I had an opportunity to have lunch with an old friend from my high school days recently. It was a brief respite from a sad week, my mom’s funeral. Myra was a girl from my high school youth group. We both enjoyed singing back in those days and were willing to put ourselves out there to put on a musical production. I mean, dancing, singing, eventually touring with our youth group’s annual musical, all while traveling on a summer worktrip to help a church or Christian school somewhere in the middle of some forgotten place … in an abandoned county in the western United States. We encountered some of the bleakest places that a person would want to find themselves in. A church of thirty members worshipping in a sanctuary that easily held three hundred, a ghost of days gone by, when it was once the magnate church for farmers for a hundred miles. Sleeping in church basements.
The first trip we took was to Mt. Pleasant, Utah to do dorm painting and trench digging for a small boarding school. A Christian outpost in the midst of Mormon country. The second was to Huntley, Wyoming. You haven’t heard of Huntley? That’s okay, neither has anyone in Wyoming! Its nothing but a trailer park, an old church and a shuttered building the size of a manufacturing plant that used to be a cosmetic school. I mean, you can’t make this kind of stuff up.
The third work trip we took was to Spokane, Washington. We hauled rocks up the side of a hill to make a rock and mortar wall around the front of the complex. The apartment complex was a Christian family center for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who had children. I have a vivid memory of one woman from an apartment below us standing at our door, drunk, yelling at us for making too much noise walking around. We had to sleep about fifteen kids to an apartment. We sang our musical on that trip at least every other night. We went home feeling very sore and tired after that trip.
As I sat with my friend Myra last week before we started our lunch conversation, she said to me, “I just want to say one thing. WE WERE BLESSED! We were blessed to have those experiences in our teenage years!”
We were. We really lived! We lived to perform in a group that had steadily become semi-professional, sharing Christ's message through music. We lived through travelling the western states during those trips. We lived through taking chances and putting ourselves out there on the front line of mission work, helping other churches or organizations. We were blessed to live a hard work ethic for none other than to “Work as if you are working unto God.” We got nothing in return for it. In fact, we had to raise the money to go on these trips. We slept on the floor in sleeping bags.
But we also stood on some of the highest mountain roads in the U.S. and looked at the view. We saw the Pacific Ocean. We cooked dinner in the forest on the biggest frying pan I have ever seen. We walked in snow in the middle of summer. Saw the Grand Canyon. Twenty of us climbed out a window and ran through the sprinklers in our pajamas at midnight in the city square park in Greeley, Colorado. We looked at Pikes Peak through a glass window sanctuary cross in Colorado. We visited the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. And on one trip we actually performed our musical 18 times in 21 days, all the while doing repairs, building a playground and teaching summer Bible school at two Denver inner city projects.
Somewhere during the last forty years, the vision for these worktrips ended and the entire project stopped. The pastor of my home church told me last week that the congregation just made a decision to start up these mission trips again and recapture an important part of their past.
Today, I look back on those trips and I realize they were some of the high points in my life. Some of us, as adults, have found ways to provide those experiences for our own kids. Some of us have taken those very experiences to other churches as adults and allowed the moment to live on in younger hearts. But one thing that I hold onto is that “WE REALLY LIVED! AND I’M A BETTER PERSON FOR IT!”