“You’ll never be together this way again.” Those words hit me in a really strange way. I was standing at the front of the church with 8 high school students and 3 adult leaders to be sent by our congregation on a short term mission trip to Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Pastor Bruce shared some words with the group before he prayed and told us that we had never been this exact group before and that when the trip was over we never would be again. Those words struck me as being somehow out of place. But tonight, the last night of our trip…..I realized how right he was (it’s never easy for an associate pastor to admit that his directing pastor was right). Let’s back up.
We left Canton at midnight last Saturday. It was a long trip through the night. Around 4:30 in the afternoon we made it to the Bayou La Batre Community Center. Let’s be clear…..they said the building was fully air conditioned but I’m calling bull right here. Our sleeping areas were at least 80 degrees at all times. Yuck.
I was in awe of our team all week. They worked so hard. They painted houses, ran a kids club, and ministered to shut ins in some of the hottest weather the bayou had experienced all summer.
More than the hard work, I loved watching them bond with each other. We are most certainly not the same group that left canton last week…..we’re a family now. We have memories that will last forever….we had several “journey moments” and countless inside jokes that will never make sense to anyone else.
Tonight, I had the opportunity to wash the feet of these amazing servant leaders……those who know me at all understand that this was out of my comfort zone. But in the quietness of those germ filled moments….we shared grace together. I wanted to let them know how much God loves them and has great plans for each one of them.
But I also realized something. Not only are these awesome students my family……I’m so proud to be their pastor. I came to Wesley just over a year ago and I dont think it was any big secret that I was nervous to be doing youth ministry again. Bruce just kept telling me to see the youth as my congregation…..and dang it he was right again. This is my flock. I feel responsible for them. As much as I want to see my wife and daughter, I’m grieving the ending of this experience. I wish we could stay together in this way doing life together and building the kingdom……but we’ll never be together in this way again. Life happens. We’ll be back to our jobs and routines and some of the bond we’ve built will wane.
Others will join us next year. Some of us won’t be back. I’m losing one of my flock. She was the first student I met on moving day and has been a great leader. She’s going off to college and I now fully understand that we’ll never be together in this way again.
So now im sitting up in and empty lobby and I’ll admit I’m grieving the end of this experience. There’s driving to do tomorrow and we’re going to spend a few days on the beach before returning home. I’ll be fine in the morning……but for just a little while longer im going to sit with these feelings knowing that my heart is full of gratitude and love for all that has been.