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open your eyes to possibility...

Please read the newest email from Ryan directly below this entry about his escape from Lebanon to Syria. If you can help in any way, leave me a comment and let me know.

I spent last week on a mission trip in Denver with the youth group from the church I work at. It was rewarding and refreshing, not at all what I was expecting, but certainly an amazing time. It occurred to me that I haven't really been to a structured mission trip in the US that wasn't Mountain TOP, so I really began to have reservations about it the week before I left. Enough so that I was stressing myself out and didn't feel well at all when we left on Sunday.

Thankfully, I was soon reminded of God's presence on the trip and my stomach calmed down. After the kids had ridiculous amounts of sugar (how do you control what they buy at gas stations...seriously?), we were well on our way to Denver. We had many a stop off at scenic stops, nearly taking out a bunch of texan youth that wouldn't move out of the way at one. Sunday was a great way to get to know the kids, nothing like being locked in a car for 8 hours with them. We pulled up to the church in the pouring down rain, met up with the other churches and staff and then the real fun began. It was great to be in that element, with the excitement of youth and the realization at the very beginning that lives were going to be changed.

Monday we got split up into our crews and I ended up with some people from Overland Park, KS. They were really nice and we headed out to our first "project." This whole thing was also new to me because I've really done nothing but physical labor on mission trips. Sure, I facilitated day camp when I did Mtn TOP volunteer staff, but that was nothing like getting thrown into Urban ministry settings. We were at a Salvation Army summer program and it certainly was eye opening for our kids. There was one kid there that reminded me so much of a kid from grade school that I was terrified of, which was interesting because his interactions with others and how they reacted really sort of changed my persepective of the boy he reminded me of.

Monday night we headed up to lookout mountain to open our eyes to the beauty and majesty of the mountains. It was a great experience, and I'm glad we got to go off site for our evening activities. It gave us the opportunity to really learn about the community that we were serving, something that gave the kids a sense that Denver is real and not some romanticized place in their heads.

Tuesday was back at the Salvation Army where we played more dodgeball, hung out with the kids and got a chance to check out the Denver Botanical Gardens. It was really a great time. We might have had some setbacks, but I really enjoyed our time wandering around. I got a little camera happy which was fun.

Tuesday night was super uncomfortable for me because we took the kids down to the center of downtown and had them engage in conversations with homeless people. It felt a lot like a zoo because bringing 70 kids to infiltrate an area with about 20 homeless people didn't work out very well. I would imagine it works better in other communities, but it was really hard for me to watch and facilitate a group because of how I feel about the families I work with. I think it could be a really powerful tool, and I know that it touched a couple of kids in the group that I had, but for the most part it made me uncomfortable. When we got back, I had arranged to get picked up by my Denver US-2 so I left the group for the night and went and hung out with Tiffany.

Now that was definitely one of the highlights of my week. I didn't know how awesome it would be to sit down and talk to someone who knows what I'm going through and what I am feeling. Sometimes I forget that I have this awesome premade support group of people that actually understand what I'm going through and the seperation from home and the relationships and the work and all of the feelings that go along with it. We didn't have long together, but we certainly filled our time with laughter, stories, and great memories. It was truly great.

Wednesday brought on a site switch which I was completely ready for. I love kids, but I can only handle them for so long. Teaching young children is definitely not my calling. In any case, we headed to a soup kitchen called Jesus to the World where we met some awesome people, had the opportunity to serve and make a meal and really get to engage and have conversations with people that made an impact on me and the kids. I know that I really enjoyed my time there and loved having the opportunity to really get to know the youth I was with. We also spent Thursday there.

Wednesday night was a truly eye opening experience for me as we went to an urban ministry that is about the coolest concept I've heard of for youth ministry that I've seen. The youth director set up shop by setting up a studio for artists... graphic design, photography, acting, music, dancing, you name it, he put it together. In drawing the urban kids into things they like, he began to draw them in to the youth group where they can present the things they've done. It was a really cool experience and made me wonder what would happen if some of the urban churches I've been involved in took the step to do something like that. I definitely have hopes and dreams for a time in the future because of that experience.

Thursday night was our last night with the campers and we all headed to a lake and grilled out and just had a fantastic time. When we got back, we did the closing time which was by far one of the coolest experiences that I've ever had at a camp closing time. Yes, I LOVE the fishhook ceremony, and I will not replace that love with this, but this was pretty cool. We were all in our church groups and the staff came around and washed the adult leaders feet and prayed for us and then the leaders went around and washed the kids feet and prayed for them. It was really cool. And anyone who knows me knows that I HATE having my feet touched and I was pretty sure I wouldn't do it (we had the option not to) but then changed my mind at the last minute. Ashley, the program staff, prayed for me and it was one of the most moving prayers I've heard in a long time. I guess I just haven't been prayed for in a group setting like that in a long time and it really meant a lot to me.

As we headed back up to our youth group meeting space (each night we met back up with our youth group and had a debriefing time), the kids were all crying and feeling super emotional, I broke out my guitar and played songs as Jeremy did some preaching and finalizing the night.... and then he asked if I would play songs and went to sit down and suddenly Jeremy was on the floor. It was about the funniest thing ever and broke us from the emotional overload everyone was having, and you know what? I know that was a God moment. I know that God wanted us to be laughing and rejoicing and loving every minute of what was going on. It was spectacular.

Friday we headed to Six Flags for the day and had an awesome time. Definitely loved some of the rides and hung out at the water park in the afternoon. Ate the best funnel cake ever (though it was shared with 5 other people or so, therefore it was gone in like 2 seconds). That night we went to Casa Bonita and brought the staff along with us which was great. It is always good to see staff out of their element and let their guard down a little bit. I know that when I was a staffer at Mtn TOP we loved when we had those opportunities because you can really get to know people. This restaurant was absolutely nuts (gunfights, cliffdivers and monkeys oh my) but I definitely loved it.

Saturday brought the trip back and a car full of really wired kids (how is it that I remember mission trips with kids passed out on the way back and that totally didn't happen?) Overall it was one of the greatest weeks I've had here and I am SO glad that I took the opportunity to go and really enjoy myself. I was definitely worried about it going into it, probably more than I let on, especially because even though I've gone as an "adult" before with a group, it hasn't been in a real "adult" capacity where I had to deal with the crisis times and make store runs when people forgot stuff. It was really good to be in that role and I'm so glad I got to share in that adult experience with someone I respect.

I was going to throw pictures into this, but it is a novel already, so just go to my links in the right hand sidebar and click "My Photo Gallery" for pictures.
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