Saturday, July 29, 2006

Summer youth group ponderings.....what if.....

As i think about how I view summer youth group activities the following pops into my head:

What if......

* Every one of our kids was invited to breakfast by one of our leaders twice over the summer
* Our leaders went to one sporting event, recital, practice, etc each month
* A phone call was made to just say "hi, how's your summer going" to each of our kids
* Our summer "program" consisted of a mission trip and a camping trip - the rest of the time was left unscheduled
* We made the time to sit down with the parents of our kids over the summer and asked them what their hopes and dreams were for their children - spiritually, relationally, school, career, etc.

How would this effect the spiritual growth of our kids? Would it be different than what we are doing now? Is it either/or......both/and? How would it impact our leaders? More burnout or less?

What is the wise way?

Kid's quote...

The following quote was heard as two "almost eight" y.o.'s exit the movie theater to use the bathroom - during the AMC music previews portion of the show.

"If we didn't have to go to the bathroom we could be dancing right now!"

I'm convinced that part of having a childlike faith is dancing with God - and not caring if anyone else is watching.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Summer youth group activities - what's the value?

Trips to the amusement park, gatherings for swimming/BBQ's, movies, bowling, paint ball, "the mission trip", bike trips, etc....

These are some of the types of activities that I have tried to schedule this summer for our youth. Our regular "programming" stops over the summer and we do 3-5 special events along with a mission trip.

At times, I wonder, what impact having these events has. Now I must say I can't imagine not doing a mission trip over the summer, especially having just returned from Mexico and the cool things I saw happen there to me and the youth that went along. But the other events i struggle with.

What are your thoughts?

If a parent - do you think there is value in these gatherings or is it "just another thing." If there is value - what is it? How does that value compare to the value of a sports practice, play practice, band practice, etc? What is your hope for your child in attending these events?

If a youth worker - what is your purpose in having these events? Do you think that purpose is accomplished? Do you think your group would be negatively affected if you didn't schedule these outings?

If a student - do you see these gatherings different than other outings you go on during the summer? If so, how so? What are the factors that help you decide whether to go to a "youth group" event or not?

Do you think there is a better way for achieving what you feel God's plan is for the kids He has entrusted you with over the summer?

I'd love to hear your thoughts......(both of you!)

Converging quotes...

I ran into this quote from Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today, and author of Jesus Mean and Wild while reading Scot McKnight's blog.

"God loves you and has a difficult plan for your life."

I was also reading this passage from Phillipians 1 this morning:

"There's far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There's also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You're involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter. "

Knowing that the journey is difficult increases my trust in Christ - knowing that He is persevering through the adventure with me. But running into these quotes on the same day is a little unnerving....

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Adventures in a "girlie" jeep.....

My wife and I recently returned from a wonderful trip visiting our daughter, Kate, who is working at the 4UR guest ranch in Creede, CO.

We flew into Denver then rented a Jeep Liberty to drive to Creede. When our kids at home heard we were renting a Jeep Liberty they began referring to it as a "girlie" jeep.

"Seriously, Dad, do you know anyone who owns that car that isn't a girl?" was the question they posed.

Here are some stories of adventure while driving our "girlie" jeep.....

"How does the 4wd gear shift work?" While playing around on some gravel roads in the rain, we (I?) decided to try out the 4wd. I wasn't sure how to work it other than pulling up on the little gear shift next to the big one. I pulled it up and it worked fine.....low gear 4wd. We tooled around for a few minutes then decided to head back into town. The problem arose when I was unable to push the lever back wouldn't go back into 2wd! Katie thought it was funny. My wife however had visions of us driving back to Denver in low gear and didn't look to amused. After struggling with it for a few minutes it did go back into gear.....and all was right with the world.

"Flash floods and avalanches" That same night that we tried the 4wd, there was a torrential rain storm. It lasted a good 2 hours with an amazing lightning display across the mountains. We were taking Kate back to the ranch after having seen a play in Creede. It was dark, raining, and we were on a two lane paved road. I thought the two cars in front of us were going WAY to slow for conditions - yeah, a little hard to see with the weather, but 15 MPH?! Then the cars in front of me started to swerve. Just as I'm wondering "what are they doing?" I see some soccer ball size rocks on the road! We were driving along a sheer cliff and the rain had washed rocks onto the road. YIKES. We came upon two or three more areas where rocks had ended up on the road...from gravel to rocks about the size of a large watermelon. That will get your adrenaline pumping!

We eventually found the road to the ranch - a packed gravel road that runs along Goose Creek, an off shoot of the Rio Grande river. We turn onto the road and cross the bridge over the Rio Grande. As we do, we can see that there is water covering up the road ahead....and there are logs and stuff floating in the water......and the water is moving......and the road is quickly dissappearing in front of us! As Kimpa would later "man genes" kicked in - gotta save the family! I am freaked out. Kimpa and Katie are laughing as I execute a three point turn on a narrow road, in the dark, missing and confusing drive/neutral/reverse many times. By the time I get turned around the water is at the car.......we bolt back across the bridge and I endure the combination of relief, laughter, and comments by my wife and daughter. We decide to head back to Creede (driving thru the avalanches again!) and spend the night there - but not before Kate and Kimpa have me take their picture on the bridge as a flash flood is happening! *Sheesh!*

Good adventures.....driving around with the girls in the "girlie" jeep!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Just a Pane

Just a pane separated us from him.

We were on the inside and he was on the outside. I’m not even sure why I noticed him. In the midst of enjoying lunch with Kelsey and Drew at HardRock Cafe, something about the form on the other side of the window drew my attention. It wasn’t his face as his back was turned toward us. It was something about his posture. A posture that seemed to say, “I’m beat down, I’m tired, I don’t have a place to be.”

Just a pane separated us from him.

I don’t think he was aware of us. His back was to us and he seemed to be staring straight ahead – out at the street from where he had just come. He was sitting at a table by himself, slowly sipping a drink through a straw – something that looked like Mountain Dew. Through the glass and the slats in the blinds I could see a few days growth of a beard. He sat with his head held slightly to the left. A slight slump defined his spine. It seemed he was trying to make his drink last as long as possible.

Just a pane separated us from him.

I never saw him served. I don’t know how he got his drink. I did see him get up and leave. He left no money and just walked into the street as if this was part of his normal routine. He wandered a ½ block, looked in a couple windows, then paused outside the entrance to a building. It seemed as if he was trying to decide if it was worth it to go in. As if some choice was being made. I don’t know if the other side of the door held the possibility for good or evil. For the hope of a kindness shared or the lure of an addiction. He made a choice and entered.

Just a pane separated us from him.

Lives so different. My life of being on “the inside” – a life of comfort, family and friends. His life on “the outside” – relying on resources to be provided, alone, tired. My life of hope….his life of despair. Separated by just a pane of glass.

Lord, forgive me for just looking through the glass and accepting that as normal. Help me look for opportunities and ways to shatter the glass – and then look into the eyes of the person on the other side, reach out, and spend time with them and serve them. Help me be more like Jesus…..and less like myself.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Isn't it ironic.....

that I spilled food on my 30 hour famine T-shirt today at lunch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hangin' out with 7 y.o.'s

I spent the majority of the day hangin' out with my son, Alexey, and his best friend Peter. I decided early in the day not to worry about "to do" lists, house chores, planning ahead, or youth ministry stuff. Just to hang out and be available - it was a fabulous day.

Started with Subway sandwiches we took to the park. Playing tag/chase/run around the play structure. Sitting and eating and speaking on topics that fascinate 7 y.o.'s - bodily functions/noises, sports, video games, what's cool.....

Then hangin' at the house - okay, I admit it, I napped while they played some Harry Potter computer games.

Then off to a lake for some fishing - everyone caught a fish! Gentle exploring and story telling of other fishing adventures.

Back home for a bonfire, hotdogs, pasta salad - and then watching "Treasure Hunter" while wrestling, playing indoor soccer, etc. Time for smores and watching the fire...then finally showers and bed.

What a cool day.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mexico Day 4 - Vision

Another day covered in dust begins. Again I awake for a morning walk. I notice a horse in a nearby field. The roosters are crowing as always. I notice the “watchers”. People that stay up all night to watch the camp and keep us safe. I don’t speak to them but thank them in my prayers. Again – I spend time listening for God as I hear my footsteps on the gravel/dirt. I am aware of Him…a good start to the day.

Once again the morning routine of waking up the family, breakfast, packing lunches, and filling water bottles. The “youth” sleeping around the campfire is growing – up to about 9 now.

Off to the worksites. I am SO glad we don’t have to mix concrete today! On the way to the sites we pass many dead dogs along side the road. One of the groups starts calling them “piƱatas”.

We arrive and the foundation we poured yesterday is almost dry. Today we will be putting up the frame of the house and the roof. WooHoo. We have three walls already done so we start putting together the other 4 or so. It seems to be going quickly – lots of hammering, sawing, nailing. The kids are playing soccer in the street, helping with holding down the tape measure, playing with spare wood blocks, and not complaining.

We start putting up the walls – and suddenly it feels like we are accomplishing something. Maybe it is because I can start to see what the home will look like. Yesterday seemed like a lot of work and little to show for it. Now, with a firm foundation and a couple of walls I can see the vision of what the house will look like when it is finished.

We finish the framing with few problems. Our structure is square and level, the walls almost perfectly horizontal, and we hang a door without too much difficulty. The day is cruising along. Some things I notice along the way – Eric asks me how he can help, can he saw, where should he nail? Eric is going into 7th grade. His perseverance and servant heart humbles me. When he asks me if he can saw a board, my first thought is “it is going to take longer than I want it too!” *sigh* But grace and patience win out – and he makes a fine cut on a two by four – and his smile is well worth the wait. I see my own family members – Kelsey, Kimpa, Alexey, and Drew – working so hard and not complaining. I love my family so much and have found over the years that we are always stronger together than individually. It is a very cool gift that we are here together, serving within this family of faith, in this place, during these days. They have all made sacrifices to be here (from soccer, work, social stuff) – and my prayer is that they are each encountering God in His time and mysterious ways during this trip – and they are moved to becoming more like Him.

We finish putting the plywood on the roof and get some bailing wire around the house. It is about 6:30 and it has been a good day. Back at camp the usual – dinner, showers, worship with sharing of “God sightings”, some conversation around the campfire and off too bed. From foundation to vision – there is something to learn from this day…but I’m a little too tired to put it all together….but God will work it out in my dreams – because He never sleeps.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mexico Day 3 - I am not alone

I wake up early, again. The night was actually very cool and there is still a chill in the air. I walk around the camp. Having been removed from most of my normal routine and comforts of home I notice that I have quickly developed “camp equipment envy”. From lighting, to nicer tents, and in particular nicer camp chairs (we have some plastic chairs, many of which collapse under my weight….is it the chair or me…..and lots of benches) I find much to be envious of. *sigh* Not a great way to start the day…..I take some comfort in the fact that at least I recognize it for what it is – sin. I take some time to just sit, pray, ask God to continue to strip me of all that I have brought that isn’t of Him – envy and all the other sins that strive to cling to my heart and mind. Sitting and listening I hear – roosters crowing and am reminded of Peter’s denial of Christ (but there is so much crowing I chuckle that it must not have taken long for the roosters to crow three times!) I also hear moments of quiet (how one actually “hears” a moment of quiet I’m not sure, but that is what comes to mind)……..moments that I listen closely for God. And I do feel His presence and am hopeful of what the day ahead will bring.

Our camp starts to stir. There are seven Jr./Sr. High youth that slept around the fire outside….how cool is that? I help get Alexey up and going. Packing up the sleeping bags so there is room to move in the tent, digging for clothes, locating toothbrushes, and finding shoes. Kimpa is in a good mood as is Alexey. We walk to breakfast and have scrambled eggs, bacon, cereal, etc. Then we pack a lunch, load up the water bottles, put on the sun screen, check that we all have hats and…….wait. While we wait Alexey and his buddy Peter run around and play various games. My parent instinct wants to tell him to stop, he is going to get dirty. But everything is dirty here – and luckily I remain silent. I wonder if Alexey has noticed how different his surroundings are – or is he just glad to have his best friend here and be playing a game. I think there is much less that needs to be stripped away from children and they are much closer to being the image of God (Eikons) that he originally created us in than most adults. What changes….what has changed in me?

Eventually we load up and take the crazy 45 minute drive to our worksite. Driving in Mexico is a story unto itself. We meet the family at our worksite. Mom/Dad and 4 kids – the oldest a 12 y.o. girl and youngest is a 3 y.o. boy. Kels, Michelle, and Katie are our best Spanish speakers so they do their best to greet/intro all of us and then talk to the family about where they would like their new home, the placement of the two windows and the door. They have a previous Amor built home but it is about 2 feet below the level of the space where the home we will build goes. We decide to pour a 24 foot slab so that the homes have a cement breezeway of sorts between them. We are anxious to get started.

As the “work” begins I start to notice that I am not alone. It seems strange to type that sentence even. Up until this point, most of my thoughts and observations have been about me. My experience, my perspective, how things are effecting me and my relationship with God….pretty much at the exclusion of others. But as the work begins, I see that I am in a community. I am just one piece of the puzzle and a part of the story that God is unfolding over the next four days. My gifts are limited, finite but essential……just as everyone else’s are. And as I see my limits, and there are many, I see the gifts of others blossom.

The goal for the day is to get the foundation poured. Sounds simple. But the sight has to be clear of debris, level, a frame made, and then….there is the mixing, pouring, smoothing of the cement. YIKES! Having virtually no construction experience I didn’t know what was coming. Around 2 in the afternoon we start mixing pouring cement. The first “tub” we mix and pour fills about a 1X2 foot square and seeing the small space it covers in our frame…..I am depressed. It is obvious we are in for a long afternoon. We struggle with the process for about 90 minutes but then we start to hit our rhythm as a team – somehow we have been sifted and sorted using our talents to maximum ability and we really start to have a nice flow of mixing, pouring, smoothing. Most of the team is involved in this process but a few of them are working on walls for the next day. Things are clicking – a hint of what I think living in rhythm with God must be like. Using your gifts to the max, working/living in community, serving others, and in the process somehow reconciling yourself, your relationship with God, others and the world all at the same time. Awesome!

By 6:30 the foundation is poured, we have 2-3 walls built, and we are tired….but content.
The best part of the day is as we leave the sight, the mom of the family peaks out, sees the foundation, her face is glowing, she is smiling, and she is clapping. Building a strong foundation leads to joy…….

Back at camp we eat, shower (such as it is), gather for worship and sharing, and then go to bed. It’s been a very long day, a day that deserves some reflection, but I am too tired to think and am just content at having finished the day well, knowing that God is listening, He is still stripping away baggage, that I am surrounded by others who will help carry me through and glad to be in this community of faith – not perfect – but accepted, growing, and transforming.

Did my son just say Iowa?

Alexey: "Can we go to Iowa for spring break this year?"
Family: "Why would we go to Iowa for spring break? (Said with GREAT dismay!)
Alexey: "Because they have really big corn there!"

Where have I gone wrong........I immediately started singing the Univ of Illinois fight song to help get rid of the evil Iowa spirits that had taken over my son.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mexico Day 2 - Strip Searched

I got almost no sleep last night. Between listening to the voices outside my window (and in my head?) and the anticipation of crossing into Mexico there wasn’t much rest. About 5:30 a.m. I hear “Dave, are you up?” My buddy Mitch and I knew neither of us would sleep so we agreed to get up early and take a hike. Of we go…..

Some of the highlights of the hike – Lush green colors, palm trees, ocean views, a sculpture of Jesus calling Peter, a baseball field on the ocean, trails/crevasses that lead to the beach, surfers, ocean “flies”, watching the surf, exploring a “homeless” cave, the smell of the ocean, a mountain bike path……..time, space, and conversation. Among the beauty we also see lots of trash, garbage, and a porn magazine……..a mix of beauty and ugliness that reminds me of our nature of being cracked Eikons.

The day begins as we return to the dorms – getting everyone up, the last real shower for awhile, walking to breakfast, packing up the vans, cleaning the rooms, getting footballs off of the roofs (twice!) and then gathering for worship.

Worship – in an outdoor amphitheater, with a community I love, and I feel alone. We took time to write down what our expectations for the coming days were. I am at a loss really – I put down generic stuff – to see God working, building of relationships, blah, blah, blah…..i don’t feel very engaged at the moment. Highlights of the morning was a very cool “Father’s Day” gift – a couple of the mom’s had put together a special song to the tune of “Day’s of Elijah” that the kid’s sang to us dad’s….how fun! And communion was a good start – even tho I feel separated at the moment, I am reminded that God is present and is inviting me to take note of His presence in the moments of the day.

Then – a final search for a pop machine that has diet coke, a final trip to a “real” bathroom, and off to the border.

We cross without incident. One van is pulled over but is soon allowed to continue – and then we are in Mexico. The change is almost instant and dramatic. A difference of 40 miles means the difference between wealth and poverty, lush greens and packed dirt, nice homes and shacks made of whatever a person can find, paved roads and rutted dirt paths, structure and chaos, English and Spanish, hope and ??. A question comes to my mind. Is there hope here in Mexico? What do the people hope for? I know we feel like we are bringing hope – but it has to be here already doesn’t it? Do the people see it? Do I see it? Will we be cultivating it, discovering it, sowing it, leaving it, or is it not really here? It has to be here – dust covered and dirty – but present….right?

We arrive at our camp. How quickly our accommodations have changed. We move into a tent city – five people and their luggage crammed into a “five person tent” which of course means there is comfortable room for three. Dust everywhere and it is hot. We unpack the vans (I’m looking forward to not having to pack/unpack the vans for a few days!) and move to our tents. There is excitement and tension in the group. We have arrived but most of us don’t know what to do. Of course the men start to organize the tools. Lots of the kids start to run around, explore, play in the dirt. I wander between tasks of getting our luggage to the tent, some basic set up (with Kimpa’s approval!), help with the tools some, get some water, make sure Alexey is safe, wonder how we are going to ever get to sleep tonight in this tent…….and what tomorrow holds.

The phrase “strip searched” enters my mind. I remember at the airport making the usual jokes about security and the chance (hope?) that someone in our group may be strip searched. I remember Kimpa commenting at some point that nothing is routine, or that there is no normal in the schedule. That all starts to simmer……and I start to feel like I am being “strip searched” by God. That all of the things I have grown dependent upon and used to are being taken away: air conditioning, flush toilets, microwaves, my own transportation, solid walls, a nice bed, my own space, an independent schedule, knowing what is happening next, a skill set that matches up with what I do, control…..basically all of the “me” I have spent so long creating isn’t very useful and has no control over my situation. I realize that over the next few days I am going to be dependent upon God and the people around me to get through whatever is going to happen. And because of that – I will discover if I really am relying upon God for my strength. Do I love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, strength……because I am about to be stripped to the very core and find out. I am scared, not because I don’t know the answer, but because I do.

The evening progresses with dinner - burgers and dogs, worship, hanging around the campfire, and then trying to get to sleep. But sleep will be hard to find - as God listens, searches, and strips away.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mexico Day 1 - God is listening

70 people ranging in age from 7 to 70. I was told it was going to be “hurry up and wait” and it is true. We arrive at MSP airport and “wait” – for everyone to gather, to unload luggage, to check-in, to go thru security, and then to board the plane. There are a few soccer fanatics, my 14 y.o. son Drew being one of them, and they start watching world cup soccer in the local bar. The younger kids and a few of their “80’s” parents are in the arcade playing Galaga and various racing games.

During this waiting I start wondering what the days ahead will be like. My first “fear” is how my body will hold up physically. My back bugs me pretty bad at night and I haven’t worked really hard in……way too long.

Other questions swirl in the milieu of my mind. What will the people at our worksite be like? What will their community look like? How will we talk as I don’t know a bit of Spanish? Do you really have to check your shoes for scorpions in the morning?

Our flight is good. Gotta love soggy grilled cheese sandwiches at 30,000 feet. Everyone is excited to arrive – I believe there was applause on the landing….kids are too much fun!

More hurry up and wait – pile all the luggage, wait for the vans to arrive, notice people starting to sort themselves and worry who is going to ride with whom. Jody teaches the younger kids some basic games you can play with a few coins and a wall outside the airport. Adults worry about organizing and is everyone safe. Teens worry about where they are going to sit on the vans. Grade school kids just run around and play – interrupting everyone else’s worrying……

We load up – I get to co-pilot a van. Of course that means we take a wrong turn but eventually end up at Point Loma Nazarene College. More waiting – unloading luggage, room assignments, making sure I know where my kids rooms are and what room my wife is in. I was in a room with Alexey but he ditches me to sleep with his buddy Peter so I have a room to myself – perfect for the introvert that I am!

Pizza for dinner, some time to wander – you can see the ocean but we can’t get down to it from where we are. We spend time in worship – Steve leads us in songs….he has grown in being a worship leader so much this past year. We pray and John shares some with us.

Expectations start to surface and more questions……what is about to happen, how will it effect me, will I remain unchanged – do I want to change, am I hoping something in me changes?

I’m tired. As I lay down to go to sleep in my dorm room I have the window open. It opens into the courtyard where all of our rooms are. I can hear a student moving outside to sleep. I hear others talking – I love listening to students talk, especially when they don’t know you are listening. They say such amazing things and the way they relate to each other is always fascinating. As I lie there, listening, it fills me with joy. I don’t sleep much… is too much fun listening to the voices, the ocean, the sounds outside my window.

I have to think that God gets even more pleasure as He is watching and listening over His creation and we are behaving as if God isn’t listening, looking, yearning for us. (For the moment I’m going to ignore the fact that so much of what we say and do breaks God’s heart – and focus on the joy He must get when we are in relationship with each other…..created in Hi image…..and the joy he gets in listening/loving on His creation.) I can picture Him in some way – smiling over us as we talk and finally drift off to sleep. And I am comforted knowing that He is there – whether I am awake, asleep, tired, rested, scared, joyful – he is always with me, and I know I will need to rely on Him in the days ahead. But for now – I go to sleep……taking joy in the voices I hear…..and thinking now that I am hearing God through them.