The youth summer mission trip to St. Simon's Island last week was packed full of service and fun, and 8th grader Thomas Horton invites us in to some of his day-by-day thoughts and reflections from the trip:
Sunday - “Rush it, or don't?"
The trip started on the buses, and since I wasn’t on the bus with the rest of the boys, I was able to sleep on the way there. Mostly I listened to music though, so we didn't really talk until close to the end of the ride. We talked about random things and what made us excited about the week to come.
When we got there, we unpacked our bags and headed to the chapel, where we found fog machines, strobe lights and not a single Acoustic instrument. In my opinion, it wasn't the best way to praise God and this will sound very millennial, but everything was so over-hyped. I’m not saying this way of praising God was bad, but I'm pretty sure fog machines and strobe lights weren't what He was thinking. Hey, I could be wrong. Whatever floats your boat.
Then came the preacher, who was a comedian of sorts. He went through a lot of different Tarzan and Fruit analogies, but his main theme was "Taking Baby Steps." After the message, he asked the audience to come up and pray, so some of the group decided to go up, including me, Mathew Jackson, Graham, and Bo. Then they took us into a side room and gave us different pamphlets and calendars and books, and told us they'd call us every Friday for a year. Now this confused me, because just a minute ago, we were talking about baby steps, and this seemed like a big step for me. So that left me wondering how they really wanted us to live out our Christian faith as I climbed into my bunk bed at night.
Monday - The Innocence of Children
Monday was chalked full of stuff to do. It was our first day of work, and our first day at the beach (I'll get to that later). We spent our work hours at the Boys and Girls Club. I was with Connor (one of the interns), Kevin, Chapman, and Bo, and we went and played games with 10 year olds. First we played a game of Pulse, a team game. Then we rotated to other groups, and played in the game room, the gym, and outside.
Afterwards we went to the Shark Beach (I don’t know the real name so we’ll call it that for now). The weather wasn't really beach worthy, but that didn't stop anyone. We ran down to the beach and kept running until we finally got to the sandbar, where we hung out for a little bit until we got back into the water later. The most memorable part of our time at the beach that day was when we found a shark. Well, it was a dead baby shark, but we still took about a hundred pictures with it before we went back into the water to play some games of Mr. President.
We then headed to Dairy Queen, where Campbell got her first Dairy Queen ice cream ever, and then went back to our base at Epworth. We met at our own smaller chapel where we sang songs (this time with acoustic guitars) and then talked about our day and how it related to God. We talked a lot about the kids, and their innocence. We went around telling stories about how one kid would be mad at another kid, and then the next moment they would be best friends. This, we all decided, was why we should all strive to be more like children. As S.E. Hinton wrote in The Outsiders, "Nature's first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, nothing gold can stay."
Tuesday - The Ability We are Given
The next day, we went to help out a veteran in need. He was in Operation Desert Storm and lost a leg during his time there. This affected him and his ability to clean his house, which was not in good shape. We did what good we could, which included mowing his lawn, chipping off old paint, clearing out all of the trash that he couldn't pick up, and demolishing his kitchen to be rebuilt by another youth group later in the week. All of these things were things he couldn't do, but the smile on his face and the help we were giving him lifted our spirits.
Later that day we went to a different beach, which, since I also forget the name of that beach, we'll call Jellyfish Beach. It was a nice beach, and everyone was having a good time. Remember how there was a shark at Shark Beach though? Well, if there was a Shark at Shark Beach, there must have been a Jellyfish at Jellyfish Beach, right? Well it wouldn’t have been named Jellyfish Beach if I hadn’t gotten stung by a Jellyfish. Henry was the first to react, and he carried me to the shore. Jad scraped out the stingers, and Kevin even gave me Benadrill to help me sleep.
Well, enough about me.
Afterwards we went to Chic-fil-a, and then later we met at the same little chapel where we sang some more and then split up into groups. My group included Connor, Chapman, Kevin and Mathew Jackson, and Graham. We talked a lot about how we had the ability to do things that others couldn’t, and we each shared about what we did to help the veteran. I think that we should all use our abilities God has given us to help those in need.
Wednesday - A Living Sacrifice
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” - Romans 12. These were the Bible verses we read every day that week. Mostly though, we talked about what it meant to be a living sacrifice. It is, after all, an odd choice of words, as most sacrifices tend to not be living.
That day, we worked at the Safe Harbor Children’s Shelter for runaway kids. It wasn’t backbreaking work, but it was long and painstaking and full of painting. If I had a penny for every time I had to rush to the bathroom to clean off some paint, I’d... have at least a quarter. Maybe 50 cents. But that’s besides the point. Lunch was probably my favorite part, where we all sat around the kitchen table and shouted the lyrics to old songs, and I noticed the surprised look on one of the Safe Harbor Supervisor’s face when he saw us having such a good time doing all of the volunteer work. However, there was one part of our time that caught mine and a couple of other people's attention: we barely saw the kids.
After we had worked at the Children’s Shelter for the day, we hung out around our cabins or played games until we went to the chapel. We talked about what it meant to be a living sacrifice, and came to the conclusion that being a living sacrifice was being in complete service to God, and going out to do God’s will, whether it meant spreading the Christian faith, or to help those in need. Kristin, another one of our interns, explained why we saw so little of the kids. First, they weren’t really little kids like we expected them to be; they were our age, and listening to us talk about things they didn’t have could affect them in a negative way. This reminded us that we had so much to be thankful for.
Thursday - The Little Things
We all went to sleep tired that night after a long night of bowling, (or watching Spiderman Homecoming if you are Eli, Nate, or Bo) and the almost midnight pit stop at McDonald's. The next day was the last day we did mission work. It was also probably the most underwhelming work days of them all because all we did was clean up a park. This consisted of scraping paint off of and painting the benches, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do. The reason I called the work underwhelming was because we weren't really making a direct impact on anyone. On Monday, we hung out with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club, which directly impacted the kids because they got a better day out of it. On Tuesday, we directly helped a war veteran in need by working on his house and cleaning it up, and on Wednesday, we cleaned up the Safe Harbor children’s shelter and that directly helped the children by giving them a better place to live. So what was the big deal with cleaning the park, and why did it feel like there was no direction in our work?
Later in the day we went to a new beach, and that day the beach was a stereotypical summer beach: cloudless sky, semi-mild water, and lots of people. Surprisingly enough, it was a very normal trip to the beach compared to the other two trips. We had a lot of fun at the beach, and after we went back to Epworth and hung out for a while until our time had come to watch the sunset. We went out by the pier and sang songs as the sun dipped below the horizon. We ended our singing with prayer, and headed off with our little groups to discuss the day. Jad talked to us about how our work on the benches impacted people, and his main point was the people you don’t see, the ones who sleep on the benches we painted because they don’t have a place of their own. This gave us a whole new perspective of what we did that day. As Eli put it, “This was one of those jobs where a job well done isn’t noticed.” Sometimes the little things do matter. So, after a long game of capture the flag that Augie and I could have won for our team if Reid Mallard hadn’t pulled the plug, we went to bed that night, our time at Epworth drawing to a close.
Friday - Sunrise
We woke up early on Friday to watch the sunrise, which was kind of symbolic for our lesson of the day, which was mostly about how we would carry our experience with us. In this perspective, the trip wasn’t really over. In fact, it really is just a new beginning isn’t it? But it still was sad to watch my home for the week get smaller and smaller in the distance. On the way back we played a lot of games and did riddles, but I knew I would miss these guys for a while, even those who I would see in the following weeks, because the mission trip brought the group together in ways other things couldn’t.
Until next year.