I've had a few days to recover and process our mission trip to Nicaragua. A few of my thoughts below ...
I was reminded once again that our "struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12). I seriously felt like this trip was some of the most intense spiritual warfare I've experienced. From the very beginning of the trip, there were things happening that were really trying to get us discouraged and unfocused ... a delayed flight, missing our connection, missing an entire day of ministry, luggage never arriving, a robbery, sickness. It was intense and I kept challenging our kids to pray and pray hard. I was also reminded of one of the Bible verses we had students memorize this summer: 2 Timothy 1:6 "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." There was a battle, but we have the secret weapon ... the Holy Spirit! I saw the Holy Spirit work in my life and the lives of our kids. It was awesome to see.
Last year on our trip there were definite "God moments" (which you can read about here). They were very clear "whispers" that I truly felt like God was speaking to me. I didn't hear God in that sense this year, but I felt just an overwhelming urge to pray, encourage our kids to always stay positive, and to just give back and serve in every way I could. While they weren't "whispers" like last year, I felt like those three things were an overall "theme" that God was laying on my heart. I just felt like those were the things He was really wanting me to focus on while there.
I was also reminded of how the importance of allowing myself and the kids in our youth ministry to see poverty. It needs to bother us. If we don't see it, it won't bother us. I wanted them to be as hands on as possible ... so they cut up the raw chicken, they made the meals, the smelled the dump, the held the kids, they used the same bathrooms. It's easy to ignore it if we don't see it, if we don't experience it. But, stuff like that really needs to bother us ... it needs to stir up a holy anger inside of us until we get to a point where we say "I've just got to do something!"
By the way, the girl that I'm sitting next too .... 24 years old. No joke! Living in a garbage dump will cause things like that to happen.
One of the challenges our kids had was that they often felt bad about only being in a place for a short period of time. So, we'd often go to a place for a couple of hours, serve, play, etc ... and then we'd have to leave. Our team was feeling a tension ... what's better ... to stay longer in one place or to hit several areas for a shorter period of time. I don't know if I necessarily have a good answer to that. Honestly, on our trip we did both. But, I was just reminded that no matter where we're at or how long we're there if we love people the way Jesus did, it's always a success! My challenge to our team was, yes, there are going to be times when we are only at a place for a short period of time ... what are you going to do with that time? Make the most of it. Honestly, in the big picture, we're only on this earth for a short period of time. How are we making the most of our time here?
I love teenagers! I love seeing what they can do. I love seeing them do things they don't think they can do and then have a huge smile on their face after they do it. Youth ministry (as any ministry) is not easy. I, like probably every other youth pastor on the planet, at times get frustrated, discouraged, tired, angry. I sometimes wonder if what I'm doing is having any impact. And, in my deepest, darkest moments I will sometimes ask myself "Why bother?" But, it's trips like this that remind me why I'm in youth ministry. They remind me of how much teenagers have to offer. They remind me of how amazing teenagers can really be. They remind me of how much I actually learn from teenagers. They also remind me of how fun teenagers are. I had such a blast with our team! Seriously, laughed and laughed and laughed. They will often make me feel old and help me feel young at the same time. But, I've certainly come back refreshed for ministry with teenagers.
Again, thank you for all of the prayers. They were certainly needed and felt.