When I would tell people I was headed out for a week-long mission trip with middle school kids, I got a lot of sympathetic looks — and a few inquiries into my sanity. Why on earth, they wondered, would I voluntarily spend a summer week working outside, sleeping on an air mattress, surrounded by 6th, 7th and 8th graders?
I wasn’t sure sometimes, myself. But I know why now.
The last evening we were in Abilene, our van of middle school kids pulled up to a stoplight. On the median, a homeless man was asking for donations. Unprompted, the kids started scrambling.
Someone found a Gatorade. Another grabbed a bag of pretzels. One kid got out his wallet, and pulled out the money left there. Just a couple bucks, but we were headed to an arcade. That didn’t stop him from pressing it into the hands of the youth minister driving the van.
The man was happy and grateful — and then he said, “hey, I know you. You’re the kids from San Antonio who have been here this week.” He talked about one of the places he knew we’d been. A feeding program for the homeless and working poor, where earlier in the week kids from our group had helped make lunch, then sat and talked with the people there.
A week. And a homeless man on the sidewalk knew who we were, and why we had come. He’d seen them.
I saw them, too. Watched them sing as they picked up trash from alleys in 100-degree heat. Heard them laugh as they sorted pallets of donated food for the food bank. They cooked and then delivered meals for homebound seniors, sat alongside kids at a summer feeding program and talked to them as if they’d known them all their life. I worked alongside them to paint the home of an elderly woman. Then, as we drove away, I glanced back to see her standing on the porch dabbing away tears as we drove away.
And I never heard complaining. Not when it was 109 degrees outside. Not when they had to wait in line for the one working shower. Not when a stomach bug swept through and knocked out a tenth of the kids.
Instead, night after night when they got back, I saw kids line up to share their “God sightings” for the day. I saw them worship without inhibition, with their hands and hearts lifted towards heaven. I saw them pray, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in front of the group, sometimes off in a corner by themselves.
We had water fights while washing church vans, played enough Justin Beiber to last me four lifetimes, drank enough Sonic slushes to fill a small pond, and had whole days where they decided to talk in country accents and start every sentence with “Oh Sweet Mama!”
I would not trade a minute of it. Well, maybe the parts that involved cleaning up after the aforementioned stomach bug. I would definitely trade those.
But this week, I fell in love with a group of middle school kids, and a little more with Jesus. Their theme for the trip was “let love win,” and this week? It was a total knockout.