I’ve just returned from a week in Beattyville, KY. I took 28 high school students there for lots of reasons, but I suppose the overall #1 reason was to serve those in need. And while we did certainly do that, I believe that each of our hearts were served as well. Each person who went on that trip returned changed in some way, perhaps in ways that won’t be overtly visible for some time. Let me tell you about some of the things I did, saw, and learned…in no particular order.
I learned that I don’t like driving in West Virginia. With apologies to my senior pastor, Jerome Hancock’s home state, I just can’t enjoy driving through hills like that on curves like those behind the wheel of a 15-passenger van while pulling a trailer full of luggage. In our long caravan of vehicles, I was definitely “the slow one” of the group as we navigated those curves. But you know what? I’m used to be “the slow one” in most contexts. If you know me personally, stop laughing.
I love watching teens serve others. All week long, I saw high school students give of themselves in a myriad of ways. From painting, to repairing fire damage on a home, to installing lattice to protect small children on a home’s porch, to entirely replacing an unsafe porch, to cleaning up “the ravine” which was basically a dump set on the side of a steep hill, to playing with and laughing with children who exist daily in deep and desperate poverty, to restoring dignityand honor to overgrown cemeteries where they walked among the headstones, noting the names and especially the ages of those who had died, to sitting and conversing with nursing home residents whose visitors are few and far between, to loving the people of an entire town while spreading the hope and love that God has for every creature. All week long, I watched high school students work together to accomplish whatever task was in front of them; and not begrudgingly, but with enthusiasm. Read Ephesians 6:7 and know that these students fulfilled it to the letter.
I learned that going “over there” shouldn’t be that different from staying “right here” when it comes to our perspective on serving, loving, and blessing those around us. Mission trips do so much good for “that” place and “those” people who live a safe distance away, but the beautiful honor of God shines even brighter when we begin to live unsafe and gracious lives right here. Its easy to bless a stranger somehow. Its tougher when we’re called (and we are) to selflessly bless those that we see everyday. There’s more risk involved, more accountability, and more scrutiny as they inspect our integrity. But didn’t Jesus say that “you’ll be my witnesses and JERUSALEM, Judea, Samaria…” and isn’t Jerusalem (first on the list) really representative of “home” or “where you are right now”? Often times we’re more comfortable going to “the ends of the earth” (last on the list) than we are going across the street.
I also learned that if you encounter a bear, you shouldn’t play dead, run away, or turn your back on the bear. The week before our arrival in Beattyville, a man was mauled by a bear that was still on the loose. So we received frequent reminders as to what to do should we encounter a bear. The jist of what you’re to do when you see a bear is to “get big”. Put your arms out, stand up straight, and make yourself look as big as possible. Because what bear doesn’t like a challenge? Thankfully, we never saw any bears. If you’d like to see the bear we didn’t see, click here.
Another experience I had for the very first time was getting hit with a hammer in the chest. Somehow God protected me from serious injury, but there was a split second that I thought “This is it. I’m gonna die right here in this backyard in Beattyville, KY.” Thankfully, as you can tell, I’m still very much alive. Long story short, one of our students was doing EXACTLY what I had told him to do, but on one of his full and robust swings of the hammer, he completely missed his target and since I was standing right next to him, the business end of his hammer swing found the right side of my rib cage. Needless to say, he felt more than bad about it. To him I’ll say again (because he’s beating himself up): You know who you are, and I COMPLETELY forgive you. It was an accident, so really there’s nothing to forgive. But to help ease your mind, I forgave you the instant it happened.
I learned a great synonym for prayer. Prayer is a “longing”. No matter if we are longing to be close to God, or longing for help in some way, or longing for a physical healing for a loved one, or longing to express our raw emotion to God, or longing for wisdom in parenting or some other area of life; how many times have I uttered a prayer without a sense of longing? How many times was it just words and not heart? The Bible tells us to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires (the longings) of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) When I pray, I will be mindful that I’m conveying the longings of my heart.
I learned that pity alone is pointless and useless. Look up the word “pity” and you’ll find this definition: “a feeling of sadness because of another person’s trouble or suffering, or the capacity to feel this.” Believe me, there were plenty of opportunities for sadness this past week in Beattyville. But if you looked around, sadness was actually quite hard to find. The emotion of sadness was only a brief stepping stone that led our group to action, which brought change, which brought blessing, which brought gladness.
We had a wonderful week away in Beattyville, KY. We loved the people that God loves, we were blessed by those people probably even more than we blessed them, and we drew near to God and to the concept that every person we saw is the object of God’s eternal affection. This point was made most clear as we celebrated communion on a mountain top Friday morning. As students and leaders took their turn pinching a piece of bread (the body of Christ) from the loaf and dipping into the bowl of grape juice (the blood of Christ), I listened to Bobby and Josh who were holding the bread and juice say to each person, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” It struck me anew that if we could line up the entire population of earth, some 6 billion humans and have them each take a piece of that bread and dip it into that juice, and utter those words–it would be true for every one of them. The body and blood of Christ was broken and shed for every person on earth. If that’s true, then aren’t I called to treat every human with the grace of God that has been so freely shown and given to me? Anything less puts me in the position of judge and decider as to who receives God’s grace and love–a position God never intended me to fill.
My sole call and purpose is to love, bless, serve, and give myself away to others to this end: “That they may see my good works and glorify my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)