Monday, February 12, 2018

Why Your Kids Should Attend Ash Wednesday Services

For many in Western Christianity, this Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting that follows a time of revelry in some cultures (cue the Mardi Gras celebration, Fat Tuesday, and all-you-can-eat-pancakes). More specifically, it is a day of repentance beginning the season of preparation that builds up to Easter Sunday.  One of the most recognizable symbols of the day is the imparting of ashes, typically in the shape of a cross, on a person's forehead as a sign of repentance. This is done to remind worshipers of their mortality and that as humans, we all are "made from dust, and to dust we will return" (Gen. 3:19).
Doesn't sound like the easiest of concepts to share with a child, does it? Ash Wednesday and Lent pose some difficult challenges for parents and others who work with children in conveying its meaning and importance. However, despite these challenges, your child's participation in Lenten activities and Ash Wednesday specifically, can provide meaningful contributions to a young person's spiritual formation.

1) Children See They Are A Part of The Family - Many of our worship services and church programs do not consistently take intentional steps to include the learning styles and age-appropriateness of children into their planning. Yet, by participating in worship, children get to watch as faithful participation is modeled for them by the adults that care about them. Over time, they grow to see themselves as active participants in that group. Ash Wednesday provides a special opportunity for a child's faith development because it offers a tangible representation that the children in our midst are on level ground with those adults with whom they share a worship space.
Following the imparting of ashes during a service, children get to look around and see all of the people they know and who care about them bearing the same mark which adorns their own foreheads. They get to see with that they are just like everyone else in the room, that they too, are a vital part of the family of God. Similarly, for the more seasoned community members in the room, seeing even the youngest child with ashes on their head is a reminder that they too are an equal part of the faith community, and that it is everyone's responsibility to ensure their continued incorporation into the life of the church.
2) Jesus Was Human Just Like Me - Often in Ash Wednesday services, the liturgy reminds us of our mortality, of our humanness. As the beginning of the season leading up to Easter, where Jesus experienced a mortal death, Ash Wednesday affords the opportunity to convey the concept that Jesus was a human being just like the child in your care. This point will hopefully be conveyed during the service, but parents and caregivers can share this important truth that Jesus was human just like we are. Jesus knows what it is like to feel sad, or mad, or even what it is like to fall and scrape your knee. Because of this, Jesus has a careful understanding of what we experience in life. A vital learning for a young Christ follower to grasp.
3) Everyone Makes Mistakes - The ashes on the forehead serve as an acknowledgement that the person bearing the mark is not perfect, but is susceptible to making mistakes. What a wonderful lesson for children to see. That not only are they an equal part of the spiritual family, but that everyone in the family makes mistakes too! Not only does everyone make mistakes, but they are still welcomed in this place! This is a powerful lesson for children to learn at a young age! It shows that the Church is a place of love, acceptance, grace, and mercy, but also a place where we can be honest about what we are facing in life. It demonstrates that we don't have to hide what is troubling us, but we can openly share it knowing we will be affirmed and encouraged!

One day during Jesus' ministry, some parents had brought their kids to see Jesus, but his disciples attempted to bar them from reaching him. When Jesus saw what was happening, he spoke up, "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn't receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-16). This Ash Wednesday, let us not shy away from letting our children experience Jesus in a different, albeit challenging way, but instead let us embrace the opportunity which Ash Wednesday affords. Allow this somber but hopeful day to remind us all that we we share a special bond within the family of God. One where all are welcome and loved for who we are... dirt and all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Worst Thing to Say To A Young Minister

     It was the end of the service, and I was standing at the rear of the sanctuary greeting people as they were exiting. I had just finished leading the service while the pastor was away on vacation. Everything from the opening, to the reading of scripture, delivering the sermon, and sending out the congregation with the benediction. I had done it all... and in my mind, I had nailed it! I felt everything went well. I hadn't stumbled in the sermon, I had noticed multiple congregants nodding their heads or laughing at my attempts at humor. On top of that, the overwhelming sense as if I was doing what I had been called by God to do! What a feeling of fulfillment and joy it was to know that I had helped others to encounter God that morning in worship.

     I was shaking folks hands and receiving their standard "great sermon" comments, along with the occasional question or personal connection peppered in about a story I had shared. I was reaching the end of the swell of departures when one of the church's long-time members stuck out their hand to me, shook it vigorously, and with strength in their voice proclaimed... "You are going to make a great preacher someday."
Image result for person pulling their hair out
The accompanying photo encapsulates what was going on inside of my head. I knew that in their heart of hearts, they meant no ill will. Seriously, I knew that they were coming from a place of deep affection and admiration for what I had just done, but it still hit me like a blast from a rocket launcher.

     Statements like these and others, though given with the best of intention, are actually the bane of every young or aspiring minister's existence. So let's look at the bad of similar statements and the good (think 'better') way of acknowledging what a minister had done.

     Simply put, statements such as "you will someday" can cause the young minister to question what has already been done in their ministry.  Even the most confident and equipped of ministers can be irritated by such a statement. In the above example, the comment was in response to preaching and leading a worship service. Preaching and proclamation is the most visible form of ministry that congregations see, and it happens at least 52 times a year (not including all those extra-special services, i.e Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Funerals, Weddings, etc.) But there is so much more that is being done by the minister. When someone says something to the effect of "how great one will be in the future," the minister is left thinking, "Well what about what I am already doing?" If this person is not in the senior minister role, more than likely their work takes on many different forms, often outside of the church building. Statements about the future could make the young minister feel as if their current work/ministry is not appreciated, validated, or significant.

     I have heard the statement of "great preacher someday" many times. So many, I stopped keeping count after the twentieth occurrence. I once delivered a sermon and had someone make the statement to me after. I was already a seminary graduate, had been ordained three years earlier, and had been in ministry of some form for almost eight years. In my mind I thought to myself, "Well what the heck would you call what I have been doing for the last few years?"

     So what can be said instead? One of the greatest things a parishioner can say to any minister is "thank you." These two simple words mean more to a minister of any experience than just about anything else that could be said. It shows appreciation and recognition for what has been done. In so many ways it says, "I noticed what you did, and that God was at work in it. So 'thank you' for responding to God's leading in being used in such a way."
     If you want to take it a step further than just "thank you," engage the minister in a conversation about the ministry that took place. This works well for sermon delivery, but it can be applied in response to any form of ministry (children's sermon, hospital visit, attending a youth ball game, putting together a bulletin for a special service, leading a Bible study). Engaging in a conversation about the work being done shows that their efforts are being noticed, and that you as a church member care about the ministry they are performing. Half of the internal battle minister regularly face is wondering if anyone cares about what they are doing anyway? Show that you care by taking the initiative to ask questions. You may just find out something you didn't know before.

   Recently, my participation in worship at our church consisted of reading the morning's lectionary text. Following the service, a faithful parishioner who is not the most vocal of leaders but certainly is always present, sought me out. They said, "Josh, I just wanted to let you know how lucky we are to have you here. I love hearing you read scripture, you make it come alive." I literally had to hold back tears. For most worship attendees, the reading of scripture is an expected aspect of service and it occurs each week. It can easily be placed aside as mundane or not outstanding. Worshipers see me stand up, read, and return to my seat. What they don't see is the time spent on Thursday reading for clarity of what is happening in the text, or hear the practicing of the delivery so it sounds just right. Nor do they know of the prayers offered up to God that the holy words would be made alive in the hearts of the people who hear it. A simple act of ministry to some, is a life-giving one for the minister. The right words offered unexpectedly can often make all the difference when it is needed most.

Monday, January 22, 2018

8 Keys to Success in Your Child's Sports/Faith Relationship

NOTE: The following is an abbreviated format of material that was presented in a workshop I led on Saturday January 20 at a parents conference held by our local association of Baptist churches. The workshop was entitled "Sports in the Christian Home." 

Do we have a sports fanatics problem? The picture to the left is taken from Twitter last month. It shows a person in the Atlanta area who was so excited at the Georgia Bulldogs SEC championship victory, that he saw fit to attach a flat-screen TV to his car and played the game on a loop for everyone to see on his daily commute. I have to admit... that is a first for this sports addict. 
As someone who has participated in sport in a variety of ways (athlete, coach, college-administration, and a high-school official in two sports), I have seen just about everything when it comes to people's passion. This passion is not lost on our nation's teenagers and children who participate in athletics with unprecedented levels of commitment. According to the Women's Sports Foundation, there are around 21.5 - 29 million American kids between 6-17 playing organized sports, with families spending on average, $2,266 annually on a child's sports related activity. 
With this growing level of passion and commitment, there are many challenges that face families who desire to see their children succeed in competition, but also in their faith development. Parents often feel pressured to have their students at multiple events, and this pressure trickles down to students as well. Many parents are left feeling like that have to choose between their desire to see their students achieve great things, with the desire to see their student raised in a Godly home. What can be done?
There is no silver bullet, but I do believe a healthy approach to sport, a clear understanding of expectations by all involved, and an honest measure of what success is can release some of the pressure parents and students feel. In releasing this pressure, students can achieve a clearer view of what is important and begin to see their participation in sport as an opportunity to put their faith in practice. Here are my 8 Keys To Success in helping families navigate their student's faith/sport relationship. 

Key 1: Balance is Crucial 
 Students (and their families) only have so much time and commitment levels they can give toward all of the things in their life (i.e. school, sports, church, friendships, work, etc).  Therefore, balance is imperative if the student is to have a healthy approach to all of their life's demands. Additionally, everyone: parents, coaches, student-athletes, and ministers, need to acknowledge this reality.
This balance rests on the influence of their parental figures. The parents set the standards yes, but this should be done in concert with their student. This is also a great opportunity to teach your student about time management and the all important concept of, "When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else."

Key 2: Start with Shared & Agreed Upon Expectations
This key directly impacts the successful implementation of the first. It is so important that everyone understands what is acceptable and what is not. This goes for the parent-child and the family-coach relationships. What this looks like in practice is with the parent and child knowing when they will be attending sporting events over church events and vice versa. There may be certain "no-exceptions" for the parent that need to be communicated with the child before the season even starts. For example, the parent may say that the mid-week student bible study is a "must attend" while the occasional youth recreation event is an acceptable absence. Another example may be missing no more than two worship gatherings a month. 
I encourage you to involve your child as much as possible in establishing this schedule and even the no-exceptions. They are much more receptive to a standard they have helped established, rather than one that has been imposed on them. And whatever is decided needs to be shared with the coach. No coach likes being told the day of a practice that a particular student may not be there, especially if they have already made a practice plan. This also helps offer a time to dialogue and potentially avoid the "but if I don't practice I don't play" argument that students may often try to employ. 

Key 3: Communicate
This may seem like a repeat of Key 2, but of course, even the best laid plans change. So when they do, be sure all involved parties know as soon as possible. This includes letting the coach, your child, and the youth leader of your church know about any changes. Telling the youth minister that you didn't know you had a game that conflicts with the weekend retreat after you had already signed up is not always the best excuse. Especially when your team's schedule was probably made months in advance. Keep everyone up-to-date with things as they happen. 

Key 4: Be Your Child's Biggest Cheerleader, Not Pusher
To help your child achieve the healthy balance between their faith and sporting interests, they need to know the proper place sports have in their life, and often they take their cues from you. So if you constantly hound them about how many free throws they missed, or their lack of effort, but never engage them about what they study in their youth bible study, which do you think they are going to start to believe is most important? That is why I say be your child's biggest cheerleader not pusher.
Think about it, a cheerleader is a part of the action at a game. They are visibly and even audibly present, yet they are still beyond the boundary line of the field. They never enter the field of play, but are a constant supporter of the participants. In contrast, being a "pusher" requires that you take a hands-on approach to your child's involvement in sport. This mean you are too close to the action and need to take a step back. How you approach your child's participation is so vital to how they interpret the value of their sporting careers. When all else fails, the best five words you can say to your child are... "I LOVE WATCHING YOU PLAY!" 

For a role reversal of what this might feel like, check out this comical PSA from Hockey Canada on the topic of parental support/involvement with your child 

Key 5: Use the Time To Check in With Your Kid
When was the last time you were locked into an enclosed space with your student for 20-30 minutes at a time? Yea, that is basically what the car ride home following a game or practice is, so take advantage of it. Don't use this time to hound your child about what they did wrong, or how bad the refs were. Instead, ask them what they learned, how the situation made them feel, and impart some life-wisdom in light of those scenarios. Or, just ask them how their day was... and keep asking. You just may be surprised by the responses you get. 

Key 6: See All Aspects of the Experiences as Teachable Moments
Building off of the two previous keys, adults looking to develop the spiritual lives of their children need to seize the great opportunity that sports provide. Where else can you experience the variety of life skills that sports offer; teamwork, responding to adversity, leadership, goal setting, and dealing with opposition. All of this and more come up through the course of a season, and their life applications are very direct. These are great opportunities to share a Christ-centered perspective in response to challenging moments, and to offer affirmation at the positive displays of "loving your neighbor." 

Key 7: Challenge Your Kid to be a Servant Leader
This is the practical application of the previous key. Every athlete plays different roles on a team, but leadership and service can be a part of all of them. Whether your kid is the team's leading scorer, or sits at the end of the bench, these are representative of the reality that the body of Christ takes all parts to be successful. Just as a church needs more than a senior pastor to accomplish its goals, so does your child's team. No matter the role that is played, there are opportunities to put this practical faith lesson into action. It just takes the right perspective to see these opportunities through Jesus-tinted lenses. 

Key 8: Ask Your Church for Help & Resources
Parents, no one expects you to have all the answers, so don't wait until your drowning in calendars, practices, and events before asking for help. Reach out to your church's ministers, lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc for help. I promise you aren't the only parent wrestling with these same questions, so you can find support and encouragement in these shared experiences. Try everything from speaking with your child's youth pastor, to inviting a beloved senior adult to your child's game. You just might be surprised at the reaction you get. 

My favorite verse while I was playing sports was Colossians 3:23, "In whatever you do, work at it as if working for God and not for people." This verse reminded me that everything I did provided me an opportunity to grow more into the person God desired for me to be, and athletics is one of the largest venues that I put that into practice. So I am excited by the chances that you and your family will have to serve God through your participation in athletics. That is a message certainly worth playing on a loop for all to see! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

STRAINED: What a loose dog and a strained voice taught me about MLK and speaking truth.

Creek, named for my two homes,
Mill Creek and Buies Creek
On days that I have the time, I enjoy taking our dog, Creek, to the park so that we both can stretch our legs a bit beyond the confines of our home. Creek is an eight-month-old black lab mix who is full of energy. He loves to run at full sprint when he can, and I certainly enjoy watching him do so. This past Saturday afternoon, Creek and I went to a local park in town, though a different one from where we typically go. This park has a recreation baseball field with an enclosed fence that I thought would be perfect for him to get all of his energy out in a safe environment since we lack a dog park in the area.

                Creek darted around the outfield chasing one of his beloved balls and frantically rolled in the grass to his heart’s delight (and mine). After about 30 minutes, I was ready to head home, when Creek noticed a group of birds out in left field. Of course, as is his nature, he took off , and a comical scene ensued of a dog doing his best to catch the impossible. I smiled at the scene, but my joy quickly turned to horror as I noticed that there was a gap in the fencing where the third baseline met the left field fence that I had not noticed when we arrived. Unfortunately, Creek did, and he saw an opportunity to continue the chase of the birds who were taking flight.
                This field is located beside a fairly busy four lane road that serves as a major entry point into our community’s downtown area. I watched in horror as Creek bolted out of the fence and up the embankment in pursuit of his prize. His path took him directly towards the road. I pursued as fast as I possibly could, screaming at the top of my lungs with such veracity in a desperate, but futile, effort for him to “STOP!” I could hardly bare to keep my eyes on him as he approached the road with six to seven cars traveling from both directions. Creek entered the road just so, that the cars passed in front of him as he crossed, nearly missing his small thirty-pound frame. He was none the wiser of what he had done until he had reached the other side, and only then did he realize his location in relation to mine.
                Creek then retreated back to our original side of the highway, and for the next five minutes continued to run with a reckless abandon, all along I was attempting everything I could to simply get him to stop so I can return him to safety. Eventually, he tired and walked to my car, and hopped in the front seat as he so often does, the ordeal finally over. As I sat down and leaned against my car, I was struck by the quickness of my breath, the pounding of my heart, and the pain I felt in my head and abdomen. I was shocked at just how petrified I had been. Later after we had returned home, and the adrenaline had subsided, I began to feel an extreme scratchy soreness in my throat, a pain I had never experienced in such a way before. Long-story short, according to my speech pathologist spouse, I had strained my vocal cords, and now they and my throat were inflamed as a result.
                As I type this, it is 4:00 AM on Monday morning, and I cannot sleep because of the severe irritation in my throat. It is difficult to speak, and at the behest of my wife, I am chugging water and popping honey-infused throat drops like a kid with a PEZ dispenser. All of this discomfort and irritation, a small yet aggregating consequence as a result of my desperate screams for our beloved family pet to simply stop, so that he would be safe from harm.
                In my attempts at sleep, I could not help but think of those who had given their voices to much greater calls for stopping injustices of all forms in order to bring safety and healing. Today is an appropriate day for such reflection as our nation stops to commemorate and celebrate the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He, along with so many other wonderful saints gave their voices yes, but so much more, to achieving the dream of a land of equal opportunity for all people, no matter their race. That dream has now been continually built upon to include all those who are marginalized and delegated as something less than equal (women, LGBTQ, poor, etc).
          Though Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fully realized, the work continues by so many great saints who go about speaking the truth. For Dr. King, the truth he spoke arose out of his deep desire to follow in the footsteps of his Lord Jesus Christ who said, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Additionally, the faith of Dr. King and those who carry on this good work was no doubt informed by the words of Paul who wrote to the church at Rome saying:

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.   – Romans 12: 9-17 (CEB)

                I am reminded how that when speaking up for what is right and just, that so often it is met with attempts to silence such words. There are sacrifices that so often come as a result. This is a reality that is not lost on God, as God demonstrated the greatest sacrifice in allowing Jesus to die for our shortcomings in order that the relationships between God and humanity could be reconciled.  The words offered up in spite of the opposition are indeed holy ones. Words of hope, love, grace, acceptance, and affirmation. Words that are not of this world, but are Kingdom words. So today I give thanks for the ministry of Dr. King, and all those who have given much in offering their voices for what is right. I am encouraged by the living of so many who do the good work for those who are marginalized in our world to go and do the likewise. May their voices not go unheard, because in them, we hear the voice of the one, true loving God. And may we not only hear that voice, but listen to it, and allow it to become the very words we speak as well. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Short and Insufficient Words On Charlottesville, VA: Prayers of the People at FBC Monroe

My attempts at capturing all of my thoughts and responses to what took place in Charlottesville, VA would be futile as there is so much going through my mind as I reflect on what took place, the people who were present, and the message that was conveyed by all involved's actions. With that said, I was however tasked with leading our congregation at First Baptist Church, Monroe in prayer in our weekly worship service. As I shared with our people, the events of this week have left me at a loss for words, so I had to borrow the powerful words of Fran Pratt. Below are the words of introduction I shared with our congregation, followed by the prayer that we offered from the litany that Fran Pratt wrote.

Words of Reflecting on Charlottesville/Intro to Prayer                                  
Yesterday, I spent the morning on a football field officiating a football scrimmage, seeing young men enjoying a game that requires its participants to exhibit teamwork, dedication, trust, and effort for the good of the team. Despite the warm weather, I walked off that field with joy in my heart and a smile on my face for the experience I had enjoyed. That joy was short lived when I reached my car, and saw the notifications on my phone detailing the events of violence that were unfolding in Charlottesville. As I watched the events unfold the rest of the day, I found myself experiencing a broad range of emotions. Confusion, anger, disgust, sadness, shock… maybe you felt some of these and other emotions as well?
I am thankful to live in a country where its citizens have the right to express their opinions and beliefs, whether I agree with them or not, or even if I feel it is not okay to believe that particular way. Yet, when a person’s opinions or beliefs lead to the act of driving a vehicle into a crowd of people intent on causing harm… that no longer is an opinion, but is something else. Something that I, nor we as people who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace can allow to go on unchecked.

So this morning church, as I reflect on the events in Charlottesville, VA, or how many times I heard the phrase North Korea this week, and all the other pains and challenges I know each of us are facing, as one of your ministers, I have to be honest and say, I am at a loss for words to pray this morning. But fortunately, we are able to turn to words of those across the life of the church for when we have none, so this morning for our prayer time, I will be borrowing words adapted from a litany written by Frann Pratt in light of what happened in Charlottesville. As I pray, I encourage you to add your own words of what you are feeling, knowing that our God is a big god, one who hears us and understands us, even when we may not be able to understand ourselves. Let us pray. 

Litany for Charlottesville, VA
Written by Fran Pratt
Used as a prayer at First Baptist Church, Monroe – Sunday August 13, 2017
God, we are sad to see the stark truth of demons that remain among us:
Hatred, bigotry, racism, and white supremacy.
We are sad to see flagrant parades of violence in our streets,
Flaunting prejudice and intolerance.
We mourn with our sisters and brothers who are harmed in body and soul
By these exhibitions.
Indeed, we are all harmed:
They are us and we are them.

We say No:
This can go no further.
We reproach these misguided souls
Resolutely and lovingly.

Help us not to bury our heads
Or resist the lesson before us:
Of the truth of the darkness that exists in our midst
Growing like weeds among wheat.

Help us to stamp out hate
By love and love alone.
Help us to preach peace on loudspeakers and pedestals,
But also in quiet relationships;
In art and poetry,
In song and dance,
In bread and wine,
In words written and spoken,
In pulpits and in alleys,
In boardrooms and porches.

The way of Christ is peace.
The method of Christ is love.
The means of Christ is invitation.
The ends of Christ are unity.
The way of Christ
Is the way we follow.              Amen

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Our Free/Fun-Filled Day in Montreal (Day 7)

The Team at the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal
Friday was our last full day in Quebec, and since our work for the week is complete, that means it was a free, fun-filled day. We spent the entirety of the day in the city of Montreal learning more about the history of Quebec, especially its religious heritage, and then go to see other parts of the city, with shopping, eating, and sightseeing all mixed in together.
            Our trusted friend, Pastor Daniel, graciously served as our guide for our day in the city. We left the church around 9 AM and drove over the mighty St. Lawrence River to reach the Oratory of St. Joseph. The Oratory is a large Catholic church that was constructed in the early 1900s and named for St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. This is a beautiful structure that sits on the highest point in the city of Montreal. Its beautiful architecture presented opportunities for our team to learn about the Catholic expression of the Christian faith, as well as how its construction and presence contributed to the distaste which lead to the French Canadian people in Quebec leaving the church.
            After our time atop the hill and a few viewing stops on our way back down, we made our way to downtown Montreal, where we spent some time in the giant underground mall that is four stories tall (or below, to be more precise) and then many blocks wide, running under many different buildings in the central city. We spent time in the downtown area where the team was able to shop for a few hours and eat lunch.
Inside the Church of Sainte Marguite Bourgeoys,
the oldest church in Montreal
            Following our time downtown, we drove over to “Old Montreal” the section of the city that is my favorite. Here we have some of the original buildings to the city, which is celebrating its 375th year in 2017. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, so this section of the city, with its ancient architecture and cobblestone streets, allows for an enjoyable experience. Pastor Daniel guided us with explanations of the various buildings and what their original uses were, and how the area has transformed today to become the center of the art and music scene of Montreal. We visited many of these buildings before breaking for dinner at a local restaurant where the menu included helpings of poutine, a Canadian dish consisting of French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy! After dinner, I treated the team to a special desert, Beaver Tail, a Canadian brand of sweet pastry that is covered with toppings of your choice. I think they loved them as much as I do.

Students engaging with a new prayer practice
As our week winds down, I want to give a special recognition to the two chaperones who have come along with me on this trip, who without them, this week would not have been possible; Jennifer Hissam and Donyelle Coalson. This two ladies jumped at the chance to be a part of this team when I gave a blanket request for parents who would be interested in taking part. This week they have been the perfect chaperones, jumping in on all of the work, encouraging and guiding students as they needed it, assisting with the needs of staying in the church each nigh, jumping in on the fun with students each evening as we relaxed, driving the second vehicle, and so much more. I am and our students were very fortunate to have them here, and I am glad they were, because I have so enjoyed sharing in this week with them, and I am so thankful for their service this week.

Our team now prepares to head home on Saturday after what has been a fulfilling week. Many came with various expectations and fears, however I think they will be returning to Union County with a better sense of the breadth of God’s kingdom, as well as the diversity within the body of Christ. I hope they are challenged to take the experiences they have had this week, and allow them to change the way they view all of the relationships they have in their lives.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Big Day (Day 6)

Julia with our new friend Ryan
Our day today was the big one, the one we have been working towards all week! On Thursday of each week, the church distributes the food from the food bank to 110 families. Everything we have done this week builds up to the work that was done today. It was a long one, and one where our team was working nonstop from the morning till about 6:30 this evening.
Reece and I started our day a little earlier than the rest of the team because we went with Gerard, Pastor Daniel, and Gill, another volunteer from the church, to pick up the weekly food items that the church purchases from the New Generation Mission that we visited on Tuesday. We left the church at 7 AM to get these items, which amounted to about 9 palates and the entire shipping truck full of food. The rest of the team remaining at the church began their morning around 8:30 with sorting the remaining food that was picked up at the farms yesterday.
Unloading the morning's pick-up

It took our delivery team a couple of hours to load the truck, and when we returned our team and the other church volunteers welcomed us and together we unloaded the truck and sorted all of the items. We took a break for lunch which was a huge family style meal of our team interspersed with the church volunteers, and it was a vibrant, jovial time. After lunch, the next two hours were focused on doing all of the final preparations necessary to distribute the food for the families.
            The food distribution lasted three hours (3-6), and it required our team and the church volunteers to set up various “pick-up” stations where the customers would come with their own bags and collect their food. To give you an idea of how much food they left with, it often took 4 or 5 large tote bags, as well as two boxes full of items, and at least 3 people to carry it all to the car. Our team worked non-stop restocking pick up locations, carrying bags to cars, speaking with customers (some with more difficulty than others because of the language barrier), cleaning working spaces, and moving large boxes of food throughout the facility. When the final family came by to pick up their food, we sat down for a well-deserved dinner and much needed rest.
Prepping for Pick Up Stations
            Our team is exhausted. They worked hard, being on their feet for the entire day stopping only for meals, working to lift heavy boxes and hauling bags. Altogether, we estimated that we moved about 3,500 pounds of food items today which benefited 110 families. Despite their exhaustion, they were amazed at how efficient the church volunteers are who do this work 50 weeks out of the year. When our team, or other teams from North Carolina are not here however, the number of workers in the food bank drops to about 10-15 people, so our team has great respect for their work. As Pastor Daniel shared with the team over dinner, the church puts in this much work because it is a means for contact with their community. The church tried many different things over the years to connect with the people of Chateauguay, and the idea of the food bank was a desperate attempt at first, but since has grown into a means far beyond anything they could imagine. They do this work with such energy and passion because they are doing it for the Lord. I know this left an impression on our team.
Delivering people's food to their cars
            But now, our work portion of the week is done. We will get some much-needed rest tonight, and I will treat them all to Tim Horton’s in just a bit to celebrate. Tomorrow we will go into the city of Montreal to visit for the day. Pastor Daniel will provide us with a tour as well as seeing various historical sites, along with doing other sightseeing, and I am sure there will be some shopping involved. It will give us a chance to experience Quebec in a different way. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, and I am excited for them to take in its beauty.

It is hard to believe that our time here has come and gone. In two days time, we will be back in North Carolina. This has been a great experience for the students, and I am encouraged by the ways they have been challenged, and the growth I have seen in each of them. I also am thankful for the time I have been able to spend with them, developing relationships with each of them. I truly love sharing in these students’ lives, and am honored God has given me the privilege to serve as their minister.