A Mission Trip at Home: We did it and so can you!

Each summer we end our youth mission trips the same way:

“How will you take this trip home with you?”

“What can you keep doing at home to continue living missionally?”

 

I, along with students, usually have well-intentioned ideas and plans. We have the desire to serve our neighbors and to volunteer at a food pantry. We want to be more conscious of how we spend our time and listen to God’s promptings.

 

Then we get home. Life happens. We get back into normal rhythms. Those big plans get drowned out by daily life, and integrating a mission lifestyle into our normal patterns proves to be challenging.

 

When COVID-19 changed Higher Ground’s summer mission trip plans, we had two options – take a summer off or see what God could do in spite of our change in plans. Our Higher Ground students chose to take a risk and experiment. 

 

We always say, “You don’t have to leave home to go on a mission trip.” So we set out to see if that is really true.  On Sunday, July 19th, we kicked off our first Virtual Mission Trip. Thirteen students signed up to be pioneers, and the experience far exceeded any of our expectations.

“I had a lot of fun doing this mission trip. I love how Emily and Renata put together a fun mission trip even though none of us could see each other face to face. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot with the Shattered video series. I really loved the videos and I would definitely do this again if we couldn’t do another normal mission trip.” – Morgan, 8th grade.

 

Thanks to Next Step Ministries, we had access to a week’s worth of devotions, a video series, and worship songs. Every morning students watched a video devotion by Renata Jaeger and were given morning projects. At lunchtime, small groups used Zoom to check in with each other, talk through another devotion, and find out their afternoon projects. In the evening, we met all together via Zoom to debrief, watch a video series from Next Step, and worship.  Each of the work projects were grouped into 4 themes – Encouragement, Sharing the Workload, Acts of Kindness, and Material Needs. Some of the students favorite projects included a neighborhood food drive, covering the neighborhood with sticky notes of encouragement, and delivering cookies and flowers to friends and neighbors.

 

“I was really dreading to do this because I thought it wouldn't be fun since there wasn't going to be other people to do it [the projects] with, but it ended up being really fun. My favorite project to do was the food drive and I really want to do it again sometime.  I learned that serving in your own neighborhood is a lot different than going somewhere else to do it, because I felt a lot more motivated to do things when people I knew were benefiting from it.”  -Kylie, 9th grade

 

The interesting part of this experience, for many students, was that they truly were working the projects into their normal routines. Many still had to go to work, do chores at home, and go to sports practices. They learned to be flexible, to take advantage of the time they had, and to see each of their environments as a way to share the love of Jesus and to do good. One student wrote encouraging words on the napkins she gave out at her job. Another took the children she was babysitting along with her to pass out food drive flyers. 

 

It wasn’t an easy experience. We learned that sometimes it’s harder to serve (and take risks with) people you see every day versus strangers in faraway city. Students had to motivate themselves to do the work projects. They didn’t have other students or leaders next to them, pushing them on to the next task. It was hard to know what we were missing (an in-person experience) and to let that go so we could embrace the blessings of this experience. Challenges offer opportunities for growth, however, and I saw incredible maturity, responsibility, joy, and a commitment to Jesus in the young people who embarked on this neighborhood mission trip. 

 

“I didn't really know what I expected from this "Trip", but it was definitely better than I thought is was going to be. There were different fun and challenging activities that helped me grow in my relationship with God and my neighbors. I now know many more neighbors and how to serve at home. Though it wasn't the same as an in-person Mission Trip (which I have come to miss even more in quarantine), it still was a great way to get centered.” -Sophie, 8th grade

 

So, it’s true. You don’t have to leave home to go on a mission trip. In fact, the Higher Ground students and I want to invite you to spend the rest of your summer trying out the projects we completed this past week. They are all safe, can be done from a distance, and will give you a renewed heart for your home, neighborhood, and city. Below is our full list of project assignments. We are challenging you to sit down every Sunday and pick 2-3 projects to complete during the week and set aside the time when you will work on them. We want to hear your stories and pictures too! Send me an email or post on the Church’s Facebook page (epowers@livelifetogether.com)

 

 

MISSION TRIP AT HOME

 

  • Do 5 secret acts of kindness during the day (both in and out of the home).

  • Pass out flyers for a neighborhood food drive. Indicate the date and time you will come back to pick up donations. Invite people to leave donations on their porch for you to pick up. Take donated items to a local food pantry.

  • Donate books you aren’t using to little free libraries in your neighborhood. 

  • Support a local small business (purchase something, share their social media, write them an encouraging email, etc.)

  • Make cookies for a neighbor.

  • Do chores at home that are normally someone else’s job.

  • Prayer walk

  • Video call a family member you haven’t seen in a while.

  • Write a letter and mail it.

  • Deliver flowers to someone who could use encouragement.

  • Use sidewalk chalk to fill your neighborhood with encouraging messages.

  • Leave sticky notes of encouragement on mailboxes, doors, etc.

  • Ask neighbors how you can help with yardwork (wash windows, mow, pick up sticks, weed, etc.)

  • Pass out water while you pick up trash at a park.

  • Make dinner for someone.

  • Other creative ideas……?

 

Me a Missionary? YES!

 

We had an awesome time of learning and discovery over the last three weeks during 2:22sdays with Sheila Anderson looking at the book of Acts. (if you were not able to join us, they are recorded on our facebook page) She did a great job reminding us that the book is not only a history lesson about the beginning of the early church but a way for us to consider how we are missionaries right now where we live and work in 2020. 

 

How is it going for you living every day as if you are God’s representative? Because you are!  He gave you that call to go and represent him at your baptism.  What a privilege!  And some days it feels like an overwhelming task.  Or is it?  One of the lessons Sheila brought out was that Paul relied on God’s leading to see the next step, and he could only see his next step not the whole picture.  That is true for us as well.  We follow Jesus one step at a time, one day at a time.  We seek His wisdom and guidance as we read his word, talk to him in prayer, rely on the Holy Spirit and talk with trusted friends.  

 

Do you have someone that you are walking with as you follow Jesus?  Someone you can share what you are learning with, reach out to when you are confused or struggling and encourage as you both follow Jesus?  If you would like to know more about connecting in a 1:1 discipleship you can email Amy at ameyer@livelifetogether.com, to talk about your HOW and WHO.

 

Back in 2014 we went through a small book as a congregation called, Be Jesus in Your Neighborhood  Developing a Prayer, Care, Share Lifestyle in 30 Days by Alvin VanderGriend. 

The following is a quote from Day 18 page 44,45:

 

     “In Jesus we see a prayer-care-action pattern that is meant to be followed as we reach out to our neighbors and friends. We begin by praying. Then caring follows as love for them wells up in our hearts. And then we are motivated to act in some way on our neighbors’ behalf. 

     Caring begins in prayer. As you pray for your neighbors, be alert to what happens in your own heart. Do you feel compassion? Do you feel a burden for their spiritual well-being? Do you feel drawn to them? Are you ready to spend some time with them? Do you sense how much they matter to God?

     Then action flows from caring. Are  you motivated to do something for them? Follow the promptings of your heart as the Spirit of God leads you to reach out in caring ways to the people around you. Act on their behalf in ways that show the love of Christ. This is the biblical pattern.”

 

May God grant you great joy as you follow him. As you take the next step that the Spirit leads you to take. As you continue to pray, care and act in love to those that he puts in your path. We are the church, we get to be Jesus in our neighborhoods. You are a missionary. May the world know Him by how much we love one another.  


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
 

History and Pain: A Reflection on American Racism (Part 2 of 2)

The acceptance of the pain of the past is a deeply personal journey, and not one we can rely on others to undertake for us. As part of my journey over the last two decades, I have awakened to the trauma and pain originating from the long legacy of slavery that continues to reside in many Black Americans’ bodies, minds, and spirits. This pain resides in and poisons all Americans, though we are not all equally forced to confront it daily. The degree to which one must struggle with, and fear unjust death because of, the legacy of slavery and a land steeped in 500 years of racism is directly correlated to the level of melanin in one’s skin.  

 

Racist laws, budgets, policies, and social practices have robbed Black Americans of experiencing the fullness of their birthright as children of God. There are simply too many of us who have been unwilling to see and fight against the many ways Black humanity is denied. I have seen and allowed myself to perceive only a sliver, an iota, of the pain my black friends have experienced. And even that is only empathy at best, since I will never be able to own or feel a Black, embodied experience. My tears and my pain are essentially incomparable to those of my Black neighbors. They do not need my tears or your tears. Their liberation is already theirs. But you and I (white Americans) have not adequately, publicly called for the recognition of that liberation in the form of institutions, laws, and systems altered to become anti-racist. What is required goes beyond sympathy and listening; we must actively seek transformation of our hearts and attitudes. I confess that I am one of millions of white Americans who have allowed our centuries-long refusal to hinge our value on something outside of superiority to non-white people to persist, at the direct cost of Black lives. 

 

Because of the disparity of experiences between white people and people of color, I recognize that until I choose to see the pain and injustice my Black friends live with daily, until I choose to examine how deeply racial hierarchies and discrimination are woven into American systems and psyches, until I choose to let that particular, ugly sort of pain into my soul and allow it to break me, I cannot hope for transformation in myself or in my country. Will you hear this difficult truth? If I authentically see the pain that Black people are experiencing and expressing, I am forced to see that I, too, carry pain. 

 

If we are to hold any hope for an end to racial injustice in our country, we can no longer allow our aversion to pain to stop us from seeing and acknowledging the ongoing suffering and death, borne of racism, which Black Americans experience.

 

I speak to you, my white friends, and to myself: this is so critical and urgent because our Black compatriots do not have a choice. They experience this pain at a cellular level, and involuntarily, inevitably pass that pain -- along with pride and resilience and so many other essential, praise-worthy human characteristics -- on to their children. And we pass poisonous ideologies on to our children when we do not speak out loud and fight against them. Racism is a full-blown public health crisis

 

The primary way for white people to play a role in disrupting the cycle of intergenerational trauma tied to American racism is to make the choice to loudly acknowledge it, recognize its myriad manifestations, to let it shatter us, and to seek transformation first within ourselves, and then with our white family members and friends. 

 

We need to step back, continue to center and amplify the voices of Black leaders on our platforms, and take responsibility for doing our own work. We must not be content ending our conversations around this topic by asking, “What can white people do?” Answers to this question abound. Reach out to me if you would consider letting me walk alongside you as you seek. We must do this work now and every day until our bodies fail. We must do this work until natural death is the only acceptable way for our Black neighbors to lose their lives. I hope you will join me on the journey of healing ourselves and healing the pain that racism perpetuates. 

 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

John 15:13, NLT

 
 

History and Pain: A Reflection on American Racism (Part 1 of 2)

If the word “racism” sparks feelings of fear, anger, or grief within you, you are on the right track. You are sensing the deeply embedded illness that the reality of racism has sown in this land we now call the United States of America and in all of its inhabitants for half of a millenia.

 

Thank you for taking time to read what I have undertaken here to express. If you have trigger points around violence and/or family trauma, I suggest that you read this article with a support person if possible, and if you are so moved say a prayer before you read that God will keep you humble yet strong as you open your heart and mind to experience painful thoughts and feelings. I further ask that you would spend time in self-reflection today, seeking discernment in how to humbly but urgently seek change. 

 

In a post on Facebook, my friend Sheba explained why some of our responses, as white people, to George Floyd’s murder and subsequent protests across the world, miss the mark. I share her words here with her permission. The post conveys her thoughts as she and her husband struggle to come to terms with yet another murder of a Black person at the hands of police, while they celebrate the first birthday of their twin sons. I have abbreviated her post for space; click the link above to read the entire post.

 

It's not easy for us to come up with eloquent words right now for how we are feeling. We are grieving. This is not the kind of pain that can be compartmentalized. We can't tuck it away or put it up on a shelf. It is a constant, ever-present pain. We cannot choose when to feel it - it is with us every day. Many of us have had family members who have been brutalized by police, or have feared for our families' lives when deciding whether or not to involve police - ever, period - even when their lives are at risk or they actually need protection. You may not know these of our stories simply because we only feel brave enough to tell them in the safest of spaces. None of what is happening is political to us. Saying that you don't "get political" is a deflection and a cop out. This tired narrative is holding white people and organizations back from their supposed interests in equity and diversity. It's holding us all back period, because it further deepens the distance we put between ourselves and issues that do not directly impact us - so we choose not to care. We choose not to pause from our everyday lives, and think critically about what's going on, because doing so would create an inconvenience for us. Black people's pain has always been an inconvenience for white people to actually face - because to face our pain would mean that you have to face your complicity and the ways that you directly benefit from white supremacy.

 

I believe that if we are to model Jesus’ radical, countercultural love and care for others, our first steps in any response to the claims of those hurting, those oppressed, must be acknowledgement and self-reflection, before we level any judgment or condemnation. I am making two requests of you here: (1) consider that you may not yet have the full picture of US history and take steps to re-learn; (2) consider that you may have personal work to do when it comes to seeing and accepting pain and its sources. These areas of focus are inexorably intertwined, but today I will attempt to focus my thoughts on the topic of US history, and next week I will post the second half of what I've written, on the topic of pain stemming from American racism.

 

I know there are many reading this who have experienced intergenerational trauma. The term or even the concept may be new to you, but when you think about inherited conditions that plague families across generations -- alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, codependence -- I hope you realize that our family histories play a significant role in shaping who we are. 

 

Another way to look at the importance of the past is to think about ethnic pride. I expect most of us can say that we have been proud, or at least curious, to learn and speak about the places from where our ancestors hailed.

 

Imagine with me for a few moments that your family history in the US was not characterized by elective and legal immigration. Imagine that your ancestors were forcibly removed from their land, from their homes. Imagine that your ancestors were deprived of not only their culture but in most cases their family members, in many instances their very lives. Imagine that, in addition to powerful resistance and liberation, your family’s history was characterized by experiences of desecration, rape, torture, deprivation, and lynching over generations, for hundreds of years. This painful cultural history is the inherited reality for many of our fellow Americans. Indigenous people, Black people, and people of color have experienced trauma at the hands of white people, who invented the very construct of race, on this land for over 500 years. They continue to experience such trauma to this day. 

 

Today, we do not condone slavery, but we allow mass incarceration of Black people and witness police brutality in silence. Today, we do not condone legal segregation, but we practice it de facto in our minds, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Today, we do not publicly assent to differential treatment and valuation of people based on the level of melanin in their skin. But oh, my sisters and brothers, do we hold on to such differentiation in our hearts when we witness the evil carried out upon George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony Robinson, and too many others, and do not stand up and loudly shout “Injustice!” from the rooftops, much less speak about it with our families, friends, and elected officials.

 

What are we to do with a legacy of this weight and magnitude? I suggest we must allow ourselves to be broken. I suggest that when we hear cries of injustice, racism, and oppression, we do not seek to argue about or deny or defend the behavior of our fellow white folks, or justify to ourselves our own inaction in favor of focusing on "Black-on-Black crime" or calling for peaceful protest. Rather, we must sit still for a moment, think sincerely about the pain experienced by those whose family members and friends have lost their lives because of racism, and begin to feel some of that pain for ourselves. We must acknowledge the pain of the loss of life, and grieve for those lives. Our sisters and brothers are being killed, illegally, and often without recourse. 

 

If you have never been brought to your knees by the atrocities faced by African people stolen from their homes and shipped as cargo across oceans to be sold as property, if you have never wept after reading about crimes committed against Black slaves for generations, if you have never felt soul-deep anguish upon witnessing the ongoing mistreatment and murders borne by Black Americans in the 20th and 21st century, I plead with you: start with history. Please be willing to accept that you may not have been taught the full breadth and depth of our land’s and our nation’s history. Be willing to seek out accounts and sources that tell this history from non-white, non-Eurocentric perspectives. If you are unwilling or unable to seek out such historical accounts, I plead with you to genuinely ask yourself why that seems impossible or unnecessary to you, and to ask God to soften your heart to perspectives on US history that differ from what you have heard or learned in the past. 

 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

 

Join me on Zoom today at noon, as our church family discusses racial injustice. 

 

On June 17, I will share why it is crucial for each of us to choose to sense the personal nature of the illness of American racism. I will address why it is equally crucial for us to refuse to let the pain we sense cloud our vision, lest we allow our own experiences of awakening to racism draw our attention away from the powerful, liberating voices of Black Americans to whom we must listen, ceding authority and airspace. I will conclude tomorrow with an invitation to join me on the path of taking responsibility for the required personal and collective action needed to heal the pain inflicted by racism.

 
 

Starting the Conversation

STARTING THE CONVERSATION

Breaking the silence about racism, personal responsibility, and the Christian response.

 

For a long time, the Christian church’s response to racism has been timid, scattered and inadequate. God calls us to stand up -- strongly and consistently -- against injustice. 

 

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

 

As Christians, it is time for us to become strong allies for members of the black community, allies who listen, reflect and are empowered to enact change. I encourage you to join us in taking 2 steps.

 

1. Read, learn, reflect.

2. Start the conversation.

 

At the bottom of this post, you will find a list of resources to explore over the next week. The following items are a starting point for our reflection and dialogue. They are not meant to be expert opinions. You may disagree with some of the ideas suggested. These are simply intended to be a resource as we each wrestle with the topic of racism, our roles within that, and how we can be God’s Church in today’s society. It’s time for the Church to intentionally step up. 

 

Then, I invite you to join in the conversation. I (Pastor Jeff) will be hosting two, 45 minute zoom calls that will allow you and others space to have dialogue around this topic. Bring your insights, questions, reflections, and a prayerful spirit as we journey together.

  • Thursday, June 11th, 8:00pm-8:45pm
  • Friday, June 12th, 12:00pm-12:45pm
  • Zoom links will be available via facebook, our website, and email.
 

Let’s start the conversation.

 

TUNE IN: 

  • FRIDAY, JUNE 5, to the Madison365 Facebook Page for a day of speakers and presenters addressing racial issues. 
  • TUESDAY, JUNE 9th, 11:00-11:45am, to the Church's Facebook page or website for a special 2*22sday (Note time change).  “A Conversation of Race, Privilege, and Action” will be hosted by Pastor Jeff and fellow LCMS pastor, Gregory Manning.
 

WATCH: Choose a video(s) from below to watch. Links are included in each title.

 

READ:  

 

START THE CONVERSATION: 

  • Talk to your family and friends about what you are reading, watching, and hearing. Invite them to read/watch/listen to those things as well.
  • Join the Church, via a zoom video call, at 8pm on Thursday, June 11 and/or Friday, June 12 at noon to talk about what you are learning, processing, and reflecting on.

 

I would love to hear your insights, questions, and struggles. Send me an email at jmeyer@livelifetogether.com.