2014 Edge Blog

Welcome to the official 2014 Outbound EDGE blog.  You can follow our experience here.  We will try to update each day on the trip but can’t promise that the updates will get out that frequently.  This is the place to come if you want to know how to pray, what is happening, and how we see God at work on the trip.  You never know, we might even throw a picture or two on here to give you a taste of what is happening!  Enjoy.

Day 5 – Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I’m exhausted. Today we spent the day at the water park. It was great. It wasn’t without drama, however. It seems that we can’t have a trip without SOMETHING happening. This year it happened as we were riding the bus to the water park. I suddenly realized…I left the tickets back at covenant!!!! PANIC! Pray! FREAK OUT INSIDE BUT PRETEND TO BE CALM AND FINE ON THE OUTSIDE. A quick email and text with the Edge leadership and all was solved…but those 25 minutes were ones of panic. Fortunately I got a chance to talk to my wife and girls during that same window, so it wasn’t too bad J God worked it out and the amazing Edge leadership team made a couple of calls and got it all worked out. We just had to mention our situation at the gate and they let us right in. Before we got to the park, we stopped for some Krispy Kreme donuts. They are AMAZINGLY wonderful when they are hot off the production line and that is how we got them. I also got to see my good friend David and his new baby (12 or 14 weeks old, I think) and his lovely wife. It was wonderful to hug my bud and relive some good memories. I even got to hold his adorable baby! After we crushed 7 dozen donuts (I think Aiden ate half of them himself!) we loaded up and head to the park for a day of fun.

As we walked into the park and started to get ready, a light drizzle began to fall. It was PERFECT. The rain kept people away and for the morning we had NO LINES AT ALL. We literally walked right up to the top of each ride and got right on. It was great! By the afternoon the sun came out (enough to get my face all pink despite reapplication of sunscreen) and the lines got a little longer, but they were still much shorter than usual. The only downside to a day like this was LOTS of stairs. Instead of waiting in line and progressing slowly, we zipped up the steps and back down the slides and rode TONS of rides. My legs are protesting now!

By far the highlight of the day for me was when our entire team ended up together for a lap around the lazy river right before lunch. It was great as everyone just laughed and played and enjoyed themselves. What a treat!

The day also highlighted a few things. While the day was great and fun, we also saw some students revert back to “normal life” as if the previous couple of amazing days connecting with God hadn’t happened. Nothing bad happened but there wasn’t the same focus on the Lord as there had been. Our church time was a great chance to highlight that and challenge our students to not let this experience go. However, we also saw a lot of behavior from other groups that showed our students just how different they really are. I am so proud of how polite and considerate and caring our students are. They behave well and are respectful and listen (for the most part!). We saw some pretty disappointing behavior throughout the day from other Edge churches, some of it encouraged and led by other leaders. The great thing was that it helped to drive home the point that we must be different and stand out if we have been changed by Christ. All in all a good day…just tiring. Tomorrow we start for home and have to figure out some way to take this experience home.

Prayer requests

  • Travel safety
  • Rest
  • That this experience would come down off the mountain
  • For changed hearts in our students
  • Finishing strong

Day 4 – Commitment Night

Internet service has been spotty at Covenant because I don’t have access to the college wifi. Sorry for not getting more updates out.

How do I put into words what today was like? I’m not sure that I can capture it but I will do my best. The day began abruptly with early breakfast. The Edge is so large that covenant cannot accommodate our entire conference in the dining hall at the same time. Therefore we have to eat in shifts. Yesterday we had the late meal shift all day, so while meal time was slotted for 11:30-1 for lunch, it was really 11:30-12:15 and 12:15-1. The same was true for breakfast and dinner. Today was our day for early meals so that meant being up and ready to eat at 730. Everyone was up and going today (not so much yesterday! Ahem ahem!). The entire group seems to have a good attitude and a fair amount of energy. They have put their all into the Edge but they still seem to have something in reserve. Perhaps that is the work of the Spirit because judging by the effort everyone is putting forth, they are draining their tanks at every stop. Waking up with Wayne was fun and the worship time included a couple of familiar favorites from the Edge. Our devotional times went well and then we had guys and girl times. Yesterday the panel discussions they had were good but not great. There were college students who were asked questions about performance and identity with the hopes of connecting because of recent experience. Surely adult youth workers would have been more equipped to handle the questions and to guide the discussion but the hope was that the jr. high students would connect with someone closer to their age. Yesterday that connection was lacking and the content left something to be desired. Today, however, at least in the guys’ group, was much more fruitful. The young men shared very real struggles and thoughts and really connected with our guys. This led into a small group discussion back in the dorms and that discussion was extremely awesome. We talked about guy issues and identity and performance and really had some awesome discussions. I should have known after that start what the rest of the day held, but for some reason I wasn’t seeing or feeling what God was doing. Good thing He doesn’t need me to be on board to do His thing!

After lunch our group had water fest. It was a BLAST. There were 4 stations that basically involved 3 common elements: water, mud, and craziness! The first station our group went to was the giant slide. Step hill+tarps+water+soap=enough said! It was a blast. Then we moved over to the giant pyramid. The students all started at the bottom of a hill with soaped up tarps towards the top. They had to try and roll balls up the hill and shoot them into a basket. The leaders were standing at the top of the hill to prevent this. We were given noodles and some used those pool noodles to whack any students who got close. Most of us just took off down the hill and bowled our students back to the bottom. It was great because when a leader and student would slide down the hill, they’d hit the bottom where the rest of the students were standing in mud. Then the bowling pins would topple and students would be splayed out all over the mud. It was great. After a while they just let all the students going up the hill at once and it was chaos. Students were trying to pull their leaders down, leaders were depositing their students back to the mud waiting at the bottom of the hill. Water, mud and balls were flying all over the place. After a short while the numbers overwhelmed the talent and the students were able to subdue the leaders and score, but it was well worth it to get to deposit our students into the mud J Then we had a watermelon wresting station and a bobbing for apples station. During the bobbing for apples station the leaders were encouraged to grab mud and dump it on the students as they crawled across a trap to the bucket and then tried to bob for an apple before taking it back and passing it back down their line…without using their hands. Needless to say, but the end of it, all of our students and leaders (minus Silky because he was filming!) were covered in mud. Our group had a great time and really enjoyed working together. No one got hurt and everyone left having had a great time. It was time to hose off, head back to the dorms and then off to tournaments!

This year we had three teams enter tournaments. The first were our girls who joined up with a new friend to play indoor soccer. They won their first match (by forfeit) and then played to a zero-zero tie in their second. They lost that in penalty kicks but had a blast playing. What was particularly encouraging was that a couple of the girls had never played soccer but were willing to try so that their friends could compete. This is one of many examples I’ve seen of our students caring for one another. After the girls were done the group went down to the main gym to support our two guys’ teams who were playing basketball. It was kind of stinky because our guys had to play each other right off the bat in the first match. The tournament was a double elimination tournament so the loss didn’t knock one team out, but it was tough to have to have one team beat the other. The winning team (Michael, Nick, and Aiden) was coached by Erik while Coach Jack headed up the other guys (Jacob, Seth, Seth, and Jimmer). For me, it was great to watch the guys play together. The coaches were great and it was such a joy to watch them all work together. Erik’s team won a couple of games and faced a tough challenge against a good team. The game went to overtime and both teams had chances to win before the other team finally pulled it out. The loss was a tough one but created a great teachable moment as one of our students was particularly frustrated with his effort and the outcome. I really enjoyed getting to talk with him and teach him through the disappointment. What was most encouraging was that, despite the frustration, he listened and learned and responded with a lot of maturity. I was extremely proud when he went up to the ref before the next game and thanked him and told him “good game” and apologized for his outburst. God was definitely working but I didn’t have a clue how much.

Watching the rest of the games gave way to free time and an unexpected chance for several of the leaders to check in with each other and to look forward to commitment night that night. During our talk we discussed how things were going and what we expected that night. It was a great time to just check in. A brief period of free time led into dinner and dinner into our evening program. The students had to go to the gym for their “lawn” party as the rains were dumping! The adults went into our leaders meeting and prepared for the night. They ran us through the alternative setup for commitment night because it usually involves going outside. As our time of refreshment and meeting ended, it was time to head to the evening session and commitment night. As I sat there talking with the other leaders, coming up with a gameplan of what we would do if any of our students stood up, I had a thought. That thought was “I wonder what it is like to worship with Wayne after commitment night while the new believers are talking with the speakers.” Let me explain.

Commitment night is a night where the students are given a clear presentation of the gospel and then invited to respond to it. Typically the speaker will leave their talk that night at a point that opens the door for the gospel. Students will hear a presentation of the gospel and then go outside (usually) and have a chance to talk with God. During that time the students are given a card and a pencil and asked to write something to God on one side and indicate a response on the other. This year, Jay explained, the choices would be “ready”—ready to commit my life to Christ, “renamed”—I already know Christ but, like Jacob, I’m ready to be renamed and blessed by God as I recommit to Him, or “running” –running from Christ and not ready to accept His gift. Students then file back into the auditorium, leaving their anonymous cards at the foot of a cross as they come in. The speaker then leads students who want to receive Christ in a prayer. Next, the students who prayed that prayer are asked to stand. Their youth leaders then go with the students who stand down to another auditorium for a few minutes to talk about the commitment they had made and have a chance to hug and cry and celebrate. While they are gone, Wayne and the remaining students and leaders spend time in worship. After that everyone returns to the chapel for a celebration and the closing of the evening ceremony. I have been to the Edge 5 previous times. Every time I have had students pray for salvation on commitment night. Every year I have had the joy and privilege of going down the hill and crying and celebrating with them. Every year I miss that time of worship with Wayne because I am celebrating and crying and praying with new believers. My thought was that perhaps this year would be different. Sure, God has been working in our students’ hearts, but I didn’t know if any of them were ready to receive Christ. I even quipped to the other leaders “maybe this will be the year I get to worship with Wayne on commitment night.” Boy was I wrong!

As we walked out of the leaders meeting, there was a sense of hope. The rain that had prompted emergency backup mode (a large portion of our evening was spend explaining how commitment night would work since we couldn’t be outside due to the rain) had given way to sunshine. Perhaps the night could proceed as usual. As I hugged our students as they arrived from their lawn party I was struck with a sense of joy and peace. What a great group we have. I am so honored to be their youth pastor. We went in to worship and the hope grew…we were almost in the front again…special things happen when we are in the front. Worship and the talk were incredible and I could sense that God was going to rock the Edge. Jay gave a beautiful presentation of the gospel and set the stage perfectly for students to go outside and spend time with God. As they filed out of the chapel in silence, that adults sat and prayed. For me it was a time to just bask in God’s goodness and pray that His will would be done in the lives of our students and all the students. When the students began to file back in, I had no idea what to expect. Everyone got back in, Jay led the prayer and then, with every head bowed, he asked those who had prayed to stand up. I felt the chair next to me creak as one of our students stood. I hear others nearby. I glanced up (as I was supposed to do) and was shocked at what I saw. 6 of our students were standing, boldly, having prayed a prayer giving Christ full access to their hearts and their lives for the first time. (nope, you don’t get to know who they were, that is their news to share when they get home!) My eyes began to fill with tears and emotion flooded over me. Why did I doubt that God would do something like that? Why did I doubt that He was able to work in students’ hearts like that? I don’t know. Down the hill I went with 6 students and two other leaders and we just put our arms around the students and guided them down the hill.

That walk is a neat walk. You see students who are weeping, some are almost in disbelief. Youth pastors and volunteers are grinning like the cat who ate the canary and crying at the same time. There are hugs and squeezing of hands and lots and lots of sniffles. Once we get to the room, it doesn’t get any better. When you sit down next to your students and see them face to face you can’t help but to be overcome. We sat and prayed and cried and laughed and cried and sniffled and cried some more. I was incredibly blessed by one of the students who asked if he could pray after the adults had finished. He proceeded to pray a prayer that pointed me back towards Christ in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. Boldness and honesty and truth…it was wonderful. After hugs and tears and blowing of noses, we headed back up to the chapel to join the party that was already in progress, celebrating all the new brothers and sisters in Christ. Ain’t no party like a Holy Ghost party ‘cause a Holy Ghost party don’t stoooop!

After the Holy Ghost party finally stopped we headed out for time as a church to celebrate and process through the night. It took us several attempts to find a place to meet but we finally did. It was a fun time to share with each other and to celebrate with the 6 friends who had stood. Everyone was emotional and any comment made would be met with tears and laughter at the same time. It was also a great chance for our group leaders and most experienced Edgers to offer some advice and encouragement to the group. It was clear in this meeting that something is different about this group. Fundamentally something has changed in our group. Perhaps it is the difference of having mostly guys. Perhaps it is having a large contingent of rising 9th graders. Perhaps it is just that our youth group is changing and developing and learning to be more Christ-like. Whatever it is, it is fun to see!

Please pray

  • For the 6 new believers from tonight! Praise the Lord!
  • For safety at the water park tomorrow.
  • For chances to continue to have spiritual conversations during the day.
  • For the weather, it might rain!
  • For rest and energy for everyone.

Day 3 – Sunday June 22, 2014

Today has been a JAMMED day…but it has been great. Thinking back to this morning seems like a lifetime ago. I’m exhausted and ready for bed, so tonight will be much shorter…but rest assured that great things are happening and everyone is doing well. We have had ZERO issues thus far…no one has gotten sick, hurt, angry, offended, left out or forgotten! Here are some highlights from today:

  • The food was MUCH better today! Breakfast is always fine, but lunch was good (chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets!) and dinner was on the lawn with corn dogs or pulled pork. We finished the night with some ice cream sandwiches at Edge after dark!
  • Our first “waking up with Wayne” and morning devotions and guys/girls talks went well. There were lots of great conversations that stemmed from those times.
  • Our group did a great job of supporting each other during tournaments. Neither of our teams won (Lea and Nicole played corn hole and many of the guys played ultimate Frisbee) but all played well, competed hard and were excellent sports!
  • Free time was fun as guys played games and hung out and girls did whatever girls do (I don’t know exactly what they did but I know they were in their rooms together and some good conversations occurred!)
  • The evening session was again powerful and convicting. Jay continued to walk through Genesis and the story of Jacob. I have already had several conversations with students about his talk and they all talked about how his points really hit home and how they resonated with what he was saying. Tomorrow night could be a pretty special night.

For me, the highlight of the day was most definitely our church time. Things started out a little rough as our team care had not been very high up to that point, but we spend a very productive couple of hours together and worked through a lot of lessons. We learned about the importance of caring for our group members and listening and building trust and making people feel comfortable and valued and cared for.

The final activity we did was to break into circles and engage in a trust-building activity. It was a HUGE success and everyone walked away feeling encouraged and cared for. It was especially neat for me to see that several times throughout the day, when they had free time, groups of our students would circle up and run through the activity we had done. J

Prayer Requests

  • We have water day tomorrow….pray for safety! We don’t want anyone to get hurt this year J
  • Tomorrow night will be commitment night. It is a big deal for the Edge but it is also a tough day…there is need for a lot of good conversation time but there isn’t space for it. God has certainly been working in hearts and students will have a chance to respond to what he is doing, but in order for that to happen, our students still need to work through some things. Pray that God would find the openings in students’ hearts that He needs in order to work.
  • Pray for our church time after commitment night. That is always an emotional and powerful time for us. Pray that God would use that time as He sees fit, for His glory.
  • Sleep…I’m exhausted and the other leaders are almost as tired…the students are doing pretty well but I can see their attentions getting shorter and shorter. Pray that God would rest us and refuel us!

Day 2 – Saturday, June 22, 2014

This is a LOOOOONG one…don’t get used to it 😉

Greetings from rainy-but-still-hot Georgia! We made it! It is hard to put into words what it is like to venture up the mountain to the Edge. This is my 6th trip here and each time I’m amazed at how God’s presence dwells on this campus during this week. You never know what you are going to get when you come to the Edge, but you know it is going to knock your socks off. Today has been no exception. Let me run through our day.

We got up early and the bus met us at 730. Amazingly the entire group was awake, packed, and almost finished cleaning up the house when the bus arrived. We were able to leave earlier than expected and head to our breakfast stop…Kroger. Kroger is just a grocery store. However, if you were to believe the stories that experienced Outbound Edgers tell, you would think it was some sort of Mecca (er, uh Jerusalem!). We grabbed some fruit and juice and bagels and cinnamon buns and donuts and muffins and headed out. Oh, and most of us hit up the tiny Starbucks too. Incredibly we completed our shopping ahead of schedule AND under budget. The bus trip was smooth and uneventful, save the couple of major rain showers we drove through. Some point slept, others goofed off. I used much of the time to chat with many of the students one on one. It was great to hear about what God has been doing in their hearts and what their attitudes were like coming into the week. I was able to ask about how I could be encouraging and even spent some time talking with a few of the students about some issues. I had no idea how important some of those conversations may become. We made it to our lunch stop at Zaxby’s on schedule and then proceeded to crush some chicken fingers and fries…to the tune of 150 chicken fingers! Back to the bus…still running right on schedule and on to Lookout Mountain!

As we approached Chattanooga you could feel the excitement building on the bus. When we started up the mountain, the energy seemed to grow with every foot we climbed. When we crossed over the state line into Georgia about halfway up the Mountain, there was a frenzied hoot! When we rounded the corner and the giant Welcome to Covenant College sign appeared, it felt like going home. The students jumped off the bus, the leaders went up the hill (well, most of us. Rachel got off with the students before we got the message to have ALL the leaders head up the hill so she got to participate in initiation). While I checked in the other leaders and Edge staff unloaded the bus. Before we knew it, the students were bounding up the hill, ready to grab luggage and head to the dorms.

Everyone has settled in well. We had some time this afternoon to meet as a church. It was fun to get to know each other a little better and to enjoy the start of the Edge. Some free time was filled with Frisbee and hang out time and chatting and silliness and then it was off to dinner and then our evening activities. Just as we were finishing up some games before the lawn party (for students) and counselor meeting (for adults) it started to pour…again! The students went down the hill to the gym for their “lawn” party time with work crew and the adults got to go into an auditorium and have some adult time…worship, announcements, business, etc. As Patrick led us through a couple of songs, I was reminded of why I love the Edge so much. Then Jay Miller got up to tell us about what he is going to speak about this week and I got goosebumps. As he laid out his plan to lead us through the story of Jacob and how desperately he wanted blessing that he was willing to do anything, I was taken back to those conversations I had had on the bus. We were talking about exactly that…what we look to for our identity and how we are willing to do anything and settle for anything because we are so desperate for it, rather than seeking God’s best and His will for our lives. After that, I was PUMPED to get to the evening meeting to see what God was going to do.

As we met our students and walked into the chapel, I was in for another surprise. When you go to the Edge, you are joining 800 other middle school students and crazy adults who are there to love those middle school students. For the evening meetings, the EDGE work crew organizes the seating to make sure that each church has a chance to get “good seats” throughout the week and that no one is stuck in the back the whole time. After all, the free candy and goodies that they toss into the crowd each night never make it all the way to the back! Each year, we run into many of the same churches who are registered at the Edge. We see many of the same leaders and even recognize some kids from previous years. This event gets so big for some churches that they have to bring TWO charter buses to get all their students and adults to the Edge! There are churches who know each other and lots of history and experience at the Edge. Many of the churches who come to session two each year have leaders who are members of the planning team. Because of that, session two has some unique aspects and honors. One of those has to do with first night seating. It is an honor to get to sit near the front on the first night. So as I walked into the chapel, I was blown away to see the New Covenant Fellowship sign being help up right in front of the stage! I wish I could put into words what worship is like at the front. There is something incredible that happens in that place. It was wonderful to see our experienced Edgers jump right into worship. Hands were raised, eyes were closed, hands were clapped…there was nothing holding them back. It was contagious. At one point I looked back and saw our guys…OUR GUYS…with their arms around each other, swaying, and praising God. It was incredible. God is really going to do something special this week. I’m not even sure where things can go from here. Jay’s talk was spot on and hit everyone right in the heart. Small group discussions were good and set the stage for some great talks later this week. The night ended with our super hero dance party and everyone seemed to have a blast. Kudos to all our students for putting effort into their costumes and having fun! Now, it is WAY past bedtime, but I’m jacked up and can’t sleep. Don’t expect this much detail every day…but know that today has been special and there is already a sense of anticipation and excitement about what God wants to do this week.

A couple of quick hits…Erik was able to successfully use his cast protector to take a shower tonight and is doing great! Jack and Jack both have expressed how much they are enjoying things so far. Aiden has been having fun and really enjoyed worship tonight. Nick was right there in the front row and seems to be soaking in every second of this experience. Sam W. is hilarious and having fun as well. All of our returning Edgers and glad to be back and have settled into the Edge routine with ease. The adults are doing well and can already see God moving. This is going to be one heck of a ride!

Prayer Requests

  • Sleep and energy for everyone!
  • Some good food tomorrow (the Edge food leaves something to be desired…hopefully tomorrow is a good day for food selections!).
  • Open hearts and open minds.
  • Finally, pray for our church time tomorrow afternoon. We will have time set aside to spend as a church and it will be important time for our group to develop some trust and unity that will be needed to support what promises to be an emotional end to our trip.

Day 1 – Friday, June 20, 2014

Whew! What a day! It is hard to believe that the EDGE 2014 has arrived. Today went about as well as it could have gone. We gathered at the church in a timely and orderly fashion. Collecting final forms and checks was simple and smooth. It was wonderful to see so many family and friends show up to see us off. I know there were some older students who left a little disappointed that they weren’t on the bus with us! Thanks for taking time out of your busy lives to send us off! After a prayer and a time to say goodbye, we were off. The bus ride was smooth and uneventful…until we were about 30 minutes from Roanoke. Then the first of the rain showers decided to cool things down. Fortunately the shower was brief and only created a slight slow-down. By the time we reached Roanoke, the rains had stopped and the sun was back out. We arrived for dinner exactly at 5pm…perfectly on time! We ate at Bellaccino’s pizza and grinders. Service was prompt, the food good and hot, and everyone left with satisfied bellies. As we boarded the bus to head up to Mill Mountain Park and the Roanoke Star, we glanced to the west at the gathering storm clouds. After a brief discussion with the leaders, we decided to forego the jaunt to the Star…turns out we made the correct choice! Not 2 minutes later the skies opened up and dumped. Lightning flashed, thunder clapped and roads quickly became waterways. The rain only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was enough to leave the gutters overflowing and the drainage areas full of rain runoff. As we drove out of town towards my parents’ house, I was reminded again just how beautiful this part of the country is and how majestic God’s creation can be. There is something pretty awesome about driving through the blue ridge mountains after a summer rainstorm. We arrived at the house and got settled. A quick meeting to give the lay of the land and to set some ground rules quickly gave way to free time and lots of noise, laughter and fun. Our evening ended with a time of worship, lesson and small group discussion. My group of guys had an awesome discussion and it got me really excited about the week. I will leave you with one story as I head off to bed for the night as we have an early morning tomorrow…

At the end of our small group time, one of my guys shared his heart with the group. He talked about how he had come into the trip not exactly sure what he was most looking forward to, but mostly thinking about the games and the fun. He even felt that way tonight…not wanting to stop the free time games to come upstairs for worship and group time. He said that after worship and our group time, he realized that THIS is what he is here for this week and shared how excited he is to see God work through our time together. What an encouraging and neat way to start the trip!

Please be in prayer for us tomorrow for the following:

  • Traveling Safety as we drive through Virginia, Tennessee and up the mountain to Georgia to get to the EDGE!
  • That our group would get to know each other and open up to each other quickly. We have a lot of friends and a lot of people who don’t know each other very well. Pray that our group would gel easily and quickly (so far so good on that front!)
  • For our focus and hearts as we get to the EDGE and begin that part of our experience.
  • For the adults…we are already tired and it is only the first night! Pray that we would get enough rest to be able to pour into these students.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It is hard to believe that the EDGE is only a couple of days away.  In 48 hours I will be on a bus full of middle school students and brave adults heading down for what promises to be a life-changing experience.  This year we will have 20 students (14 guys and 6 ladies) along with 5 adults heading to the EDGE.  For many, this is a repeat trip…heading back to familiar ground.  However, for 7 of our team members, this will be their first taste of the craziness that is the EDGE.  Please be praying for them as we head off.  Also, please be praying for our returning students.  It is easy to assume that, because you’ve been before, you know what to expect and what God is going to do.  Sometimes the assumptions students make from year to year are wrong.  Please ask God to speak to all of us in a fresh way.  We want this experience to be one that is real and impacting, not one that a simply another iteration of the same old thing.

In Him,
Joe

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