Our mission trip this summer was to West Virginia partnering with Next Step Ministries. It was a great trip filled with worship, service, and study. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, ready to meet new people and tackle new challenges of work and worship. To our amazement, the people and challenges were more rewarding than we could have dared to ask. There were groups from Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, and another group from Somerset, NJ. In all there were 80 people working in the mountains of West Virginia. Each day consisted of an early wake-up call of 6 a.m., a forty-five minute drive to the Community Center we were helping to build and the work projects surrounding that Community Center, devotions during that drive as well as during our lunch break, great work that included painting, staining, dry walling, framing, siding, and a few other small construction projects along the way. After this busy day, we would celebrate with about an hour of free time, dinner, a forty-five minute drive back to our worship center, showers, and then worship till 10 p.m. Our last hour of the night included some Church time and a bit of free time until we hit that magical hour of lights out at 11 p.m. Then we would start all over and do even better the next day.
The worship each night carried a different theme that challenged us to dig deeper into our faith concerning the direction of our lives, the service that we offer to the world, and the amazing love that God shows us at the cross of Jesus Christ. One line stuck in my mind concerning the shape and direction of our lives. “It is not our intention, but our direction that determines our life’s destination.” We may intend to be good or to do the right thing or to study hard to get great grades for each term, but if we are not good or do the wrong thing or study the wrong material, our destination is going to be different than our intention. To put a positive spin on this teaching, I can tell my wife’s story for the mission trip. She came prepared to do all the construction work that she had imagined for the week. She loves to prove to people that she is capable of handling anything, including hammer and nails, dry wall, etc. In our previous mission trips, she has silenced the talk of those who thought a small lady wasn’t up to the task, and she intended to do the same this year. When we arrived, however, she needed to take a step back at first, as she wasn’t familiar with our work. While she did this, a young woman, the daughter of the person we were helping out, started to attach herself to Jen, talking, sharing, and really clinging to Jen for encouragement and support. As the week went along, we learned that this young 13 year old girl was abandoned by her mother for drugs, and it was clear that she needed Jen in a special way. Jen never lifted a hammer, but she shared the love of Christ in powerful ways to a young girl, who was desperate for the love and approval that Jen could offer. It was not Jen’s intention, but God’s direction that determined a fantastic and amazing destination for her and for our group. You’ll see some of those pictures and an amazing act of love portrayed in our video, as the young kids in our group all wrote messages of love and encouragement to the two young children at our work site.
The service we offered in West Virginia is a reflection of the service that Christ calls all his followers to offer. We learned this next lesson in our worship, when we were introduced to foot-washing, a powerful practice of vulnerability and service that we engaged in for our Wednesday night worship service. Gathering together in our work groups, we took turns following the example of Jesus washing each other’s feet and allowing others to wash our feet. When each person’s turn came, the members of our work team who were not washing the feet of our friend laid their hands on the one being washed and prayed over him/her. It was a powerful testimony to God’s love, as most groups spent well over three hours, washing, praying and crying.
Finally, the last worship experience we had connected our lives to the love of God at the cross. Our teacher challenged us to write whatever was separating us from the love of God in our lives on a piece of paper. After a time of prayer, we were invited to nail that piece of paper onto a wooden cross up front, as a symbol of leaving this burden at the foot of the cross, so that we might experience Jesus taking it away from us, so that we no longer had to carry it. Again, the love of God was palpable as we each took turns handing our fears, our sins, our failures at the cross of Christ, so that he could cleanse us and create a new reality in us. It was a wonderful experience of freedom and grace.
“The Journey” Video Series
The last thing I need to share with you about this great trip to West Virginia is the powerful video that Next Step made for our worship experience. It told the story of five leaders who traveled to Africa to learn more about the amazing stories of great mission work that was taking place in Uganda. Each night we were able to learn more about these amazing stories. In addition, these five leaders undertook that challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the second tallest free standing mountain in the world. The video is entitled, “The Journey” and we’ve embedded each day’s video on this page, so that you could watch these amazing stories, as we watched them. I hope that they inspire and challenge you to a deeper faith and greater service. If you want to learn more about the mission trip goals and ministry of Parkside Community Church, join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. when we are engaged by God to live meaningful and impactful lives right where God has planted us. You can also check out www.nextstepministries.com for more information about the amazing work that they are doing for young people all over the world.