NYC Youth Mission Trip 2019

7BAD97C0-0541-45E3-8E6E-63D5219A7F89Dear Mission Trip Community,

I write this from the airplane as our community flies across the country from east coast to west coast.  After just shy of a week in New York City, we are returning to our families, our homes, our city, and our state.  We are returning to the lives we lived before we departed.  In many ways, these lives will be much the same as they were before.  And yet, the experiences; the ups and downs, the sights and sounds of the six days we have been a community will have forever changed us. Six days in which we worked hard and played hard.  Six days in which we loved each other deeply, beautifully and profoundly.  I want to write to you about some of these experiences and the ways that I saw our young people and their adult companions manifest love, both sharing it and receiving it. I will only note a few instances, and only mention by name a few, but this is by no means a testament and witness to all the experiences of manifesting love.  If I were to write a letter naming each individually and every moment of love manifesting you would have quite the tome.

Love manifested the first half of our week in the ways that our young people and adults volunteered through Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP.)  Collectively, we traveled to four of the five boroughs of the city covering much ground and serving many communities of New York City.  Our group was split into two teams.  Each team served at various nonprofits, religious institutions, and other organizations including food kitchens and pantries, a community garden and a convent.  At these places, they served along fellow New Yorkers as well as other visiting youth and adults volunteering through YSOP including a large group of youth from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

IMG_4642On our first day of volunteering, our youth spent the evening preparing dinner for a small group of homeless and hungry individuals.  They began the evening by peeling, chopping, mixing, buttering bread, and saucing pasta.  They then welcomed their guests. They showed guests to their tables, chatted and invited them to play games.  Some introduced their new acquaintances to Apples to Apples. Caroline taught her opponent how chess pieces move and talked them through various strategies that might work.  After games were finished, our youth served each guest their meal asking guests what they wanted and getting it for them.  They ended the meal with ice cream and brownies.  I joined Ashley and Brooke as they talked with one of the guests who shared much about their life and their dreams of being on stage and someday writing a musical.  Sediq who regularly helps groups serve these meals gave rave reviews of and compliments to our young people during the evening and even on other days that we ran into him.  YSOP staff also gave high praise to our young people.

On Thursday and Friday, love manifested through our cultural and social outings.   We visited Ellis Island where many immigrants entered into the United States for the first time seeking out the land of the free and the opportunities our country offered then and still offers now.  Perhaps some of our own families’ ancestors sailed on these waters and passed through the buildings we walked around and explored.  Christian, Henry, and others went through some of the exhibits together.  They interacted with a touch screen that showed how many people of a particular nationality were in the country and how those populations were spread out by state.  They were surprised that California appeared in the top 3 states for many of the various nationalities that make up our very diverse country.  Later they tested their knowledge taking a short version of the U.S. Citizenship test.  Not everyone passed.  They recognized the privilege of not having had to pass a test like some others have to do.  After this, we visited the Statue of Liberty.  The group was impressed by just how big and immense it was.

IMG_4816We left Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to go see Wicked the musical on Broadway.  Everyone enjoyed the spectacle.  For many, it was the highlight of the day and I suspect for many it was the highlight or at least a highlight of the week.  For me, this was the case.  The first show I saw when I moved to New York City was Wicked and for the two and a half years I lived there I went to Broadway shows in particular musicals as often as I could manage.  And so it was a great joy seeing youth leaning forward on the edge of their seats, elbows on knees and heads resting on the palms of their hands as their eyes were transfixed on the stage.  I soaked in and treasured every moment of hearing their laughter, their gasps of shock and surprise as they rode the emotional roller coaster of great theater.  I am currently listening to the soundtrack as I write this to you and the warmth of the love in that brief couple of hours has yet to diminish in the slightest.  In fact, I think it grows warmer with each lyric and each recalling.

On our last full day, everyone slept in.  Earning well-deserved rest.  We then went to Dylan’s Candy Store and lunch at Serendipity 3.  The rest of this day was spent at Coney Island.  We screamed in joy and in a little bit of terror as we rode roller coasters, drove go-karts, and were put into a slingshot (a ride where two get into an orb-like structure and are launched up into the air.)  We ended the evening on the Boardwalk right in front of the beach in the dead of night as fireworks rose up into the sky.  White lights soaring high, whistling loudly, popping, and bursting into specks of reds, greens, and purples.   Our young people thought it was quite a good show.  It felt like an appropriate finale to a wonderful week together.

As I reflect on the week, I think about all the frustrations that come with travel and doing things in groups.  I recognize how my own personal frustrations seem so small or minimal in retrospect.  And I suspect even if we were to take into account all the frustrations of each and every one of those in our community throughout the entirety of the trip that our joys would still far outweigh our frustrations.  I would even suggest that our joys are made that much more enjoyable because of the frustrations.  We had to learn to be together.  We had to learn what worked for us as a community and what did not work for us.  We had give a little so that some could get a little.  The reality is not everyone got all they wanted or everything they wanted in any moment but I believe everyone got what they needed and much of what they wanted and no one was left sorely lacking.  And ultimately, this is what community is and how community works.

I am so proud of this community.   As their families, you share in this pride.  And I hope that they acknowledge all that they have done and accomplished, enjoyed and worked through this week and that they feel a sense of pride.  It is a pride not rooted in their own ability or greatness or goodness but a pride rooted in the love that we have shared as a community. It is rooted in a love that called us to serve others, to serve one another and to, in turn, serve God and to be God’s love to each other and each person we encountered on our journey.  It is a love that will remain with us and call us to act similarly in whatever places we find ourselves and in whatever communities we join.

I can never express how honored I am that you continually entrust your young people to the church and I nor can I express the immense blessing they are to Trinity youth’s group and the church and to me personally.  They give as much and often more to me as I could ever hope to give to them and I thank God for that and for each one of them.

Please take time to talk with your youth about their experiences, to share in their joys and frustrations and to praise them for their efforts.

Please also take time to thank Meg and Aaron for all they have done to care for our young people.  It is a herculean effort to be a mission trip chaperone and they do it well and with such Grace.

If you have any feedback from yourself as families and your youth both praising or critique feel free to let me know those as well.

Blessings of Peace,

{see also our Facebook Photo Album}

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