The Youth at our church participated in Missions Week all last week. Missions week is a week of where the youth spend the night together (guys in the gym, girls on the youth hall) and during the day participate in local mission opportunities in our community. Tony (youth minister) invited one of his close friends, Jason Brown, to be the worship leader all week. Jason opened every morning and closed every night with worship.
Over forty middle school and high school youth participated this year. The youth painted rooms in the new Homeless Shelter, served meals at the soup kitchen, cleaned closets in the church (they completely filled two 20-yard dumpsters), and picked up trash at one of the homeless camps.
My wife, Amanda (associate youth director) spent the night at the church all week, so I was Mr. Mom with the kids with the help of the babysitter. I did get the opportunity to help by leading a group of nine youths in the trash collection in the homeless camp Wednesday morning. I arrived at the church Wednesday morning at 8AM. Jason gave a great message about how the simple acts we do help to make all things new – “On Earth as it is in Heaven”. Good message to think about during the morning.
We arrived at the entrance to the homeless camp around 9AM. My parents met me there to help – my dad has been working with IMS handing out food packs to the homeless since retiring. It was nice to have them helping. Mom and dad took five middle schoolers and went to the tents to the west of the railroad tracks. I took four high schoolers and went to the tents to the east of the tracks. Supplied with grabbers, gloves, and trash bags from Huntsville’s Green Team and bags of bottled water and apples we went.
The city has an understanding with the homeless in this camp. The camp is under a section of interstate highway 565. You would never know the camp existed unless you traveled on the roads underneath the interstate in an impoverished area of town. To the city, it’s out of site out of mind. They allow them to live there as long as they keep it clean and stay out of the public eye. For the most part, the camps were pretty clean. We did find the hidden trash dump areas on the fringe of the camps, and that is what we worked on for a while. We ended up filling 10 garbage bags in the two hours we worked on the trash.
After cleaning for a while, we set out to hand out water and apples to the tenants of the tent communities. Most were away from their tents working or looking for work – we just left water and apples next to the entrance of their tents. We did run into a group of five pretty rough looking guys that were about half deep into a large bottle of a homemade looking spirit. I was a little uneasy as I approached them with high school kids. I told the guys that we were with Trinity UMC and participating in a week of missions. Some laughed and started saying, “Praise Jesus! We love Jesus!” I couldn’t tell if there were joking or not, so I went along with it. They accepted the water and apples that we offered. After a couple more exchanges about where they were from, we were about to move on to the next camp. Before we left, one of the guys asked if we would pray for them. This caught me off guard. I confidently said sure, but then proceeded to bumble through a prayer for them. Maybe it sounded better to them than it did to me.
Overall, it was a great experience. I believe that the youth appreciated the opportunity to see the raw side of how some people in our community live. I enjoyed cleaning the camps. I imagine it feels to them like it felt to me when my mom would unexpectedly clean my room when I was a teenager. (It didn’t happen often, but it felt really good to unexpectedly see a clean room).
I still feel bad for the bumbled prayer. I realized this is an area that I need to work on. I don’t want to come up with silly canned prayers to whip out. I want to see others needs and articulate them and ask God’s grace to be with them. Anyone else ever have this problem? Any suggestions?