450 Students. 32 Super Sketch Vans. 6 Days. 1 Mission.
This year I was blessed with the opportunity to lead a group of Clemson students on a mission trip to Cincinnati. Outside my comfort zone? Heck yes. Qualified? No way. Pumped? Turn down for what.
Our group was a solid mix of guys & girls, underclassman & upperclassman. Each group has a guy leader, girl leader, and a van driver. The pairings are more or less random but somehow I ended up with the best leaders of the whole trip. No joke. Both of them were incredible and have influenced more than they will ever realize.
For our van, we chose to go with an ice cream van theme. Remember those sketchy ice cream trucks that drove through your neighborhood playing that creepy ice cream music loop when your were a kid? We pretty much nailed that stereotype. The amount of upset kids in our wake was a testament to how well we pulled it off. We left Clemson early Saturday morning with Benji at the wheel. His “Shake n Bake” philosophy pulled us all the way up to second place after being the last caravan to leave in the morning. Boom. The van ride up to Cincy pretty much went down as expected. Lots of sleeping, some minor awkwardness, and a ton of expectation for the trip.
Weekend in Cincy
We rolled into Cincy early and got to head to Devou Park for a pretty sick view of the city. While Cincy isn’t the prettiest of cities, this view was incredible and a great way to start our week. Eventually we headed downtown for dinner. One of our orders was messed up, so on our way out we handed the extra sandwich to a homeless guy. Although we weren’t working at our ministry yet, the mission trip had definitely begun. On Sunday morning, we drove over to church. Centerpoint Christian Church. I personally loved it. The set design was great, the music selection was pro, and other than a couple of sleepy campers, the service went well. Here’s a highlight from the message:
“It’s about who we are becoming, not where we are going.”
Afterwards, we headed downtown to check out what the city had to offer. We basically froze to death, chased a couple of geese, and finally stumbled into an ice cream shop. At the coffee shop we met a couple of runners that had just finished a race downtown. We took a group selfie with them as part of the scavenger hunt for the trip. Then, somehow, we all ended up at Tiffany’s looking at diamond rings. It probably wasn’t the best idea haha.
Another set of points on the scavenger hunt required doing a fake proposal to a stranger with a ring pop. Easy. We decided why not get some bonus points and do it with a real diamond ring? The Tiffany’s staff wasn’t too fond of the idea. We moved on to Macy’s and one of our guys convinced the staff here to give him a diamond ring. Boy, the proposal was a tear-jerker. Our next bright idea was to have the guys put on a fashion show for the girls. We weren’t nearly as excited as the girls about this idea haha. We pulled it off well though, don’t you think?
After the girls had their fun, we walked onto the skybridge and danced for the cars passing down below. Oh, and we also took some of those cute group jumping photos. What did you expect? The skybridge connected us to one of the tallest buildings in Cincy, so we rolled over there next. The views were pretty sweet. Eventually we headed back to the hotel for our night session. We were a little early, so most of us just chilled in the lobby. Zack, one of group 27’s own, decided it was a great time to blow our minds. He took out his yo-yo and we all stood there in awe. All of a sudden everyone on the trip wanted to be in Group 27.
“Where can I fill out an application for Group 27?” – #Everyone
Dustin Willis did a great job at jumping right in to the content he had for the week. He talked about fathers and prayer. For the most part, this talk isn’t really for the majority of the people at FCA. Most of us have come from families with a loving disciplinarian father. Yeah, a father that makes mistakes, but for the most part loves his children deeply. But, for some people, their experience with their father really stains their thoughts on what a father should be. And this then damages their view of their heavenly father.
Concerning prayer, he had some great analogies for how we should pray. Think about how a child talks to his father. It’s constant and doesn’t discriminate between the small and significant parts of life. A father hears about everything from his child. That’s what we should strive for in how we pray. He then closed with a simple analogy on life and on trying to understand how events and tragedies fit into the big picture. Think of a puzzle. You pick up a solid colored piece with no details on it. To even have an idea of where it fits in the big picture, you need the back of the box. But with life, we don’t have the back of the box. However, we know the one who does and He cares deeply for us.
“God longs to hear the prayers of his people… how unfortunate for many, he waits in vain.”
After session, our group broke into girls and guys. Guys time was in the van. At this point it was still a little awkward since we didn’t know each other that well, but it was a really important time. Before finally calling it a night, we headed over to Waffle House. Capp, one of the guys in the group, had apparently developed a special relationship with Lisa, a waiter. Boy were they tight. Capp ordered one PB and chocolate chip waffle and Lisa came out with two for him. Cute.
Let’s Do This
Monday. Game time. This is why we came and I was pumped.
Before the trip, we were told that we would be doing construction. Other than that, we really didn’t know what to expect. We worked with an organization that does home repairs for people around the city. Overall, the group wasn’t that pumped about doing construction. It was freezing outside and we doubted that we would get to really meet anyone from the city. I constantly had to remind myself to keep a positive attitude about it all. This quickly changed.
We made our way to the worksite and knocked on the door of a pretty small house. A guy named Justin answered the door and retreated back into his room. Truthfully, that’s the last I expected to see of him. His grandmother was the homeowner and who we were probably going to work with. We immediately got to work trying to figure out where all the supplies were stashed and what projects around the house needed to get done. We worked on Justin’s house for two days. By the end of our time there, we had painted a wooden fence, indoor stairway, bathroom, shed, aluminum fence, two small porches, and built a handrail. Go hard or go home.
Toward the end of the first day, Justin came out a little bit and talked with some with us. We were able to hear a little of his story. But he quickly shut down and put up his walls – “I bet all of you have both your parents.” Without going into too much detail, Justin hadn’t really known his father and his mother died three years ago. The sad part is that he had been living with his grandmother at the time and no one had told him about his mother. To cope, he had turned to video games. I can’t blame him. I struggle with self-worth even with two amazing, loving parents. How on earth does he make it through without some sort of coping mechanism?
Our heart was broken for this guy. Although I don’t know for sure, I would bet he has used the parents comment a lot when people try to reach out to him. It’s his way to say ‘you don’t understand what I’ve been through’. Amazingly, one of the girls in our group did understand and had just lost her father.
Justin wasn’t alone. It was a powerful moment for him and for us.
Over the next couple of hours and the following day, Justin really came alive. He started smiling and laughing. It brought the grandmother to tears to finally see her grandchild smiling and laughing for the first time in a while. The house all of a sudden was bursting with joy. It was so refreshing. Justin even started helping us around the house and we inducted him into our group by putting him on the hot seat. I absolutely loved hearing him talk about his passions to us.
Our group continued to pour into Justin and encouraged him to grieve to heal. Before we left the worksite, we ran over to the store and bought the grandmother some flowers for her new porch. For Justin, we picked up a bible and highlighted our favorite verses. I’m praying this small gift brings an abundance of hope into his life.
After finishing up at the house our first day, we made our way over to Eden park. The view were ehhh. But we got in another cute jumping picture, so it was worth it. We then had ice cream on our minds and drove around the city looking for a place to stop. We stopped next to a sweet coffee shop and then continued our search on foot. We didn’t find any ice cream, but we did find this sweet mural. Both Monday and Tuesday nights followed a similar pattern. Dinner, session, group time. I would love to dive more into our session time, but truthfully, a lot of the life change happened outside of session. Dustin pretty much continued on the theme of prayer and fathers. “When you pray, approach as a child would… bring the messiness, bring the anxiety, bring the small problems, bring the big problems.”
After session on Monday night, I grabbed the guys and we went to my room for guy time. We started off by talking about the message Dustin shared and then I posed a question for the guys. It was about doubt. Obviously with any worldview you hold to, doubt is going to be something you’ll wrestle with. Personally, I go through really deep seasons of doubt. And I struggled with this until someone pointed out John’s story in the gospels.
John the Baptist was the guy that sorta paved the way for Jesus and absolutely lost his mind when Jesus showed up at the river one day. “This is the guy! Follow him, not me!” But when you turn to Matthew 11, a couple of chapters later in the gospels, we find him in jail, asking “Are you the one, or should we be waiting for another?” If John doubted, then I can definitely be comfortable doubting. This story opened us up to talk about how much we doubt and how we should wrestle with it. It was an eye-opening discussion for me and I hope so for the guys as well.
This question opened up a good opportunity for me to share my testimony with the guys. It’s still not the most fluid story, but I’m a lot more comfortable sharing it now. Tuesday night was supposed to be guys time again, but the girls decided that they loved us too much, so we came together as a full group. We found a closet off to the side of the ballroom and truthfully, I just hoped for the best.
Dang, this time was great. One point that I won’t forget for a long time is one that Amelia brought up. She asked, “why can’t we be this selfless and concerned about others when we’re back at Clemson?” I was thinking the exact same thing the entire day at the worksite. I guess we just get distracted with our own schedules, lives, and friends. It’s pretty sad. And something to think about.
White Castle Ministry
Unfortunately Waffle House wasn’t an option Tuesday night, so we rolled over to White Castle. Yeah, White Castle. I almost got sick walking into the place. Not sure exactly what they serve there, but it’s not burgers that’s for sure. A couple of people in our group noticed a homeless guy walking around and stopped to see if we could pay to get him something to eat. Of course, he didn’t turn down free food. No one would.
Over the next hour or two, we got to hear Josh’s story and really just sit and listen. It’s incredible how much healing can come to someone if they just have someone that will listen to them. After hearing his story, we were able to encourage him and invite him to hang out with us the next day and come to session with us. I also got to talk to an old guy named John. He pretty much told me his life story; everything from Vietnam to his family life. The best part was that this all happened at White Castle haha. Later that night, I ran back into Josh and got to pray over him.
Sweet Ms Meyers
For our last day of ministry, we got to paint the inside of Ms. Myers’ house. We all crowded into the super hot and smokey house together, really wishing we were back at Justin’s house hanging out with him instead of with her. But this all changed once we looked under her bed…. Kittens! So much for painting. Everybody pretty much went straight to play with the kittens. And we actually ended up taking them with us in the van for the afternoon. Ms Meyers herself was quite the character. She had bought herself a shirt that said “YOLO – Do it up!” and had no idea what it really meant. It was hilarious as we tried to explain to her what it meant to and record a video with her saying YOLO.
After finishing up Ms Meyer’s house, we rolled out and made our way to Walmart to pick up some clothes for Josh. While we were doing this, we stumbled on some cat shirts! I bought two. #noregrets. Cat shirts are incredible. After session, we decided to spend our last night bonding over some IHOP. Wish I could replay the discussion we had over our pancakes. It made my night.
Back to Clemson
Early Thursday morning we packed up and started the car ride home. As expected, the first half was spent sleeping. Eventually we all woke up and did what’s called the “encouragement circle”. Sounds lame. It’s incredible though. Trust me. Basically, we put someone on the “hot seat” then everyone has an opportunity to talk about how awesome the person is and how they saw the love of Christ shine through them. It was a special time.
8 hours later we rolled back up to Clemson. And that’s when it hits you. The exhaustion, the friendship, the love, and the memories. Looking back, I’m blown away by my co-leader Anna. She was team mom and lead the group so well. I was taught more and poured into more by her than anyone else on the trip. Until next time… CU Cincy.