Monday, August 20, 2012

Keeping It Alive

I'm at the start of my tenth year in youth & young adult ministry. Besides making me realize that I'm getting older (despite still feeling about 10 at times), it is a point where I am reminded that I need to make sure things are kept fresh, relevant, and alive in the ministries.

Ruts are easy to get caught in, personally and professionally.

Since the start of August I am pushing myself out of ruts and into new habits and new adventures. I'm developing new habits and life choices personally that are giving me new hobbies, new ways to connect with others outside of work, and a more joyful state of being.

Professionally I am cleaning the cobwebs. Literally and figuratively. I spent last Wednesday after the conclusion of the 7 am Mass cleaning the youth room. Piles of garbage and recyclables went out the door. Everything was reorganized and cleaned. All I need are a few more plastic tubs for storage and we're set in that regard.  I do want to find some new art for the walls though.

We, the respective leadership teams and I, are also addressing where the various ministries are at and where they should be going.  The youth have jumped on board with great enthusiasm and immense creativity. Using ideas from Positively Dangerous (highly recommend this if you aren't already familiar with it), we're re-imagining every youth ministry activity.

The young adult ministry is repackaging itself. We're ditching the old name which was confusing. We're restructuring our activities. New resources gleaned from Young Adult Ministry in a Box are being applied. Ideas from other adult ministries like RCIA, the adult faith formation program, and small group ministries are being examined and tied into our plans.

The excitement is high among all the leaders and me. I know there will be plenty of frustrations, but hopefully with grace and prayer, things will be blessed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Quote of the Day

In honor of summer travels.

All God's children need traveling shoes. 
Maya Angelou

Friday, August 17, 2012

Guatemala: Seeing the Country

After such a hard week of work, the kids (and the adults!) were more than ready for a chance to relax and see more of the beautiful country. As there were a few long bus rides, we did get to see quite a bit as we drove through the highlands towards Lake Attilan. We also enjoyed the much briefer drive to Antigua. All too soon, the weekend ended and we were bound for the airport extremely early on Monday morning.

Here is the email from Saturday:

We just had a wonderful day. The kids enjoyed long naps in the bus on the way to and from Lake Atitlan (3 hours each way).  They will also have spectacular photos to share of the beautiful lake and surrounding volcanoes.
The boat ride across the lake felt a bit like a roller coaster, but the kids really enjoyed it.  We saw a church that played a role during the "dark times" before heading to a great restaurant.  A few teens ventured to try the more typical Guatemalan food, but many stuck with safe chicken sandwiches.  Happily full, we headed out to wander through the street vendors and to a shop that had beautiful paintings.  
Then it was back to the boat to cross the lake and back on the bus for our ride home. Now the kids are relaxing and enjoying a few games before dinner.  We still hope to get them settled fairly early so that we can have a fresh day tomorrow in Antigua.  As it is Andres' home, we are excited to see the city through his eyes - and he knows all the best places for food, shopping, and sight seeing.
The week has flown by; it is incredible to believe that we only have one more day here.

And Sunday:
Today was the day in Antigua.  We enjoyed a more traditional breakfast before loading into the bus.  Thanks to Andres, we were able to see some special sights including an outdoor art exhibition at a hotel that also could boast of one of the best views of Antigua.
We then headed into town where we went to another hotel that is built around the ruins of the old city. We also attended mass at the hotel in the church that was built into or rather around the ruins of the old church.  Then it was off to the coffee plantation before lunch.  
Lunch was a wonderful meal.  With our stomachs full we ventured out to the jade factory.  Andres introduced us to his father who also happened to be our guide. We learned quite a bit and a few of us found our glyph in the Mayan calendar for our birthdays.  We are a group of bats, snakes, jaguars, fish, and more!
From the more refined experience of the jade factory, we headed to the colorful chaos of the markets. The kids really had fun trying to barter for the best prices.  Many will have just as much fun trying to fit it all into their bags.
What they don't know is that we will be meeting to head to breakfast at 6 am.  Monday morning traffic in the city is awful, even by their standards so we need to allow over 2 hours for a drive that took about 30 minutes when we arrived.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guatemala: Saying Goodbye

I am always so impressed with the children at the school. The skits, acrobatics, dances, and songs that they present to us when we arrive and on our last day with them are always so beautiful and insightful. 

Again, I'll summarize the day with the email:

This morning we spent a bit of time in the elementary school classrooms. Then there was another assembly for the kids to yet again impress us with their acting, dancing, and musical skills.  They danced a traditional indigenous dance that translates best to "happy little pony dance."  Your teens were a huge hit by dancing a routine and then doing a jump rope routine for the kids.  They also invited the children to join them and at that point it was chaos. The children were so excited to jump rope.
As entertaining as the morning was, the noon hour became rather intense. We were challenged to a game of soccer.  Those kids were tough! I hate to say it, we lost to the 6th grade boys.
After the game, it was time for a well deserved break and we headed to the library for lunch.  Lunch was followed by a bit more time in the garden area with machetes, pick axes and garden shears.  
During our time in the garden, the girls got some of the workers and the police officers to sing. It was quite the cultural exchange.
When we concluded our time at the school, we made a quick stop at the bank before returning to the retreat center.  This evening will be fairly quiet as the adults will have a meeting to make sure we are all on the same page for the weekend and after our evening reflection we will have a short meeting to share that information with the kids.

What I loved about this day was the opportunities the teens had to interact with the children, the police officers, and a few staff throughout the day. While the work we did was necessary, it is the stories and experiences we bring home and share with other that offer the greatest service to the children and people of the garbage dump community.

They live in a culture which either denies their existence or minimizes their humanity. By giving voice to their stories and their lives, we are honoring their humanity and acknowledging their inherent and inestimable value as God's children. Therein lies the true and most valuable service. They give us a great responsibility. Whether we honor that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Guatemala: An Easier Day

After working on the cement roof, it was a welcome reprieve to know that our next day would allow us to spend our mornings in the classrooms and nursery rooms. Here is a bit of an editorial - if you are traveling on a service trip to another country it really is incredibly wonderful to have even a small grasp of the language. It shows respect and honors the culture. It also is incredibly practical. I've spent the last year polishing up my Spanish and the studying helped. Hopefully by next year, my conversational abilities will have improved even more.

Here's what I sent to parents:

Subject: Machetes and Pick AxesWell, I believe today's subject caught your attention.
Yes, your teens used machetes today. And pick axes.  And no, they did not cause bodily harm to anyone.  Our afternoon was spent clearing the yard area of the classrooms that we helped roof yesterday (more on that below).  To remove the tall grasses and massive weeds, they gave us more formidable tools that what we would likely see lawn care professionals use Stateside.  They got the job done though.
The morning was spent in classrooms and nursery rooms.  The kids had a great time playing and learning with the children in the school and nursery. Many found that they had a better grasp of the language than they initially thought.
Now, I must confess, your kids are practicing jump rope routines while I am enjoying a reprieve with my feet up.  They are practicing routines and skits that will be part of the farewell assembly at the school tomorrow morning. The children will do a few more skits and such for us. In turn, we will show off our various skills and talents. As many of your teens competed in the Heartbeats jump rope group, they thought this would be fun for the kids to see. Thus we also had the adventure of stopping at a street side stall to buy rope. We plan on adding that to the donations to the school.

One downfall to the service trips is that they often aggravate my bad ankle. Ironically the first time I sprained it was on the first service trip I ever went on, an alternative spring break in college. It was also my first real leadership role in ministry. Two more sprains later, it periodically bugs me enough that I find myself  propping it up on a pillow with an ice pack (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off). Here too I find a few lessons. When I hit those moments when my ankle just won't let me do anything any more, it reminds me that I need to let myself be served and to do so with grace. That is not easy. After all, I see it as part of my mission and call to serve others. Letting others serve me just feels off. That's just my pride speaking. I need to listen to the humility coming from my left ankle more often.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Concrete, Concrete, Everywhere

Our day after orientation was a massive day of work. We were tasked with the construction of a concrete roof. It was quite the task to say the very least. Here's the email to the parents describing our day:

 I'll go into greater detail as to why our entire group has developed a lifelong aversion to concrete.  Yesterday we moved over 60 wheelbarrows of dirt, scores of barrow-fulls of stones, and countless bags of concrete mix.  Then we had to stir this immensely heavy mixture before gallons upon gallons of water were added and more mixing was required.
Once the mixture was created, we had to haul buckets of the wet concrete mix up a ladder to the roof. The empty buckets then had to be tossed down, caught, and put out to be reloaded.  After a few struggles to find a good system, the kids found a process that worked and they were able to get the classroom roof covered.  Of course we left the retreat center at 6 am so we could begin work by 7 am and did not return until nearly 6 pm.  However, you should be proud of the work that the teens did as it far exceeded the expectations of the school staff.
Needless to say, by the time we at dinner we were nearly falling asleep at the table.  Reflection was short and we shooed the kids to bed as early as possible.

It was wonderful to see the kids work so hard. What astounded me was the various individuals who trickled into the yard to assist. A woman, a parent of a student I believe, came to help. She was dressed as most were in the garbage dump community, worn shirt and shorts. Her shoes were simply the inexpensive flip flops that are seen for a dollar or two at supermarkets. She stood in the cement, hauling buckets and working harder than all the teens, chaperone, and myself. Periodically she would dip her feet in a bucket to wash the cement off as it would get very irritating. She chatted, smiled, and worked. In her was the face of God. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Quote of the Day

A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. - James Dent

May your lawn mower be broken. May the weather be warm. May the breeze blow gently. May you enjoy this summer day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guatemala: Orientation Day

To begin, here's the email sent to parents from Guatemala with a summary of our day:
After a great breakfast we were able to experience the formidable rush hour traffic that is apparently worse on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. I have no idea why those three days are the worst, but that is what we were told. We picked up two police officers from the city hall who escorted us all day before we headed to the school, Francisco Coll.  
As soon as we arrived the children had a wonderful variety show for us. A skit about life in the garbage dump community, tricks of coordination (somersaults, flips, hula hoops), indigenous dances, and indigenous music rounded out the morning.  Then we were walked through a few of the homes. Many of the residents were generous to not only open their homes to us, but to share their stories. The teens saw that entire families lived in spaces smaller than their bedrooms at home.  A family of seven counted themselves lucky to have the regular income of roughly $5 per day - a small fortune in Zone 7, the garbage dump area.
Once the home tours were completed, we were escorted to the nursery. The babies, age a few months to pre-school, were a great favorite with all the teens. We heard more stories of the creation of the nursery and school.  Then we were walked through the adjacent area of the recycling area.  This is nothing like what you might picture - it is filthy, chaotic, and the overwhelming stench of the garbage dump invades all your sense.
At that point we loaded back on our bus to drive to the cemetery. An odd destination, yes, but as it is on the cliff that gives you a bird's eye view of the garbage dump cavern, it was a good way for the teens to see the magnitude of the dump.
By this time we were all ready for lunch. Several of the kids helped Andres pick out the food that would make up our lunches for the week when we stopped at a supermarket. Then we went across the street to a park where we assembled our lunches of peanut butter sandwiches, chips, apples, cookies and iced tea. 
Our next stop was to return to the area of the garbage dump, this time to the Santa Maria center. There we heard stories from the Paso a Paso program. This is a scholarship program to help the children who finish at Francisco Coll continue on into high school and college. They offer tutoring and trade training. We also heard more about life in Guatemala City in general and the garbage dump community specifically.

As I knew what to expect from a previous trip three years ago, it was a day of memory and seeing what had changed. The nursery had been improved upon and the school was in need of more space. The people were still the most hospitable individuals I ever met. The smell still hit you like a physical force. The children still, like all children, want to sit next to the new people and yearn for their attention.

What was the most beautiful moment of the day was a conversation between one of our teens and the director of the Paso a Paso program. This teen had been adopted from Guatemala. The director asked about her background and over the course of a few minutes was in grateful tears not only that this teen's mother bravely gave her up, but that she was welcomed into a loving home and then felt called to return to offer what she could to her birth nation. The director, who struggles with the teens and young adults fighting for higher education as they emerge from the garbage dump, recognized and named the gifts of faith, education and the love of both the birth and adopted families. For those who witnessed the conversation it was stunningly beautiful.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gratefully Home

Silence descended upon the blog while I was in Guatemala on our service trip with International Samaritan.

It was a challenging trip in many unexpected ways, yet immensely rewarding.  Over the coming days I will post what we did and my thoughts on the activities - they include a cement roof, machetes, nursery children, the garbage dump, and much more.

The trip gave me much to consider in how we determine who goes on a service trip, expectations of behavior, dealing with cliques, and other concerns that may be a growing trend in the teens.

As it stands, this is all for today, just a simple introduction. Watch tomorrow for a summary of our first day.

Here's a teaser - cement. Lots of it.