Your work as a religious meeting planner changes and enriches lives. I saw that firsthand last Sunday as young people from my church in Minnesota recalled their mission-trip experiences of this past summer.
Our congregation sponsored four mission trips in 2008: two for junior-high students (to Louisiana and South Dakota); and two for those in senior high (to West Virginia and Colorado). Last Sunday during an education hour, the two people who planned the trips asked the participants to speak about their experiences. In the audience were adults of all ages, as well as youngsters who perhaps will travel on similar trips in the future.
One high school girl — who proudly described herself as a “geek” — talked about how she became friends with other students during the long bus ride to West Virginia. She was impressed that three of the “coolest” students in town were very kind to her, this self-proclaimed geek. “That's not supposed to happen in high school, right?” she asked. She learned that she shared a similar faith with the cool guys, and the realization knocked down social barriers. (Twenty-four hours together in a cramped bus can bring people together, too, she added.)
The students who traveled to Louisiana to help rebuild a church marveled at the 82-year-old chaperone who seemed to never stop working. Even when the skies opened up and rained pounded the earth, she was outside, urging everyone else to continue with their tasks. The woman's spirit was a revelation and inspiration to the youngsters.
The lessons weren't all about people and relationships. For one of the chaperones, it was her seventh mission trip with the church to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. On past trips, the high plains of western South Dakota were a dry, dusty landscape. But this year the chaperone barely recognized the reservation lands: The ground was green and lush from ample spring and summer rains, and crops were thriving in the oft-barren fields. She stood in awe of the power of the natural world.
Not all of the experiences were pleasant. The group that traveled to Louisiana saw the residential areas and neighborhoods in New Orleans that still haven't recovered from Hurricane Katrina and perhaps never will. It was a stark introduction to how fragile life can be.
The two people who planned these trips helped to shape the perspectives of 40 young people. Now those 40 are sharing their stories of faith and works with family and friends. The impact of the trips is profound, and it is the fruit of religious meeting planning.