FORUM ON FAITH Youth listen, learn and put faith into action
As associate pastor at the Congregational Church of Brookfield for 13 years now, I have been leading mission trips to help others in need every summer. Each year, our team includes about 10 adult chaperones and 30 teenagers in senior high. In recent years, we have also brought along a few college-age advisors, those who were youths on past mission trips. This is the reflection of one of those young adults, Kate Matson, who just this spring graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania:
One of my favorite hymns is Daniel Schutte’s “Here I Am, Lord.” The chorus begins with these words:
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
I am reminded of this hymn every time I go on a mission trip with my church. Although the lyrics are from the call to the prophet Isaiah (in Isaiah 6:8), in the past I always attributed those words to my own call to serve; a bit selfish, maybe, but I was excited to do the work of the Lord and spread His love with my own two hands.
As 37 of us traveled to South Dakota this summer, I found I had a new perspective as an adult chaperone; I found new meaning in that song because of the younger people with me.
Since I am 21 years old, I have heard for many years comments about my generation and those younger than me; people make jokes about our reliance on technology and our dwindling work ethic. I am proud to say that the youth of our church disprove those judgments tenfold.
I have had the opportunity to watch many of our church youth grow from children into teenagers. In the years since I graduated high school, I have been away at college, but when I have joined them as an adult advisor for their summer mission trips, I could see how well our church has instilled in them lessons about faith and service.
Their faith journey led them this past July to South Dakota, and the hard work I saw them do for Habitat for Humanity proved that these kids had been listening as they sat with me in the church pews. We all ended our week tired, happy, and overwhelmed by all that we had been learning, loving, and living.
South Dakota is home to a community of Native Americans living together on the Crow Creek Reservation. These people have a beautiful and unique culture, and an inclusive perspective on life, that we were able to experience first-hand at a Sweat Lodge and through conversations with many amazing people.
For example, Deb gave up a comfortable life in a five-bedroom home 45 minutes outside the reservation to be closer to her children and grandchildren. Now she lives in a 60-foot trailer. She knowingly purchased a fixer-upper on the reservation, willing to put in the effort to be closer to her family and fight to make a better life for them, and for others.
Unfortunately, the statistics on alcoholism and suicide rates are staggering on the reservation, and we witnessed what community members are facing first-hand. Deb is a leader there, a voice of reason against the violence, drugs, and alcohol that plague reservation life. But because of her willingness to speak out she has also received threats against her life and family.
Our kids did not turn away from Deb and others like her — instead asking questions and listening fervently, wondering how they could help even more. And in less than three days, our team was able to re-shingle Deb’s roof, install a new toilet, and fix the bathroom flooring.
It was amazing to see our teenagers’ commitment to learning new skills, excitement in climbing onto a roof, and focus on getting jobs done right. But it was not just their speed, efficiency or quality of their work that stood out the most to me; instead, it was the eagerness and determination of our youth that was beautiful to witness.
We were all there to help, but what I loved knowing most was that we were all there to listen as well. We heard the Lord calling, and we responded with enthusiasm and grace, energy and love, hopefulness and trust.
The Rev. Jennifer Whipple is associate pastor at the Congregational Church of Brookfield (United Church of Christ). She can be reached at Jennifer@uccb.org.