Youth pull weeds in the playground

Middle school youth from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church participated in three days of mission in Charlotte. We spent our first day serving St. Mark’s by taking on projects around the church building. Several high school youth joined us as we cleaned the kitchen, pulled weeds in the playground, organized the craft closet, disinfected the toys in the nursery, and cleaning various windows around the building. Some of these tasks were sponsored by congregation members at our May Rent-a-Youth Auction.

Our second day was spent volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank and at Moore Place. We ended up working alongside a youth from a South Carolina church who were serving in Charlotte for the week. After a training orientation, we sorted food into piles, separating the good from the unusable as we went along. We sorted through (if I heard correctly) about 7,500 pounds of food in about two hours.

Clean that oven!

Clean that oven!

Playing bingo with the residents at Moore Place

After lunch back at St. Mark’s, we went over to Moore Place. Moore Place is a permanent home for 85 chronically homeless Charlotteans, each one having at least one disability. Katie, our liaison at Moore Place, told us that one of their goals is to have their residents meet folks from the larger community. Moore Place does not want to wall off their residents, but instead they hope to make them a part of the community. With that goal in mind, we engaged in one of the residents’ favorite pastimes: bingo. We also shared a snack with the residents as we played, and our youth helped several of the players. The prizes were things that they could use in their apartments like laundry detergent, dish soap, cleaning supplies, and we threw in some Little Debbie snacks too.

After bingo, our youth got into a conversation with a man named Sam. Sam was really interested in where our kids went to school and what their interests were. After about 10 minutes of conversation, Sam invited us up to see his apartment, and after checking with Katie that it was OK, we went to check it out. The residents at Moore Place have simple apartments that include a small kitchen, a small living room area, a small bedroom area, and a bathroom. Sam was very proud of his apartment, and rightly so. He had it decorated very nicely, and you could tell he took care to keep it tidy. He said that he loved his apartment and told us about the television stations he liked to watch (he is a big classic movie fan).

Youth serve at Ascension Soup Kitchen

He told us a little about his childhood and the things he liked to do when he was a teenager (he is in his 50′s now). He encouraged the kids to stay out of trouble and keep their lives on track. It was awesome that Sam, after living many years with no place to call home, now has a place in which to offer hospitality.

On Tuesday we drove to Ascension Lutheran to help set up and serve at their Soup Kitchen. Our youth helped serve a hearty meal to over 100 people! It was great seeing our youth interact so well with those in need of a meal. Towards the end of the meal, our youth got into another conversation with a couple of diners. One of the diners was “Big Mike,” who some of you may know from our own Soup Kitchen. The kids told me later that Big Mike talked to them about some of the times he had seen God work in his life. I was proud of our youth for being so open and friendly both at the Soup Kitchen and at Moore Place on Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon we had some fun jumping on trampolines at Sky High Sports before heading back to St. Mark’s for dinner, a couple rounds of Sardines (think hide-and-seek in reverse), and a movie.  On Wednesday morning we cleaned up and left the church

Group pic!

Group pic!

Each night we also had “Group Time,” in which we worshiped God in song and had discussions about the day. During our Group Times, our youth made explicit connections between what they had seen during the day and the work God is doing in the world.  I see all the time how our youth are growing in their faith in Jesus, and mission trips provide perhaps the clearest examples of just how much our youth want to serve God with their lives.  I think any member of our congregation would have been proud to see our youth in action this week.  They worked hard, they made connections with others, and they carried themselves well while we were out in the community!