Atlanta 2018 Trip Blog – Through Wednesday Week 2

Welcome to the 2018 Atlanta Trip blog.  My hope is that we can chronicle our adventures and capture the growth that is happening as God works through our team on our trip to Dectur, GA thus summer. We will attempt to keep this updated throughout the trip, but please understand that our focus is on being present to what God is doing in our team.  Finding additional time to properly capture all the details can be tough as our schedule is JAMMED!  Enjoy!

Newest updates will be posted at the top of this entry.

Monday 6/11

Hi all – Kristen here instead of Joe. Quite a bit has happened in the past few days, so bear with me as I try to recall everything!

Here are some quick blurbs about church Sunday. It was an amazing experience, and I think everybody enjoyed it, even if it was quite different than NCF. Also, apologizes if your child isn’t below – with all the craziness of these trips, I missed a few of the girls.

  • Olivia: It was like a gospel party. The 3 part harmony was beautiful, and I enjoyed worshiping in that atmosphere.
  • Anna: There was so much passion and life into everything they said. I just loved worshiping in that community because all the people were so loving and were filled with God in everything they did. The ladies that were singing were stellar.
  • S. Lots of hugs!!
  • Grace: I loved the energy!
  • Mikayla: Church was an awesome way to praise God and to be re-energized and re-focused on his truth.
  • Sam: Church was interesting, eye-opening, energetic, and rooted in truth. It was also super fun! It was definitely different but also very refreshing.
  • Caden: I loved the energy and the general enthusiasm of everyone. They all wanted to be there and were passionate about God. It was refreshing from what I’m used to as well.
  • Miguel: It was a wonderfully unique experience because it was a completely new setting and the service progresses different than what we’re used to.
  • Jon: They started clapping 10 seconds in and that signaled the joyful experience that was to come.
  • Seth: I thought it was very different, where it spoke to a different community of people, but it was encouraging to see their point of view and how they express their passion for Christ. The pastor of Peace Baptist reminded me some of Pastor Brett in how passionate he is to teach others about God’s good works.
  • Ethan: It was very energetic. I liked how everyone was nice, and I thought that worship was cool. I didn’t connect to the sermon in the same ways as I did at home because the scenarios they used were different than what I have experienced. It would be harder with people to connect because there was so much fun and energy that there wasn’t much time to reflect and be challenged. Shout out to Pastor Brett for some dope sermons!

Hope that helps you guys back home get a sense of how we worshipped on Sunday! And now, on to Monday!

Before I begin, there is something you should know. Two-week trips have a very different and unique flow to them. The first week is spent getting the hang of things, and usually by the end of that week things are good. Then the weekend hits. Our weekend was busy yet relaxing, and the team did a good job of staying engaged and on mission. However, Monday of week two is always the hardest day of the whole trip. I think it comes from a combination of trying to get back into the swing of the schedule after a weekend and realizing you still have a whole additional week, already tired and drained from week one.

This particular Monday was like first trying to ride a bike – a slow, scary, and somewhat painful start but after a few hours, things started to get better and into more of a rhythm. The morning started out rough. As the breakfast prep team gathered in the kitchen, they realized the bacon was still in the freezer and hadn’t been taken out to thaw the night before. Even with their best efforts, there was no way they could get the bacon and all the other food done in time, and breakfast was served late. To make matters worse, our whole team was sluggish and didn’t have a sense of urgency, which meant a late breakfast had snowball effects. Breakfast clean-up took a while to get going and ran late, pushing our 45 minute devotional time back.

Before devos began, there wasn’t really a solid plan for what was happening in the morning, but it wasn’t until after our devotional that we struggled with the effects of not having a plan. If you look back to Friday, you’ll see that we ran out of paint before we were done painting the curbs, but we got very close to being done, which means a transition to a new work project. Peace Baptist asked us to build some walls to be used as a backdrop for a sermon series they do on relationships every summer, and we’re excited to be able to bless them in this way. However, there was a lack of proper planning and communication within our team of how we were going about this. While Miguel was in the kitchen last night, Sam was mapping out how to build these walls and have them stand up and be moveable.  This was problematic because Miguel, as one of the worksite leaders, needed to know the plans and have input into the process.  However, instead of using time the night before to pre-plan the attack and allow all the leaders to get on the same page, we missed that chance and paid for it.

Monday morning after devotionals, our team was at a stand-still. We weren’t sure who was going to Home Depot and what the other team was doing (staying at the church or heading over to the worksite, even though there was nothing to do without supplies). Finally, a decision was made that sent a group out shopping while the others loaded up and headed to Peace Baptist where our assignment was “to have intentional conversations”.

The shopping team headed to Home Depot and navigated many obstacles as they tried to gather the supplies the team needed. They took a long time choosing what wood and how much to buy, and when they went to the aisle for paint, they were completely out of what we needed. This meant they had to drive to another Home Depot, where an employee told them they were also out of paint. However, Anna started to pray and as they found the aisle… Paint! This was a cool God wink that the team desperately needed. While their shopping trip took a while and was frustrating, they also got to share about the trip with some employees which was a great experience.

The last obstacle they navigated actually related to VBS, not work site. We had accidentally purchased animal crackers (instead of goldfish) at the store for a snack, which contain a warning for peanuts. The team was supposed to go to the store to buy goldfish so we would still have a snack to give the kids at VBS. However, while they were out at Home Depot they realized that Joe was with the group at Peace Baptist, and he had the credit card that was needed to purchase the goldfish. After a quick call though, Joe offered to run out during lunch to grab goldfish, and the issue was solved.

Meanwhile, the group at Peace Baptist were patiently waiting for supplies. There was some unused time right after arriving, but people gradually grouped up to have some good conversations, and although it was frustrating to not be able to work, I think a lot of productive and necessary conversations were able to happen because of the down time.

Eventually, the team was reunited, and our team finally got some movement. We unloaded wood from the van and split up into teams. One group was sent to finish painting the curbs, while another was sent to start working on the walls. While it was exciting to finish the curbs, not much work overall was completed and it was a frustrating morning for many on our team.

We definitely needed a win from VBS!

During lunch, Joe and Bill ran out for goldfish and to get gas, while the rest of the team had their normal “picnic” at Peace Baptist. The team went around sharing their high and low from the day, as well as any God winks they had noticed, and it was a good time to refocus. Joe and Bill had a good conversation in the car and also came back refocused and ready to hit the ground running.

VBS was exactly what our team needed! Our team loved reconnecting with the kids after a long weekend apart. The afternoon was full of piggy back races and laughs and craziness. The team presented the gospel through the color bead bracelets (black for sin, red for Jesus’ blood, white for purification, green for growth, and yellow for heaven) and then the kids made gospel bracelets for their craft. It was AMAZING to hear the team share the gospel with these kids and to show them the love of Christ.

Just as we returned from VBS we were hit with a strong thunderstorm. As people showered and cooked dinner, it was cool to watch the rain and the lightening and to hear the thunder, and I was reminded of God’s grace and power. For dinner, we had amazing fajitas (which Joe had stayed up late the night before marinating – Thanks Joe!!!) which capped off a great end to the afternoon/evening.  These are the types of lessons we are trying to get the students to grasp…looking ahead is important.  If we don’t look ahead, then we end up with problems down the road.

Team time was once again long. While we recognize the importance of evaluation for our team to grow, the long meetings and late nights are starting to hit people. However, it was encouraging to hear where we had done well that day (especially recovering from a rough morning) and to hear how we can improve. We ended up with three areas to focus on with one action step, which was to sit in teams at breakfast to use the time to make checklists and prep for the day.

The rest of team time was good – from worship to Bible study and encouragement beads. There has been a lot of growth in our team as a whole and in individual students, and even with a rough morning, we are super encouraged and excited to see what is in store for the rest of the week!

Prayer requests

  • Rest – we work long days and team time has been running long, so we could all use a good night of sleep
  • Continued intentional conversations – many conversations were started this morning that need to be continued.

Tuesday 6/12

Kristen still:  Tuesday started off like a typical day for our team. As we ate breakfast burritos, the students grouped together in their teams to work on their checklists (the action step created the night before). I wasn’t really sure what they day was going to hold, but I was excited to see the students already thinking through the day and planning what needed to happen to make it a successful day.

Every morning after devos, we have a quick circle up called fast break, where we get to have a mini check-in before we get our belongings and head out to the work site. Today during fast break, each team had to share their checklist they had created during breakfast. Although there were a few minor details missing here or there, the teams did a good job of thinking through the day in advance and knew what needed to happen.

We arrived at the worksite where we were divided into teams for measuring, cutting, and assembly, but we ran into a bit of an issue in the speed of things. For example, the measuring took a bit longer than cutting at first, so the people at the saws were just standing around. However, once we got into the groove of things, it flowed a lot better.

That morning we got another surprise – some of the youth group from Peace Baptist showed up to help us! This was completely out of their own desire, and it was a huge blessing. At first, they were given some instructions before starting to work on building their own wall. They were in the darkest corner of the room using their iPhone flashlights to see where to drill and how to assemble the pieces together. It was an incredible turning point though when our groups began to really merge together. The groups on the different walls included a few people from NCF and a few people from Peace Baptist, and it was cool to see our groups begin to combine.

Although there were some rough patches in communication and productivity, our team built all 10 walls, and it was encouraging going into lunch to see how much we had accomplished.

As we sat down and started unpacking the sandwiches from the cooler, the teens from Peace were lingering around, and we were all unsure about the situation. Many were under the assumption that they had their own lunch, but others weren’t sure if they were expecting us to have food for them or not. We did not know they were coming and had not prepared extra food to share with them.  However, it was still a missed opportunity for our team to sacrifice and share what we did have with them…no one on our team was going to go hungry due to sharing part of their sandwich (or in many cases their 2nd sandwich) at lunch!  After a few minutes, the teens went back inside the church to eat, but they agreed to join us for VBS in the afternoon.

We arrived at VBS, but there were only one or two children waiting for us at the playground. We circled up with the youth group from Peace Baptist to let them know our plan for the day and that hopefully more kids would be arriving soon. As we waited for more kids, some of our group got a chance to make some connections with the youth group from Peace Baptist. In particular, we connected with a girl named Courtney, who had just graduated high school and was going to college to become a teacher, while also cheerleading for her college’s team.

As more kids started to arrive, we played games and had a short lesson about thankfulness. While trying to stall before music, we ended up playing a game called “Do like I do”, where somebody goes into the circle and does two dance moves the rest of the group must do before choosing somebody else to take their place in the middle. It was a big hit with our group, Peace Baptist’s group, and the kids! VBS quickly came to a close after snack, crafts, and more games and running around. Overall it was another great day with the kids at VBS, and it was great to be joined by the students from Peace Baptist.

(Cool side note that Joe previously mentioned: the VBS is taking place at the apartment complex across the road from Peace Baptist, so it was cool to be joined by them and let the kids know our new friends were right across the road)

As we made it back to the church, we planned on moving dinner earlier, but by the time everything was said and done, the dinner prep team was only in the kitchen 15 minutes earlier than usual and as a result, dinner was only ready 15 minutes earlier than usual. It was a delicious dinner of homemade pizza (with Bill leading the charge!) and some very goopy, egg-less brownies to (try to) celebrate Alyssa’s 16th birthday!

Oh yeah!  Today was Alyssa’s 16th Birthday!  We sang Happy Birthday at least 3 different times and made sure to encourage her and make her smile a lot that day.  She got some cards from home and was allowed to be first for things most of the day.  They are small things, but sometimes those things make the biggest difference.  I think she had a great day!

Team time consisted of another long evaluation, where we celebrated our productivity on the worksite and our engagement at VBS. We agreed to work on improving our communication and how we value the people we interact with, both people on our team and people outside of it. It was long but resulted in good discussions that will help our team continue to grow and improve.

The highlight of Tuesday for me was worship. The songs that Corinne and Alyssa chose were really powerful, and we finished the time of worship by playing Sinking Deep… loudly. Joe had an awesome God moment the first time that he listened to the song, and it’s been an impactful song for many people in our youth group. The drums make the actual musical elements very powerful but the lyrics themselves are incredibly impactful.

The bridge goes: “Your love so deep is washing over me, Your face is all I seek, You are my everything. Jesus Christ, You are my one desire, Lord hear my only cry, to know you all my life”

I strongly recommend listening to it to get the full effect from the song J

During the second to last time the bridge was playing, Joe leaned forward and shared something with me about what this song means to him. Needless to say, I started crying, and I think Joe shed a few tears too. But the effects were felt in the whole team – worship was a powerful moment that night.

We finished team time with Bible study and encouragement beads before sending people to get some sleep. Mikayla and Sam hung behind as we talked about some things we were seeing in the team and logistics for the next day. We all agreed to enforce a technology break to encourage the team to stay focused on the next few days rather than on what’s going on at home. Even though we only have a few days left, these few days are important for continued growth and investing in the team and the relationships here, and it’s hard for that to happen when kids are on their phones, focused on what’s happening elsewhere.

Prayer requests

  • Rest – more late nights so our team continues to need prayer for rest and energy.

Wednesday 6/13

Still Kristen: This morning we all woke up excited for what the day had to hold. Last night at team time, Mikayla and Sam announced to the team that in the afternoon, we would be going to a Braves game! Peace Baptist purchased a large section of tickets and were kind enough to give us 20 tickets so that we could join them at the game. Even the non-baseball fans were looking forward to the afternoon!

However, we had to work some in the morning before we drove to the game. The day started out with pancakes and slightly burnt sausage (which is probably better than the almost undercooked sausage we had a few nights before… oh, the joys of watching students cook!). Between breakfast prep, breakfast clean-up, and devos, we didn’t make it to the worksite until later than planned (around 9:30ish instead of 9ish). We planned to leave Peace Baptist around 11, when they were leaving for the game as well. Because of clean-up time, that meant we only had an hour to work. But our team got right to it. We got final screws in the walls and got 6 or 7 of them painted, while another team tried to figure out how to get the walls to stand up on their own. Aside from one wall accidentally being broken, there was a lot of good work accomplished in the hour.

As we circled up outside before leaving, Pastor Barnett came up to our group. He shared about the history of the church and their future visions for it as well. The church started off with a handful of people in his living room a number of years ago. They finally bought a building across the street from where they currently are. One day, Pastor Barnett got a feeling that God wanted the church to be in the Target building, and it eventually went for sale for $3 million dollars. The church prayed about it, but another buyer eventually purchased it and did a lot of major gutting inside and parking lot repairs. Eventually the building went up for foreclosure, and the owner owed the bank over $6 million. The church once again prayed about the building and ended up making an offer for $300,000. The bank countered with $400,000, and the church has owned the property since. Most of the church is renovated with a nice sanctuary and welcome center, but they still have a large chunk of the building that’s separate that they want to turn into civil services with a medical clinic, police station, and an employment assistance center. It was awesome to hear Pastor Barnett share the history of the church as well as the vision he has for the church and the community.

We finally loaded up into the vans and headed to the game. However, there was a lot of miscommunication about where we were parking and a lot of traffic (welcome to Atlanta!), so by the time we parked and took the shuttle over to the stadium we had missed the first three innings. However, we finally made our way to our seats, which were thankfully in the shade. The group had a good time watching the game and talking, and to top things off, the Braves won! We had some slight miscommunication when leaving the stadium, but we all met up at the exit and go a picture taken together before getting in line for the shuttle to the parking lot. It was hot and sunny, but we eventually made it back to the vans.

As we were loading up, a parking attendant approached us to let us know that a van similar to ours in size had tried to leave out the other side of the parking deck and had managed to get wedged under the support beam because the van was too tall.  He encouraged us to go out the other direction (which is right where we would have gone anyway as we were only a few feet from that exit). We thanked him for letting us know and said a quick prayer. As Joe was backing up the van to go the opposite direction of the stuck van we were jolted to a sudden stop and heard a loud crunch.  In his focus to turn and avoid the mistake of the other van, he accidentally backed into a pole on the driver side door. There’s a dent in the driver side door, but we are thankful there wasn’t extensive damage (except to Joe’s pride) and nobody was even remotely hurt, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

With the additional early afternoon/late evening traffic, the drive back to the church took a while.  While frustrating, the delay really wasn’t that big of a problem for us for two reasons: 1.) Since it was a Wednesday night and there was a church program using much of the building, we were going to have to switch team time and dinner so our delay was just impacting the amount of time we would have to do eval (which having to cut a little bit shorter wasn’t bad!) and not messing with dinner prep and 2.) most people took the opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep with naps in the van.

Upon getting back to the church, we unloaded the vans and headed inside. Corinne wasn’t feeling great and became unresponsive, similar to what happened last year at the Edge. Thankfully, we knew that she would be okay since we had already experienced this, but obviously with safety in mind and talking to her parents, we quickly decided an ER trip would be the best decision. Bill, Maria, and I took her to the ER in the mini-van, while Joe, Erin, and the LeaderTreks interns stayed with the rest of the team for dinner and team time.

While we were gone, Joe, Erin and the interns facilitated an emotional team time.  The students spent some time in prayer for Corinne and debriefed the experiences from the day.  Most of the debrief fell on the shoulders of Sam and Mikayla (they were responsible for leading most of the areas where we had challenges arise during the day—parking, game logistics, crowd management, etc) and a little on the worksite leaders (although we got some work done, we still missed some opportunities to do better and our quality of work was diminished during our short worksite).  However, the discussion quickly shifted to one of ownership and integrity.  The youth recognized the need to be accountable to each other on the team.  Heart attitudes and postures were discussed and the team ended up with a very neat action step for the next day.  Each member of the team went around and in his/her own words gave the rest of the team permission to hold him/her accountable for their attitudes and actions for the rest of the trip.  Some students went as far as saying “from now on, even after the trip.”  It was a great way to give our team permission to push each other.  I wish I could have been there for the actual discussion, but I’ve been able to see a difference in our team since.

Per normal, a long but productive time of eval was followed with a sweet time of worship, a deep dive into bible study, challenging conversations about growth journal, and a lovely time of encouragement beads.  After a final prayer for Corinne, the team headed off to bed for some much needed sleep.

When we arrived at the ER, they immediately took Corinne back and ran a lot of tests. Her vitals were good, tests were normal, and she started joking around with us before we were discharged a little before 1am. It was a crazy night, but we were glad Corinne was okay, and she was glad she didn’t have to spend the night at the hospital. Corinne and I ended up sleeping in Maria’s room so it would be quiet in the morning, and we were all excited to finally get to bed after a long, stressful day.

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for Corinne and her health. This is a scary situation and although she has been sent home from the hospital, she isn’t fully recovered and we are going to be dealing with this for a while.  Pray for answers, comfort and a quick recovery.
  • Pray for the adults and their stamina. Trips are long but with the added burden of caring for Corinne and team needs at the same time, a split adult squad is challenging.
  • Rest—we need sleep so we can function at a peak level!

Friday 6/8

Wow.  It is amazing how much of a roller coaster ride a mission trip can be!  Last night was super high and this afternoon was super low.  It doesn’t take much for things to swing.  By the end of the night things were back up.

The morning started and the hot streak continued.  Our breakfast prep team started the day off with enthusiasm and excitement and it was contagious.  Ethan cast vision for our breakfast with a spoke word poetry slam.  It was genius.  They made it personal, they made it fun.  It was awesome.  Then we had an energizer to get going for the day before eating.  We enjoyed good food and even finished cleanup early!  This was a big deal for 2 reasons.  #1 is that we have been struggling with finishing on time and have been late a lot.  #2 our tardiness has meant that we needed to push back devos each day.  But not today!   We had a ton of help in the kitchen and the team was finished early so we got to start in on devos early!  It was a great continuation of the momentum from yesterday.  One of our action steps for the day was to “remember Seth’s face.”  This came from last night and dinner cleanup.  Seth led his team to an excellent time of cleaning up and they finished early.  This was the first time all trip we had been early.  When he shared about it during team time last night, his face just beamed with excitement and joy from having served the Lord and His team so well.  So today, we wanted to remember that face to keep up a sense of urgency and timeliness.  It obviously worked for breakfast cleanup!

As we arrived on the worksite, we had a huge goal ahead of us but also had lots of positive energy. Our goal was to finish the parking lot. That meant that we had 11 islands to get painted.  We divided up into 4 teams and got to work.  God showed up in a cool way…literally.  The morning was overcast which kept the temperature down and morale up!  As we worked, we had great conversations.  We blasted some catchy tunes (Stellar Kart!) and enjoyed focusing on the Lord.  As the tunes drifted across the parking lot, seemingly carried by the gentle breeze, it was easy to see that God was blessing our team.  We were communicating, working hard, growing together and enjoying God.  It was a beautiful site.  My group nicknamed ourselves the Slammin’ Jammin’ Paint Saints because we had the music cranked!  As we talked and encouraged each other work progressed quickly.  As lunch approached, we took a step back and realized that we were making excellent progress.  So much so, in fact, that Sam and Mikayla had to huddle together to talk about what to do with an afternoon that suddenly appeared as though it was going to be free! By the time we broke for lunch, we were down to 4 islands that needed to be painted, and two of them were being worked on and were almost done!  Praise God for our productivity for the day.

Typically we have lunch and then head over to do VBS.  However, today was a double worksite day, so we had no VBS to plan for.  Perhaps we wish we had.

Conversations over lunch were great as the entire team shared things together.  Morale was up and things were great.  We even had a special treat as Maria was looking to bless the adults with a treat for the end of the first week.  I requested 2 dozen hot ready Krispy Kreme donuts as my “treat.” They arrived at the end of lunch and were a perfect treat to share with the team at the end of a great day.  As we broke for lunch, I pulled out the laptop to work on the previous post.  As I sat and reflected on the previous day and on what had happened so far today, I couldn’t help but to smile at how much God was blessing our team.  It had been a sweet time and it felt like we were starting to cruise.  By the time I was finished with the blog, it became clear that our team was no cruising. We were broken down in the middle of the highway without help in sight.

As I walked up to check on the progress after lunch, I was shocked at the change in atmosphere I was met with.  Heads were down, conversations were non-existent and you could feel the tension and disappointment in the air.  It was like walking into the twilight zone.  What had happened to the momentum?  What had happened to the team?  It was clear something was different.  There was bickering and grumbling.  How had things changed so quickly?!  Well, it turns out that our push to finish the worksite as a goal for the day was not going to be possible.  We didn’t have enough paint.  The disappointment was palpable and was discouraging our team.  We had embraced a vision of seeing the facing on Sunday morning from church members as they arrived to see a completed parking lot. The fact that we weren’t going to be able to see this was discouraging to many on the team.  It was surprising and a little disappointing how quickly we were knocked off of our game.  Instead of finishing early, we weren’t going to finish at all.  We left the worksite earlier than planned, but without much joy. At least as a team.

During the last couple of hours on the worksite, the sun came back out.  People struggled in the heat.  Patience was worn thin.  Productivity tanked.  For some, it was rough.  For others, it drove them towards the Lord.  There was a lot of prayer that afternoon.  At one point, Bill and I sat in the van and asked God to help our team finish strong.  We prayed for some relief.  As soon as we were done, clouds moved back over the sun.  The temperature difference was noticeable.  It was a God wink.

God winks are when God does something and it is as if He is winking at you, reminding you that He’s there and in control and at work.  Bill and I noticed the God wink.  I laid down on one of the islands in the grass and looked up at the clouds.  I was so enthralled with the way the light was shining from behind them.  Also, there were two distinct layers of clouds and the lower layed was in the shadows of the upper layer.  They were morphing and transforming right in front of my eyes.  It was so beautiful and was clear that God was in the midst of it. At one point the clouds looked like a cross.  At another they were clearly shaping into a heart.  These particular clouds stayed covering the sun until we were finished with the last drop of paint.  It was incredible.  Despite the frustration work was still happening.  There were also numerous opportunities to learn and many teachable moments.  I told Cullen and Chance at one point that I was super excited for the day because there would be lots of great debrief moments for later.

Most of us left the worksite frustrated and disappointed, but those who were looking could see God’s hand at work.  We arrived back at the church and had team time during the afternoon.  It was an encouraging team time.  We had a LOT to debrief.

Our debrief time was long but productive.  After dinner, a navigated obstacle of hodge podge goodness, we had to deep clean the church so that we were ready for Sunday.  Since Avondale First Baptist has been so gracious to us to let us use their facilities, we want to make sure we take care of them and allow them to continue with their regular ministries with as minimal disruption as possible.  Cleaning went well and we finished the night with encouragement beads.  Students headed off to bed after a good first week.  The weekend looked like it would present a great opportunity to regroup and refresh.  The first week was filled with ups and downs but all in all was a great week.  We have seen lots of growth in students and lots of development as a group.  This weekend should be refreshing and next week has the potential for a lot of growth.

After the students went to bed, the adults stayed up to discuss the week and talk about where we have seen God at work. We were also trying to help Maria stay awake for the late night arrival of some guests.  Three of the LeaderTreks crew were due to arrive around midnight. They had just finished leading a hiking trip in the north Georgia mountains and were redeploying to adventure camp for the rest of the summer.  So they crashed with us for the night and joined us for breakfast the next morning. Our adult leader meeting was filled with laughter and discussion.  We shared lots of stories about how God has been at work.  I think the thing that stood out to me the most about that meeting is the fact that there were SO many areas we could point out where God was at work and had been growing our students.  We spent some time talking through situations and dreaming about what God might have in store for the next week.  It was a very encouraging way to end the week.

Saturday 6/9

Today was a special day. We received a HUGE blessing as a team. We woke up early and ate breakfast. We got to briefly spend some time with the other LeaderTreks staff before loading up the vans and heading out for an adventure.  The first 45 minutes of our adventure were spent in silence as everyone completed their devotionals for the day.  The rest of the ride was filled with chatter and good conversations as we got closer and closer to our adventure for the day.  By 10am we had arrived…it was time for a blessing.

We arrived at my Aunt Martha’s lake house just before 10am.  We had a full day of fellowship and fun on the lake in store!  My Aunt Martha was gracious enough to host our team for the day at her house on Lake Burton in the north Georgia mountains.  We spent time chatting, swinging in the hammock, tubing behind the speedboat, swimming, playing ping pong, throwing the Frisbee, playing horseshoes and jumping on the bouncer and the blob.  Kids paddled the canoes and kayaks all around the cove and some even mastered the stand up paddle boards.  My cousin Dave and his wife Shirley were around to hang out and help drive the boat.  At one point the neighbors even welcomed us to their boat dock which has a 24ft high jump platform on the top.  Many of us had a blast leaping off the top of the boathouse into the lake.

I could spend all day talking about how gracious and loving my family was to our group.  It was such a joy to see the students engaged in conversations with Aunt Martha or Shirley.  Everyone talked about how much fun they had tubing and how great Dave was with them.  It was a perfectly sweet day.  At one point Aunt Martha took some of us on a pontoon boat cruise around the lake.  As we turned the corner out of their cove and started up the main body of the lake, there is a breath-taking view.  The lake runs forward off into the distance with range after range of mountains behind it.  They look like they have been stacked on top of each other and held back at the water’s edge.  Each ridge is a slightly different shade of blue and purple.  It is gorgeous.  It was a momentary reminder of just how majestic and awe-inspiring God is.  By the end of the tour we had to scurry back to avoid some claps of thunder and bolts of lightning.  However, the “storm” passed quickly and almost as soon as we had returned it was clear to go out on the lake again.

We played all day long, enjoyed burgers and hot dogs and finished with a time of worship and encouragement beads at the lake.  It was a perfect day.  So many quality conversations and so much love was shared.  Bringing my youth group kids to meet my extended family was a special treat for me.  I’m very proud of my family and I’m very proud of my youth group kids.  To let each into the other aspect of my like was special.  I’m not sure who was more encouraged and impressed with the other, but all in all it was great.  I can’t begin to express my appreciation and love for my family.  As I gave my Aunt a hug and looked around at the end of the night I remarked how this week and this experience has confirmed with me in so many ways my calling to ministry.  God showed up and blessed us a TON today.  It was sweet.

Sunday 6/10

Today we got to experience church in a couple of different ways.  It was a cool way to start the day.  We saw both the Peace Baptist family (and they are a FAMILY) and the Avondale Estates family.  We were blessed by both.  I’m going to provide a VERY brief overview and will try to get the kids to describe the church experience in their own words later…stay tuned for that post sometime in the future!

Our morning began with a fellowship breakfast at Avondale Estates.  We had a wonderful meal filled with great interactions with the body there. At my table, we really enjoyed chatting with Deliah Burger (“now I KNOW you won’t forget that name!  BURGER!  HA!”) and her husband Sylvester, Kevin—a gentleman with special needs, and his helper Michael. They were funny and encouraging and made our day brighter with their stories and warm hearts.  Sylvester and I sat next to each other and became quick friends.  We joked and laughed and teased and talked about the Lord.  It was great.  He and his wife said I looked like their previous pastor and asked if I had any family in the area.  I told them none that were pastors and Deliah said I sure looked like him.  Sylvester said “good, cause we left that church when the pastor pulled a knife on me.”  To which I replied “I’d never do that, it MUST have been my cousin!”  He gave a big hearty laugh and clapped me on the shoulder and said “I can tell that you are a man of God and would never be like that. You are a blessing.”  That about summed up how the rest of the conversation went.  IT was encouraging and lighthearted.  There was serious talk about the Lord and family and jokes and laughter.  It was a great breakfast.

After a brief bit of free time during which the students planned for their next bits of responsibility, we headed off to Peace for a worship service we won’t soon forget.  The music was passionate, the preaching was superb and the fellowship was warm.  I can’t wait to share the students’ views with you.  It was great!

After lunch it was back to Wal-Mart to shop for the 2ndhalf of the week.  We also had to plan for a trip to Home Depot to get supplies for our work project for the upcoming week.  Needless to say, it was a busy afternoon.

Shopping went well.  This time around Jon and Grace had devised a more organized system where they sent team members out to get supplies and then reported back where each ingredient was compared to a master checklist and each label was scoured for potential peanut allergies.  They did a much better job this time navigating that experience.  We loaded up the vans and as we were puling out of the parking lot, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye…a used bookstore.  I quickly detoured across the parking lot and had Erin run inside to check and see if they had any bibles.  They did and so I quickly hopped out and purchased a “new” bible for one of the students who  said they were having trouble reading their current translation.  I think that is the best $4.21 I have spent all trip!  I was able to present the Bible to the student during team time and already have heard back that their quiet time was so much more enjoyable because they got to use the new bible this morning!  It was great.

Dinner last night was also we great. Miguel commanded the kitchen and lead the team in making stir fry.  Seth found his new calling in life as a cook.  He manned the griddle and cooked most of the food and LOVED IT!  The meal was so good.  It definitely capped off a great weekend for our team.

Our team time was LONG tonight.  It was long because debrief took a LONG time. We have discovered something interesting about our team.  We are terrified of failure.  In fact, when things are going well (which has been much of this trip) they go very well and the team does well.  However, when things are challenging, we often shut down and get discouraged. Tonight during team time we tried to say we had been successful and did a good job with some of our goals and action steps during the day.  The truth is that we hadn’t.   We set a goal to be done by a certain time and we simply weren’t done.  There were usually valid explanations why we weren’t and so it was “ok” that we weren’t done, but we couldn’t say that we had accomplished those goals with excellence because we simply hadn’t.  However, when that was pointed out, we shut down.  It seems as though whenever we face failure, we shut down.  We spent a lot of time talking about that and looking deep into the heart attitudes behind that pattern.  We looked at some scriptures to help and even spent some time in prayer.  It was a tough but needed night.  We recognized that our perseverance needed to be a focus for our team and came up with some action steps to address it.  I have no doubt that God will bless those efforts…but it just may not be how we expect.

As we turn the corner into the second week on the trip I wanted to give you a brief update on everyone.  The students are doing well and everyone is healthy. Corinne has lost her voice and there are several who have the sniffles, but nothing major.  We are hanging in there and everyone is growing and doing well. The biggest concern for our team is with Maria.  She took a couple of spins on the tube at the Lake on Saturday and her head has been bothering her since.  Please pray for her as you lift us up this week.

Prayer Requests

  • Maria’s head—pray that she would fully recover from her concussion and would not have headaches and would be back to herself soon.
  • Perseverance—our team wants to work on perseverance and navigating hard obstacles this week. Please pray for us as we attempt to demonstrate it.
  • Sleep—it was a sweet weekend, but it was jammed. We are all pretty tired.  Pray for rest and rejuvenation for the work ahead.

Thursday 6/7

Welcome to the mission trip! Our trip finally “started” today! We woke up! As I walked into the guys’ room at the end of the night I remarked “NOW we are on a mission trip!” Our team is clicking right now and things are AWESOME! But it took us most of today to get there. Let me share some highlights of our journey.

The morning started similar to many of the others on this trip…sluggish and just not quite up to excellence. Breakfast team prepped and made some food but didn’t use all of what was intended for the meal. Breakfast clean up was late so we had to push back the start of devo time. Worksite started with some positive signs but quickly became another victim of our sluggishness. However, it wasn’t all rough. In fact, we had some really high points during the day.  This trip has kind of been like starting a weed-eater when it hasn’t been running. Let me explain.

You know when you first pull our your trimemer/edger to start trimming the yard you have to go through a bunch of steps to get it revved up and going? That is like our trip. First you have to put the choke in and then prime the engine by pushing that blub 5-10 times. Then you have to switch it on and pull the starter cord. Many of the new models then have you move the choke to half choke and pull the cord again to start the engine. Once it starts, it often sputters and catches briefly and often dies and you have to pull the cord again. If it does start then you have to wait 30 seconds for it to warm up before moving the choke again and getting full power. Our trip has been the same way. We’ve had to do a lot of prep work to get things into position for success. We have had to try to start and have had the engine roar to life, only for it to sputter and die and need another kickstart. I think last night (Thursday) we finally got the engine warm and running and today (I’m writing on Friday morning) we’ve moved the choke and are running at full throttle. It is AWESOME!

Back to Thursday…we arrived to the worksite and the worksite team cast a vision for working hard and getting a lot goal. It was still a very dull and passionless vision cast. Then they set an ambitious goal of finishing 9 islands during our day. Needless to say that DIDN’T happen. After that, Cullen spent some time sharing with us some teaching from LeaderTreks. We went over the 5 tasks of a leader and the 5 Godly character traits that go with them. He shared with us about the difference between doing and being and how our character (our being) impacted our actions (our doing). It was a good reminder and way to focus at the start of the day. As we got to work, it quickly became apparent that we were not going to reach our goal. So we circled up and changed our goal to 5. Somewhere in the midst of the work, someone suggested a way to improve effort and morale…a student vs. adult island challenge. So Miguel set off to devise the rules while everyone quickly worked to complete the current islands so we could start fresh with a challenge. Islands were prepared. Trash was talked. The gauntlet had been laid down. Here were the parameters: the 13 students would take on the 7 adults to see who could paint an entire island curb fastest and best. Materials were divided and you could earn bonus points for NOT using resources. You could also earn points for finishing in under 20 minutes. Finally, there were penalties for sloppy work, drips and spills. The stakes: steaks! The winning team will get steaks at some point. Everyone had time to gather their stuff, come up with a plan and strategy. Miguel gave the word and both teams sprang into action. Work flew. Paint was applied and corrected. Teams worked together. Before you knew it, both teams had finished…the students just slightly ahead of the adults (by about 1-2 minutes). It was clear that the students had also done an exceptional job in terms of quality. However, they had also chosen to use a significant number of more supplies. In the end, it was determined that the speed and quality were so close that the deciding factor was the fact that the adults used far fewer resources to accomplish the task. (after all, one of our action steps was involving resource/material management). It was a great way to finish the workday and gave us a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we worked hard as a team. It was even mentioned that if we worked like that, we could finish the entire parking lot on Friday. Depending on which team shows up, that is either truth or a pipe dream…only time will tell!

As we cleaned up, we quickly came down from the high of team work and efficiency. Cleanup took FOREVER. Much of the team was waiting to eat while a few finished the work of clean up. During lunch the VBS team did some prep and we were just barely able to finish eating and prepping in time to leave for VBS. We drove across the street and things were noticeably different. We pulled up to the playground and there were NO KIDS waiting for us. This was completely different from the last few days. Groups circled up and began to pray. Slowly but surely kids started to arrive. It was great to see our team navigate that obstacle and were ready and prepared when kids finally showed up. All in all it was a good day at VBS but still not consistently great. We ran out of water and gold fish. Patrick, one of the young boys, was trying to fight another boy all day. We had moments of great engagement and others of distraction. However, all in all the team did well. It was a positive way to finish the week of VBS and we are excited about going back next week and reconnecting with the kids. The biggest downer was that during our time, Maria went downhill and it was clear she needed to go back and lay down. We sent her home with instructions to rest and recover. It was a definite discouragement that she wasn’t able to be with us. However, the team did well in her absence. However, without her leadership a few areas suffered. The best example of this was that we packed up and left VBS a few minutes early. Typically it is NOT ok to cut time short when there are still kids around to minister to. However, none of the adults caught the time issue until we were already in the vans and headed back to the church. It was only 5 minutes and that may not seem like a big deal, but when we are attempting to do everything for the Lord, quitting 5 minutes early is a big deal.

The slide continued as we arrived back at the church. With extra free time students were excited about naps and showers and a bit of down time. However, Sam and Mikayla didn’t communicate clearly and quickly upon our return and some students took off before they got instructions. The rest of the team was downstairs and had to wait while personal issues were attended to and tasks were done that should have waited. It was a deflating and frustrating few minutes. When we FINALLY (nearly 20 minutes late) got the team together to give instructions for the rest of the afternoon, it was clear that there was frustration and a lot of tired folks in the group. That was the breaking point for our team. We had tried to start the trimmer and it had run and sputtered for a bit and it finally died. We needed a reboot. So we pulled the string again.

While everyone else ran off to shower and rest and complete the chores that needed completing, Sam and Mikayla and I spent some time debriefing the trip and the day. We talked about the positive things we’ve seen and then spent time dreaming of a bigger vision. I pushed Sam and Mikayla to have a bigger vision for their team and their trip and to take ownership of things themselves. They can’t ask their team to do something if they aren’t willing to do it themselves. We talked through a bigger vision and Sam said “I really want to see my team get there but I’m not sure how to help it happen.” It was a great moment of honesty and is going to prove to be the turning point of the trip. Because Sam initiated and had the vision, we were then able to talk about strategies and plans on how to get things where they were hoping they would go…where they thought God wanted to take their team. After a challenging but encouraging time together, Sam and Mikayla final had the passion ignited inside them to lead their team. Since then, everything has been different!

Maria woke up from her nap feeling like a new person. She is back to her old self!!! Sam and Mikayla spent some time talking over debrief and coming up with a vision for the rest of the trip for their team. They were prepared for evaluation and had specific areas where they wanted to see their team grow. They had a vision for how those areas would impact the remainder of the trip and how we could bring glory to God by excelling in those areas. They had strategies in mind on how to address them. They finally initiated the conversations that needed to occur and took control of the meeting. They asked their team hard questions. They celebrated wins and good moments with their team. They listened and provided encouragement and wisdom. It was awesome! The student leaders finally showed up on our trip! Then we had worship and it was incredible. People were singing with passion and an energy that had been lacking. They were tapping their feet and slapping their knees. They were raising their hands and closing their eyes in praise. It was great. As the time ended, a thought ran through my head: “welcome to the trip, God!” Not as if God hasn’t been present and in charge every step of the way, He has been. But it felt like the first time that the TEAM had finally WELCOMED Him into our group. It was a great time. Bible study was rich and many team members shared deeply from their time earlier with the Lord. Growth journal conversations were challenging and transparent. Even beads seemed to have more depth and substance to them. We went well over the allotted team time by the time all was said and done…but no one really cared.

After adult leaders meeting as we went back to our rooms we could still notice the change…the students were still up and chattering. However, the conversations were focused on the Lord and the work to be done today and vision for the rest of the trip. It was encouraging and exciting. Like I said earlier, I walked into the room and remarked “NOW we are on a mission trip!”

Prayer Requests

• Pray for follow-through. I believe that the engine is started and we are running on all cylinders now. Pray that we wouldn’t sputter but would continue as a finely tuned group!

• Rest and Health. As we approach the end of week one, pray that we would continue to stay healthy and have the joy of the Lord as our strength.

• Worksite. Tomorrow (Friday) we will be spending the entire day working at the worksite with no VBS in the afternoon. Pray that we would work hard and that the vision of the team leaders to finish the parking lot would come to fruition.

Wednesday 6/6

What a day, what a day! Wednesday was a full and good day for our team. We are starting to find our groove and things are starting to come together. This entry is going to be shorter as I really want to get back with the team. Yesterday I spent the entire morning blogging and feel like I missed SO MUCH. Just a note…it appears that I will be able to find some time to blog during worksite time each day. That means that I’m trying to blog for the previous day. As a result, I apologize in advance for times when I shift back and forth in tense. I try to write as if it is “in the moment” but sometimes forget that I’m speaking of yesterday as if it were today. Anyway here are a few highlights from Wednesday. We woke up and as a team were still somewhat sluggish. However, you can see that some people are starting to find their groove more than others and are settling into the routine of the trip. I am still having to do a lot of encouraging and cheering to drive our team forward. Hopefully Sam and Mikayla will pick up that mantle soon. When they have throughout the day, we’ve seen our team excel. In fact, that is the theme for today…glimpses of brilliance. We navigated some obstacles, overcame some challenges and anticipated some needs. We showed great teamwork and chatter on the worksite. I think this is because Ethan brought his portable speaker and blasted some Christian tunes for us. That certainly helped raise the morale of the team. We worked hard and got some quality work accomplished. However, we also had lapses where we splattered and spilled paint and didn’t paint straight lines. Our project this week is to paint the curbs in the parking lot here at Peace Baptist church. It takes precision and care but there are also a LOT of curbs to paint! We are still trying to find the balance between speed and precision. One factor is that it is HOT here. Once the sun gets up overhead it is blazing! We have to take a lot of water breaks and make sure we are working smart. The parking lot doesn’t provide much shade at all so we are basically working in the sun the entire time. We had a chance to talk to Pastor Darron a little more today and spend a brief time with him in prayer. It was so encouraging to hear his dreams and to know what he has as a vision for this property. They are constantly renovating and improving their facilities. His hope to is have a police station and other civic resources housed in the other end of this strip. The property used to be an old Target and they are working on converting the entire thing. I also had a chance to speak with the lead pastor’s wife for a few minutes. She was so encouraged that we were here and helping and kept telling us how much of a blessing we were. She also mentioned that she spoke to the youth pastor and expressed a desire to have some of their youth join us while we work. She said “it just isn’t right for you guys to be here working and for us not to have some of our youth out there as well!” We also spoke about details for a special treat that will happen next week for our team. I won’t spill the beans, but we should have a great time next Wednesday! After worksite we ate lunch and spent some time preparing for VBS. However, today we did it in the parking lot of Peace rather than at the apartment complex. We knew that as soon as we pulled up, there would be kids upon us and that we wouldn’t have time to really get set up. The prep went well and the team left prepared…or so we thought. When we got to VBS, we realized that we didn’t have cups and needed to provide the kids with water. But we were also running low on water. So I ran to the store and bought some small cups and a big jug of water and brought them back for VBS. When I arrived, there were kids everywhere. We probably have between 15-20 kids showing up. It is awesome to see our kids with new friends hanging off their limbs. We have even had a chance to engage some of the adults in the complex in conversation. There are a few who tossed a Frisbee with some of the guys today. The adults have done a good job of wanting to be involved and engaged but also giving the kids space. Many of them sit on the walls around the playground and keep an eye on things. Some even were singing along with our songs! We had a few issues pop up today at VBS, but they were handled as well as possible. There was one “fight” that broke out but our team was in the midst of breaking it up almost before it started. It came about due to no fault of our own but was from previous issues in that community. It was minor and settled quickly but still put a damper on the day for some of our team. We also saw the ambulance and fire truck cruise by as they went on a call to one of the apartments. No sirens or urgency and nothing major seemed to have occurred. The kids from the neighborhood paid it no attention, as if it were a regular occurrence. There are three things I want to highlight from VBS today. Cullen had a chance to speak with Mary, a young mom from the neighborhood who was watching the preceding. She was wearing a shrit that read “Christ Lives in Me.” It was a great conversation starter. Cullen was able to talk to her about how present God already is in the community and how she has had opportunities to speak about Christ with many of the children. I think this surprised some of our team. They have been viewing this experience as if these kids have never heard the gospel or the name of Christ before. The attitude has been “they need us to love them and listen to them because if we don’t, no one will.” However, that is not the case. God HAS BEEN at work in this community and He is using these trips to CONTINUE His work. We had a great discussion about this later during team time and I think it will eventually prove to be a major turning point for our team. The second thing to note is that we had some more behavior issues today. One child continued to run away and cause problems during the 2nd half of the day. The good news is that our team was aware of it and did an excellent job of keeping track of the kids. They pursued this little boy and did everything they could have done to keep him safe and cared for. It took a lot of effort and things will need to change during VBS tomorrow, but they did well. It is a sign that our team is waking up and taking more ownership and responsibility for things. Previously I would have expected people to see what was going on but that they would have waited to receive instructions from the leaders as to what to do. Today they jumped right into action and did what was needed. It was great to see. The final thing that happened at VBS could end up being much more significant than we realize. Maria, our trip leader from LeaderTreks, was playing at the very end of VBS and running around with some kids. She ducked under the playset and somehow cracked her head on a step or something. She tried to laugh it off but it hurt. By the time we got back to the church she was clearly being bothered and in a lot of discomfort. This just so happened to have occurred right at the time when we needed extra leadership so it disrupted the flow of the day significantly. On Wednesdays, First Baptist, the church we are staying at, has a Wednesday night program. They use the family life center for a meal and bible study. They use the girl’s bedroom for classes. We had to clear out the girls room before we left for the day so they could use it. We also had to swap dinner and team time because we couldn’t be in the kitchen or use the family life center. So, right when the schedule was disrupted and we are trying to adapt to a new plan, our main leader goes down! While the team waited to figure out what was happening and what was next, Maria, Cullen, Chance and I were on the phone with Dan Elsen back at LeaderTreks HQ dealing with Maria’s head injury. It was decided (easily and unanimously) that she should go to the hospital and get checked out for a concussion and any other problems. That meant that someone had to take her and that both would be gone for a large portion of the night. Chance and Maria headed off to the local hospital where they spent the rest of the evening waiting to be seen! That left Cullen as the only LeaderTreks staff to run team time and oversee dinner for the evening. While not an easy situation, it was the obvious solution to the problem. Cullen got some last minute encouragement from Dan and some reminders of the high points of the training he had received and jumped right in. Our team time was rich. Eval and bible study went well. At that point Kristen and I jumped out of things so we could go start dinner prep. Once the team finished worship and growth journal, the dinner prep team came down and took over. Dinner was ready on time and was super yummy (ok, I’m tooting my own horn a bit!). We had a great night under Cullen’s leadership as the team really came together in Maria’s absence. We still missed our goal for dinner cleanup but did a great job of working as a team. We moved on to end the night with encouragement beads and head to bed. I think I will look back at encouragement beads tonight as a turning point. Coupled with the challenging and deep conversations we had during bible study it is easy to see God opening people up and starting to really stretch them. I could highlight tons of examples for almost every student but I wanted to point out that we’ve seen awesome things from Rose, Ethan, Seth, Anna, and Corinne so far. Cullen stepped up and did an incredible job tonight as well. All in all, our team is beginning to wake up and find a rhythm. I can’t wait to see what happens next. In closing, an update on Maria. She returned home just as we were moving into adult meeting to close the night. She has a mild concussion and has been given instructions to rest and take it easy for the next couple of days and to return if anything worsens or changes. Cullen and Chance are going to have to step up! She is in good spirits and everyone is glad to have her back. We are going to make sure she sticks to doctor’s orders! Prayer Requests: • Good rest—we are still tired, but more and more people are finding their groove. Pray that the entire team would overcome the tiredness and get into the groove. • Deep conversations—we want to go deeper than we are going right now, so please pray that we would ask good questions and that we would go below the surface! • Maria’s health—pray that Maria would recover quickly and that her headaches would go away and she wouldn’t feel any ill effects from her concussion. • VBS—Thursday is our last day of VBS for the week and it will be a long weekend before we get to see the kids again. Pray that today goes well and finishes on a positive note so that we have momentum and positive thoughts heading towards next week.

Monday 6/4

Wow it’s early!  My alarm blared before 3am.  I feel like I just went to sleep…oh wait, I did!  This is a crazy way to start a trip.  This past weekend was graduation.  School just ended for most of these kids on Friday.  This seems like a crazy turn around.  It is a crazy turn around.  But we don’t have much of a choice.  Several factors have come together to create a perfect storm that has me up before 3am heading to the church so we can meet and leave for our trip.  The biggest reason for this craziness is because God is good.  He is good to us in so many ways.  He works in our students hearts on trips.  He works in their hearts throughout the year.  We’ve seen growth and development and incredible response to challenge.  It is time for our group to try something big.  It’s time for an intense impact trip.

Each summer we partner with LeaderTreks to run our senior high summer mission trip.  We partner with them because they approach ministry the same way that I approach ministry.  They see the value in challenging students.  They see the value in trusting God and believing that God has big things in store for students.  One of the things that the founder of LeaderTreks, Doug Franklin, says is that a students potential is as great as the God who is on their side.  I agree with this sentiment.  We serve a great and good God.  He shows up again and again.  Our students are potential of great things.  While this is always true, it is especially poignant this summer.  We are at a point in our group where we have the right mix of students to try something big.  We have experienced, dedicated older student leaders who are able and desirous of serving and leading the younger students.  We have up and coming leaders who are poised to launch and own the next generation of Outbound.  We have young students who are excited and loaded with potential and who have grown up in the Outbound culture and serve and love others with a grace and passion that often leaves me amazed and humbled.  It is the right time to try something big.  With LeaderTreks that means that we are ready for an intense impact mission trip.

After praying and talking to Dan in the LeaderTreks office, we decided upon this trip.  We really didn’t have too many options, given some of the things that mattered most to me.  We saw the benefit of keeping our trip early in the summer based on last year’s trip to Kentucky.  We didn’t want to change that.  We knew we wanted to do a two-week trip to really challenge and stretch the team. We knew we couldn’t get any earlier than now due to the ending of school and graduation for some of our team.  We couldn’t push back any later because we have the Edge locked in at the end of June (another way God has blessed our group is through the consistent impact of the Edge in the hearts of our middle school students.  Most of the older students will tell you that their faith became their own or they rededicated their commitment to walk with the Lord during the Edge…it has been powerful and formative in so many in our group).  If we wanted to do a two-week trip in the beginning of the summer, it meant squeezing it in between the end of school and the Edge…and THAT is why I’m up before 3.  As I wearily rub my eyes and drive to the church, I’m overcome by a sense of excitement and anticipation to see what God is going to unfold over the next couple of weeks on this intense impact experience.

So what exactly is this intense impact that has me up so early?  Our trip is an intense impact trip because it is intense.  Back in February I spent the weekend with Sam and Mikayla, two high school seniors who will be in charge on this trip.  That’s right, I’ve turned over the keys to a mission trip to two students!  That weekend was spent in Chicago with the staff at LeaderTreks and other student leaders who are doing the same thing this summer…leading their high school mission trips.  It was a weekend of training and encouragement, of equipping and challenging. They came home with a vision and a passion for their team and this trip.  They have been responsible for recruiting their team.  They have been involved in making decisions on logistics. They have cast vision.  They are in charge.  They have also assigned areas of leadership responsibility to each one of their team members.  Students are in charge of everything from worksite organization and goals, to menu planning and grocery shopping to community outreach.  Because of this, Sam and Mikayla have been meeting with their teams in preparation for the trip.  They have been assisting as students explore the responsibilities of those roles.  I’m up extra early because I am helping to finalize several things to assist those students before we leave.  Last minute printings.  Final double-checks to ensure that they haven’t overlooked anything. The team has to meet at 4.  Many are there early.  They are jazzed to get going.

Right off the bat it is clear that our trip is a big deal.  Many students were unable to sleep the night before.  In fact, as we are loading up the vans for departure, one of our students began to get sick.  He threw up all over the ground outside the church several times.  At first the fear was that he was going to be sick and couldn’t make the trip.  However, it was soon determined that his diet of cheese-its and nothing else, combined with lack of sleep and nerves for the trip were the culprits.  After puking, he recovered nicely and was able to join us. (As I write this on Wednesday morning, I’m happy to report that we have seen ZERO evidence of lingering effects. He is completely fine!).  It was excellent to see parents and students jump to action to ensure he was OK and that the team wasn’t derailed.  We were able to quickly get things cleaned up, get the student settled and feeling ok, get everything loaded and hit the road. We had an 830 flight out of Dulles, hence the super early morning.  The reason we flew out so early (other than the cost savings!) was that we wanted to get started as quickly as possible in Atlanta on Monday.  Typically LeaderTreks trips begin on Sunday afternoon, but due to graduation, we agreed to begin our adventure a little later.  So getting to Atlanta and connecting with Maria and our interns was super important.

The trip to the airport was quick and easy.  Thank you to Roy and Bob and Barry who drove us down to the airport.  We quickly unloaded and headed into the airport. When we walked in the door, a representative met us quickly as we started to get into the checkout line.  He directed us around the corner to the group check-in desk.  As we walked up, the united representative was ready for us.  They had already printed our boarding passes and had them waiting for us.  They quickly got our few bags of checked luggage tagged and sent off and we were on to security.  So far things were going exceptionally smoothly…it couldn’t last, could it?

Our first “hiccup” happened at security. 16 of our group of 17 made it through ID check and the security checkpoint without a problem.  It was simple and a breeze.  The one delay…Bill had too much “gear” in his bag and had to unpack everything and have it swabbed.  It was a very minor inconvenience.  In fact, we decided to head toward the gate and trust him to catch up on his own and he caught us before we made it to the shuttle to our concourse.  Once we got to the gate everyone was able to make bathroom runs, grab snacks and coffee and such.  Amazingly, everyone was back to the gate well before they began the boarding process.  So far things are going exceptionally smoothly…it couldn’t last, could it?

We boarded, took off, landed and headed off to collect our luggage without a hitch.  The flight was smooth and quick.  Many students caught much needed naps on the plane.  Things are going so well…it couldn’t last, could it?

Ok, it HAS lasted.  We didn’t lose any luggage, it was all collected quickly and easily.  We got to the rental car facility and got both vans without delay.  We have a 15 passenger van and a minivan.  They both are in good shape and seem to meet our needs very well.  The whole process was quick and easy.  We headed out to lunch at Zaxby’s where we enjoyed some glorious chicken fingers and French fries.  We pre-ordered and then needed to add a little more…but Sam decided to add a LOT more…so we ended up with  a lot of leftovers.  So far, THAT has been the biggest snafu of the trip…ordering too many extra chicken fingers (which joyfully were consumed at dinner so none went to waste!).  We headed off to Wal-Mart to meet Maria and the interns.  And then we ran into our first “challenge” of the trip.

We went to the wrong Wal-Mart.  Well actually, we went to the right Walmart…the one we had the address to. Unfortunately, Maria forgot that she hadn’t given us the right address originally!  So we are on the phone saying “We are in the back of the parking lot, where are you?!” and they are on the other end saying “no, WE are in the back of the parking lot, where are YOU?!”  Once we figured out the misinformation, we drove back 10 minutes (to a Walmart we had passed earlier!) and quickly and easily found them!  After that it was introductions and off to our first team challenge…shopping!

Jon and Grace, our food team, showed great leadership through their pre-trip preparation.  When we arrived, they had us broken into teams and has us snap a picture of our team shopping lists.  Then they set us out with a time goal to go and get everything on our list.  Teams scurried around with easy and joy.  Our LeaderTreks staff and interns were mixed in with our different groups and things went well.  Cullen and Chance and Maria all enjoyed spending time with different team members and beginning to get to know them.  Everyone was able to find things on their list (except me, more on that in a sec) and we got in line and checked out pretty efficiently.  Our original time goal to meet at the front of the store was met but we hadn’t allowed for time to checkout.  This took longer than we had anticipated and set us behind a bit, but not badly.  Once we paid for our haul, we loaded up and headed to the church to settle in.

First Baptist church Avondale Estates is a wonderful and gracious group.  They are allowing us to use their facilities even though we are partnering with Peace Baptist down the road for our work and outreach projects. The facilities are GREAT.  We have plenty of space and lots of amenities. We have air conditioning, showers, and a nice sized kitchen.  They have a walk in fridge and a walk in freezer and have graciously given us shelves in both to store of stuff.  Our team quickly unloaded the groceries, took a tour and then unloaded our stuff and settled into our new home.  We also ran a quick VBS practice and had a blast.  The adults were well behaved as we acted as the children for the day. The team did well, spent some time and debriefed the experience.  We had dinner, team time and quickly headed towards bed…with one minor problem.

The team didn’t have anything to sleep on!  In order to save on baggage costs and to also bless future teams we opted to purchase air mattresses for our team and have them shipped to the church.  We will use them during our trip and then leave them for the rest of the summer and the church afterwards.  This seemed like a great idea and when we walked into the church there was even an air mattress waiting for us…but that was it. One.  The other 14 that we had ordered had been placed on the truck for delivery that day but were never delivered.  Frustrated and tired, most of our team had to sleep on the floor for the night.  Many were so exhausted that it didn’t really matter.  In the morning most students were still tired but had slept better than they thought they would have.  On to our first full day here…

Tuesday 6/5

Our first full day on site was a good day.  It wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad.  We did a lot of good things, but just about everything shared one element—sluggishness.  We just don’t have an urgency.  We are working consistently, but not at a great pace. We are kind of going through the motions.  While this isn’t our ultimate goal for the team, it is understandable at this point and is OK.  We are learning the ropes and getting into a rhythm.  There are lots of times where we have improved throughout the day as we’ve learned and gotten more into the swing of things.  Ultimately, that is what we are hoping to see….growth.

We had our first quiet time this morning.  We are studying Nehemiah for the trip.  Our jr high students just finished studying it.  Also, I’ve done it on a LeaderTreks trip before.  It should prove to be a rich and fruitful study.  It should be very practical.  Our task this morning was to read the entire book.  Most of our group did not get to finish.  It was another example of the day of working diligently and consistently but sluggishly.  We just didn’t quite get through it all!  Despite the challenge, it was a good start to devotional time and to the week.

After Devos we headed off to Peace Baptist to find out about our worksite.  As we pulled up we saw Pastor Darron and Lonnie.  Pastor Darron is the associate pastor of the church and our main contact for the week.  Lonnie is the maintenance supervisor at the church.  (He jokingly told me later how much he enjoyed pastor Darren introducing him like that.  He said “I’m just a janitor!  Maybe I need to see if I can get my check to reflect that lofty title!”  We had a good laugh.  He is a sweet man and you can sense the humility and joy that just oozes from him.)  Pastor Darron shared with our team a little about the vision for Peace Baptist and their history.  He welcomed us and shared a time of prayer with us.  It was encouraging and exciting.  We then learned that our primary task for this first week will be to paint the curbs in their parking lot.  They are old and need to be refreshed.  There are 27 islands in the parking lot that need to be refreshed. After just a single coat of paint they look excellent!  We also have the potential to help with a prayer wall for their church if we get that far.  We will see what happens!  After meeting Pastor Darron and Lonnie we set off to work.  We were broken into teams and had to figure out this whole painting process.  It took us a little bit of problem solving to get into a grove but finally we started to make some progress.  Partway through the morning we took a team break for water and to refocus.  This break was a great way for our worksite leaders to reevaluate our goals and adjust.  They also recast the vision for our project and got the team zoned in. The impact was immediate.  We returned to work with much more fervor and energy.  However, our quality control suffered as a result.  People were finally working with a little more energy and purpose. However, we had several drips and a couple of spills.  We were able to clean up the spills and worked hard for the most part.  We got a fair amount accomplished, but not as much as we had hoped.  Again we failed to meet our time goals due to our sluggishness.  All in all it was a good first day on the worksite but leaves room for some improvement.

After a brief lunch we headed off to VBS.  The VBS is located in the apartment complex right across the street (read major thoroughfare like the Carlisle Pike) from the church.  As we drove into the complex, and down the hill, it was like entering another world.  The hustle and bustle of the busy street was left behind and we drove back to what felt like vacant apartment units.  At the front of the complex there were cars parked and signs of activity and life. At the back, it was quiet, almost desolate.  I wondered if there had been flooding recently that had affected these bottom units (afterall we were heading down to the lowest part of the neighborhood AND there was plenty of Georgia red clay along the sidewalks and parking lot). However, as we turned the corner we saw a couple of groups of adults sitting on picnic tables and hanging out. It was clear that the playground was a gathering point in the neighborhood.  Our team unloaded quickly and prepared to set up for VBS.  The group was quickly divided into 4 groups. Bill and Chance ran back to the church to get the guitar and some tables.  Kristen, Erin, Maria, and Cullen took two groups of students around with fliers to invite kids to join us in a bit.  I stayed back at the playground with a small group to prepare things for the VBS.  The trip around the apartment complex was an adventure.  The students were surprised to see some of the living conditions and were greeted by some interesting and distinct smells  (yes, some of the students correctly identified the smell of marijuana smoke while others were oblivious to the source of the somewhat sweet smoke).

As word spread through the community that we were there, kids started to drift towards the playground area where we are holding the VBS.  At first they were a little stand-offish and tried to hide their curiousity.  However, very quickly they came over and wanted to know what was going on.  As the groups returned from their various errands, kids in tow, it was clear that we were not going to be able to spend practice time before the start of VBS…we were going to have to jump right in!  And jump in we did!  Several games of tag suddenly erupted as our kids and the neighborhood kids started to play together.  Names were learned and kids started to laugh and have fun.  While this was happening, the VBS leadership team was finishing their preparations by going to different groups (song team, lesson team, craft team, etc) and casting a more complete and full vision for the day. It was great to see our kids greet new kids, invite them in and learn names.  I had a chance to briefly speak to a couple of parents as they dropped their kids off.  Mostly the conversations were “if my kids cause you any trouble, I’m in apartment *#&, come knock on the door and I’ll take care of them!”

Overall VBS went very well.  The team still suffered from a lack of urgency and at times didn’t take initiative.  During those times things got a little more chaotic.  However, when the team was focused and things were organized, our group did a superb job.  By far the highlight of the experience was watching the lesson and story time and singing. The students were all engaged and the kids were attentive.  They answered questions and participated extremely well.  Kids who were playing tag with some students had shifted and were helping with other students.  It was a great picture of team ownership.  They worked well as a group, had passion and excitement and just loved the kids well.  There was a brief incident at the end of the day involving a few kids and a mother had to come and help sort things out.  It was great to see that the VBS team was already in the middle of the problem and attempting to resolve it.  At the end, the mother even thanked our students for helping with it.  For a first day it was great and there were a ton of things to praise.  Almost the entire team was engaged and had kids laughing and interacting.  I can’t wait to see how relationships grow throughout this and next week and how the gospel is shared to these little hearts.  There were times of chaos, but that just leaves room for improvement heading forward!

As we headed back to the church it was time to prep for dinner…it was TACO TUESDAY!  However, we quickly ran into our first major problem on the trip…we didn’t get taco seasoning!  It was my fault.  So off I headed to Wal-Mart with Chance to get some taco seasoning and a few other things that we were missing.

Remember yesterday when I mentioned that we were able to find most things on our list but not all…well that was not due to anything on the students’ end.  The Wal-Mart we first went to was NOT well stocked.  In fact, there were entire sections that were almost empty! The sandwhich meats, and meat section in general was almost completely empty.  The deli and prepared foods sections as well.  So, since we needed to make a Wal-Mart run anyway for our missing taco seasoning, we went ahead and grabbed some of the items we were missing from before.

I went with Chance.  Chance is one of the interns.  Before I detail my trip to Wal-Mart, let me tell you a little about Chance and Cullen.    Chance is from Snyder Texas.  He is studying and wants to one day work in the church.  I really enjoyed talking to him about his process and what his future may look like.  He is a lot of fun and is just getting into this LedaerTreks adventure.  He was pointed towards LeaderTreks by a youth pastor from his church.  It so happens that I met his youth pastor when I went to Texas last spring for a Refuel retreat…that is the LeaderTreks family!  Cullen is from Harrisburg!  He is a cool cat too.  I have really appreciated his desire to learn and willingness to engage with the students. They are both great guys and I am excited to see how they build relationships with the students this trip.  They, along with Maria, are here to serve the students and push them towards growth.  I think both of them will do an excellent job in pointing our students towards the Lord.

So, back to my Wal-Mart adventure.  Chance and I quickly got all the things we needed and proceeded to checkout.  Then it was back down to the parking structure BELOW the Wal-Mart.  Yes, there is PARKING UNDER THE WAL-MART.  We took an escalator up and did our shopping…and then had to go back down. THEY HAD AN ESCALATOR FOR THE CARTS! It was crazy.  Google it!  Compared to the previous Wal-Mart, this was high-end!  Everything was easy to find and well stocked.  And they had a cart escalator!!!  It was crazy!

We got back with our goodies just in time for dinner prep team to finish the tacos and everyone enjoyed Taco Tuesday! After dinner was dinner cleanup. It suffered from the same thing that everything else has today…sluggishness.  We weren’t done in our allotted time.  We worked, but not with urgency or speed.  The job was done and done well, but not with excellence.  It is clear that we are dragging and need a pick me up. We got one.

Our air mattresses arrived!  Praise the Lord that everyone will be sleeping on a good air mattress instead of the floor tonight!  I’m sure it will make a world of difference moving forward.  It was super nice to return from VBS to a pile of air mattresses.  (for those who know about my back issues and who may be concerned about last night’s sleeping, I packed my own personal air mattress and brought it with me to ensure that I had a large enough and a quality air mattress for the trip, so I was just fine last night)

After a relatively quick team time, we headed off to bed and everyone quickly and joyfully fell asleep. I’ll describe team time more in the future, but for now, know that even our team times feel sluggish.  Our group is notorious for long and drawnout team times full of great insight and deep conversations.  We typically have good discussions and lots of challenge.  We enjoy worship and get into things deeply. This typically leads to extended meetings.  However, so far on this trip we have finished early both nights.  This is mainly because we just haven’t had a lot to dive into yet in terms of things to evaluate or bible study to discuss.  The other ingredient is that we are tired and just not sharing that much or engaging that much.  I hope tomorrow will be a better day.  We will see.

Prayer requests

  • Urgency and Passion—please pray for our urgency and our passion. We are going through the motions right now but not serving the Lord will passion.  Nothing BAD is happening, but we are not excelling as a team.  Things that should be done in 10 minutes and could be done in 5 minutes are taking 15.  Things that one person could handle are taking 3 people to accomplish.  We need to push a little more and find another gear.
  • Timeliness—because of our lack of urgency, we are consistently missing our time goals.If this doesn’t change, then the leadership is going to have to start “cracking the whip” and that is never a fun thing. As Sam and Mikayla have told us, our attention to timeliness is a direct reflection of our hearts and right now our hearts don’t look too good!  Please pray that we would do a better job of being on time and respecting the schedule on others around us.
  • VBS efforts—we anticipate more children and more opportunities to share our love for the Lord in the VBS. Please pray that we are able to clearly and effectively communicate the gospel to the kids. Play for our safety and the safety of the kids as well.  It is hot and dehydration is a very real problem…its easy to play hard and forget to get drink breaks!

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