019 Junior High Mission Trip to Rainelle, WV.

IMG_3537On June 8-14, 2019 the Epiphany UMC Junior High youth group went to Rainelle, WV. for our Summer missions trip. About once every 4 or 5 years I like to take our teens to a rural area to serve to give them a different experience from ministry in the urban areas. These are always eye-opening experiences as many of the people in rural areas are forgotten about in mainstream culture yet they need help and love just like anyone else. Rainelle was devastated by what was called the 1,000 year flood back in 2016. The town sits in a valley around several mountains. When the storms came the flooding happened from multiple directions. Many lives and homes were affected.

Once we arrived, we set up camp at a school building that is no longer being used as a school but instead as a mission facility for groups to come in and help. It used to be a Christian school called Rainelle Christian Academy. It was a nice facility with a gym for the teens to play around in with their endless energy whenever we were not out doing mission work.

On our first full day we went to church at a local Baptist church both in the morning and in the evening. We met many people and had a different church experience that we were used to.  One thing that I thought came through loud and clear from hearing the preacher twice was that there is a lot of suffering within his congregation and community. A lot of hope was placed on the hope for the afterlife. Overall it was a classic conservative Baptist experience that reminded me of my own past from about 1979. Some genuine care, some fire and brimstone, some fear, some hope.

Monday through Wednesday were our community work days. Some of the projects we helped with were

  1. painting the fire escapes to Rainelle Christian Academy,
  2. helping with the community center in White Sulphur Springs, WV
  3. having a community cookout with the people of White Sulphur Springs
  4. helping the Rainelle Elementary School get ready for their summer reading programs
  5. meeting the mayor of Rainelle and helping her with some odd jobs

A majority of the jobs we did involved scraping and painting. In White Sulphur Springs we helped to take an old, abandoned school and help renovate it into a community center. We also had a cookout with the people that on our last evening there. The teens did a great job working hard, playing hard, and getting to know all the different people we interacted with in these West Virginia towns. It was hard to hear some of the stories about the floods but it was also amazing to hear and see how the towns have come back from such a devastating experience. It was awesome to hear their stories, see the renovations that have happened and continue to go on within the towns, and just appreciate and admire the beauty of these small country towns.

One funny thing that happened throughout the week was that we kept on telling the teens that there would be a talent show at some point. Some, not knowing any better, took us seriously so they began to develop acts for the show. On the last night we were there we decided to actually go through with it. It was a perfect way to end the week with a lot of laughs.

Another funny thing that occurred on our trip was the humming bird that continued to find its way into our cafeteria area. We discovered quickly how hard it was to get a hummingbird to exit the building.

Then another night I was just about to fall asleep when I heard what was a dog fight outside. I didn’t think much about it and went to sleep. The next morning we discovered that some local dogs cornered a skunk right buy one of our vans and tore it to pieces right there. For the remainder of the week that van had a strong odor to it. Thankfully the ride back to Ohio help to get ride of the smell. And I am especially grateful that I did not decide to go outside and see what was up with the dogs. It is a story that could have gotten a lot worse.

On Thursday we took the day off from mission work and went white water rafting with ACE Adventures in Oak Hill, WV. We had an awesome experience with them. The teens had a lot of fun as we rafted, ate lunch half way through, had a huge downpour at one point, pushed each other in the river, and had a great time overall. I would highly recommend ACE Adventures to anyone wanting to enjoy what West Virginia has to offer.

This was also the trip were we had our associate pastor with us and by Sunday we had to take him to the hospital because his heart was beating irregularly. Thankfully after three days at the hospital, he was let go with a strong heart beat. He is doing much better now.

If you would like to see our daily journal that the Praying Pelican Mission coordinators put together you can see it HERE

If you would like to see the photos of all the mission stuff we did you can go HERE

And if you would like to see some picture of the white water rafting activity go HERE

Overall, Praying Pelican Missions delivered a great experience yet again. The teens were taken out of their comfort zone and challenged to work hard and minister to the people we encountered. My hope is that the Holy Spirit uses these experiences to help the teens see outside of their cultural bubble and begin to love and care for people that are different than them socially, economically, and geographically. I hope to inspire the teens to apply all that they learned so that they look at their home life, school life, and extra-curricular life differently as an opportunity to be missional in all that they do. It is not just a one-week trip out of their summer but a way of life that helps us develop spiritual practices of service in any context we are in.

It is a privilege and honor to lead these teens to develop their spiritual lives. We also had a great adult team that went with us. They all assisted and helped the teens to do their best. I even had one adult brave enough to dispose of the skunk carcass before all the teens woke up! It would have been better if I would have done it because I don’t smell skunk but I appreciate the over-and-above attitude of the adults as well as many of the teens. May God bless the continuing efforts to restore Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs, WV.

Mission Trips Summer 2018

I love mission trips. I believe it is a great way to help teens see that there is a bigger world out there that needs our love, compassion, grace and justice. It is so easy for middle class American teens (and adults) to not see beyond their little suburban bubble. Mission trips help to expand their focus and see their place in the world. Now understand that I did not say that mission trips are about “us” going out to help “them” who need us to swoop in and change their lives for the better. That is a poor way of looking at trips of this sort. We are not the “saviors” trying to save the “lost”. The more I do mission trips I have discovered that God is already working everywhere around the world AND He is still working on me and my teens. So the goal of a mission trip is to connect with what God is ALREADY doing in the life of a community and join in the experience. A good mission trip is a spiritual symbiotic relationship where we learn from each other as we serve together with the community.

For quite a while now I have based my model of missions on Jesus’ words quoted in Acts 1:8 –  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus was speaking these words as he was in Jerusalem. Our mission begins in our “Jerusalem”. That would be representative of our own communities, our schools, our places of work and our neighborhoods.

Next Jesus emphasizes Judea and Samaria. These represent communities outside of our primary location. Being that Jesus also threw in Samaria too would also suggest that we need to go into those places that may make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

Lastly, Jesus mentions the ends of the earth. This is a command for Christ-followers to have a global perspective. We begin in our community, branch out to other areas near and far within our own country and we expand to have an international focus when it comes to missions.

With that said, I believe that we had one of the best Summer’s when it comes to mission trips. We took the Junior High teens to a mission on the outskirts of Cleveland, OH called the Nehemiah Mission. This is the fourth time I have partnered with this organization. The Nehemiah Mission used to be a United Methodist Church that was dying. They decided to convert the church into a mission which now runs year-round mission opportunities for all types of groups. Our teens had a lot of different experiences as they came along side of people and ministries that needed volunteers. We were able to serve at a women’s shelter called Laura’s Home, we did some urban gardening helping a neighborhood that was in a food desert, we help a variety of residents who needed some assistance with their homes and we helped with a city park project. What I love about our Junior Higher’s is that they don’t just see these as projects that they need to accomplish but they see it also as an opportunity to develop a relationship with someone and be a blessing to them through work and communication.

The story that really impacted me was that on the first day of the mission project we were told that a group of us would be needed at the women’s shelter called “Laura’s Home”. This rang a bell in my head as this mission sounded familiar to me. I began to remember my early days in youth ministry at my first church we did a project for Cleveland’s City Mission where they asked us to go to this abandoned building and help gut it out. Through the process we learned that this building was going to be renovated to become a shelter for women and children in need. One of those teenagers that was in my first youth group is Jaime. Jaime was one of my favorite teens I ever had the privilege of being one of her pastor’s. If I remember correctly, she was a part of that group that helped to gut the building. As Jaime grew up and went off to college she eventually came back to the Cleveland area and became not only a youth pastor but also an employee of Laura’s Home. As these memories started flooding back to me I began to get excited. I wondered if possibly Jaime was still working there.

As I was connecting all these dots in my head I asked out loud to our Nehemiah Mission leaders who were getting ready to take us to our sites for the day if they knew if Jaime still worked at Laura’s Home. One of the leaders, Michael, seemed to perk up and responded excitedly that not only does Jaime still work there but she was his youth pastor who had a significant impact on his life. Well with that, I excitedly told him that I was Jaime’s youth pastor! Michael’s mind was blown as he looked at me and said, “That would make you my spiritual grandfather!” We embraced and had one of those goose-bump Holy Spirit moments where we realized how I had an indirect impact on this young mans’ life because of a teenager I had the honor of discipling back in the late ’90’s. This meant a lot to me in that I left that church in not the best circumstances. I have often struggled with why God had me go through those negative experiences and whether or not I even made an impact. This encounter at the Nehemiah Mission felt like God smiling down on me and letting me know that there was a lot of good that came from that time in my life.

I then texted Jaime to see if she would be at Laura’s Home at all during the week and unfortunately she was just about to head out of town. But we promised each other that we would definitely get our families together sometime this Summer. So I am looking forward to that.

Then there was the Senor High trip to Puerto Rico with Praying Pelican Missions. Originally we were supposed to go to Cuba, but then Hurricane Maria happened. As the politics in our country had a major shift, many parents were uneasy with sending their teens to Cuba anyhow. Whenever a natural disaster happens I believe that is an open call for the churches to respond. Besides, I was disgusted with how our government was responding to Puerto Rico after the hurricane and as a result I felt even more emboldened that we need to go and help however we can.

The thing that I really like about Praying Pelican Missions is that they tether us to a local church and then we do whatever we can to help that church and it’s surrounding community. We had the opportunity to help rebuild a roof over the patio of a neighbor who lost his roof to the hurricane. Some of our girls helped with a Lady’s Bible study at the church. We helped remove some trees that were down. We helped a coffee farmer who lost everything to the hurricane. He had a million dollar business with many employees all lost to the hurricane. He struggled with whether he should even attempt to rebuild. But then people from the community and the churches, including groups like us from mission organizations started to come out and help him rebuild. Much of what we did was to get into the destroyed greenhouses and tear them apart clearing out the land for future projects. Every day we were there the owner was in tears because we were there to help him. He gave many of the adults a tour around his farm as we were able to build a relationship with him. I went to the coffee farm on the last work day of the week. At the end of our time there the owner asked if we could pray for him. It was a great moment as we came along side of him and prayed for him, his family and his business.

Another big event happened as one of my teenager’s announced in a conversation that she has never been baptized. Now this is unusual in my church context in that most of the teens were baptized as babies and then confirmed their baptism by going through Confirmation when they were in 7th grade. But this particular teenager, Atalie, got involved in our youth group during her 8th grade year. She asked me if she could be baptized on the mission trip on the day that we would go to the ocean. I usually have strong reservations about baptizing teens apart form their families. I believe that this is a significant event in the live of a baby, teen or adult in which their biological family and church family should come along side of them and be witnesses to their commitment to be baptized into the church. So, I expressed this concern to Atalie and told her that in order to move forward with this we would need her parent’s blessing. Well with that, she immediately contacted her parents and they sent a video that expressed their blessing on this step in her spiritual life.  So on the day that we went to the beach, I had the honor of baptizing Atalie. What was unique about this was that my youth group is used to seeing babies baptized through sprinkling and making the sign of the cross on their forehead. This was an opportunity to explain baptism by immersion and the symbolism that comes with this sacred sacrament. I felt very blessed to be a part of this step in Atalie’s spiritual development. I suspect that this is only the beginning for Atalie as she continues to grow in her spiritual life.

With all that said, I can’t stop loving youth ministry and the teens that God has entrusted to me. As I get to serve them, they have no idea how much of an impact they have on me. There are may aspect of ministry that can be discouraging but serving teens has always energized me and help keep my faith alive and active. I am blessed to be their youth pastor. What a great Summer!