South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 5

God is good. He is faithful and compassionate, delighting in His children and ever providing for each need. Today was a day to grow in our relationships with each other, reflect on the week, and celebrate God's goodness. 
We began this morning with a 6:45am prayer breakfast hosted by the church where we are staying for the week. The gentleman I sat with has been coming consistently to this Friday breakfast for 14 years. We definitely enjoyed the southern breakfast, complete with grits, biscuits and gravy, and sweet tea! 
We had a few hours of free time in the morning and early afternoon, and we were eager to take advantage of it! The staff took us to a river where we had the option to jump off of a rope swing into the water. It was a great adventure!! After that we headed to Lake Murray for lunch and some playtime. 
After worship and showers, we headed off to a community cookout in the neighborhood where we have been working all week. It was definitely the perfect way to end our week! It was such fun! We played with the kids, talked with new friends, and enjoyed some watermelon and hot dogs. The gathering had a really great feel to it - like being with family. It was evident that this community has really embraced and appreciated all of the students that have been working there all summer. It will be exciting to see how God transforms this community over the next few years. 
Finally, our trip to South Carolina is ending in the perfect way (well, at least for Higher Ground) - as I write this I am listening to an "Open Mic Night". These students love to praise God together and celebrate each other's gifts! They are excited to share those talents and passions with you at our  Brunch on August 24th from noon-2. Come join us as we share stories and pictures from both the middle school and high school mission trips.
As you read this we will be in the vans driving back to Madison - ready to hug our loved ones (and sleep on real mattresses!) We sincerely thank you for all of your love and support of our youth!


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 4

We finished our work week! A lot of us finished our projects, and a few have just a few last touch ups for next week's group to do. Either way, we feel accomplished and proud of what God allowed us to do and provide for our new South Carolina friends. I wanted to share our students' perspectives on the trip so far, so I asked them to share their thoughts with you.

Here are some of our students favorite highlights or God Moments from the week so far:
"Today I was able to join another work crew for the entire day. It was really amazing to see how they had developed into a "well-oiled" machine. Even though they hadn't known each other at all at the beginning of the week, they were laughing and enjoying each others' company. Not only that, but they were very welcoming to me even though I had not been a part of their group the whole week. It was really fantastic to see how serving others can bring so many people together, even if they come from different states." -Charlie Strange, 18
"One big thing for me was realizing how good hard work and a good work ethic can feel! That might sound cheesy... but putting the last nail into the floor of the bathroom my crew was fixing up was super satisfying, especially since the the project was way more work then we thought it would be. (What was just a re-tiling job turned into a full replacement of the floor and the support beams underneath.) Another thing that hit me, and seems to always hit me on trips like this, is how encouraging and fun spending time with other brothers and sisters in Christ is! Everyone seem's to have a better attitude and a more Christ centered outlook. They seem to realize that they are all here for the same purpose- to  worship and glorify God through everything we do! And it makes me wonder why this mindset and outlook only happen's at times like this and not in our everyday Christian walk." -Joshua Kueber, 16 
"This mission trip has been very challenging for me physically, spiritually and emotionally, because I came in with a lot of expectations. This week I was stressing out about how much sleep I was getting, if I had enough food in my lunch, who my friends were hanging out with, how sweaty I was getting, a whole bunch of stuff that isn't really what mission trips are about. I was getting caught up in everything but serving the community, which is what mission trips are all about, right? So after three whole days of a lot of frustration, we arrived on the final work day. Our homeowner, Rachelle, came outside to see all the work we had done on the house. She told us all to stand in front of her, and she put her hand to her mouth and she cried. She told us that we had done such a beautiful job, that she was so proud of what we have done, that she was really going to miss us, and that she was going to pray for us every day. It really made me think that only four days of my life could make such a big impact on someones life. That was my favorite moment this week because it was when God reminded me why I came on this trip. To serve in the name of Jesus Christ." -Renata Jaeger, 15
What is the youth director's favorite highlight? Your kids. They have been hard working, honest, vulnerable, compassionate, motivated, respectful, and full participants in the journey God had prepared for each of them this week. We have a meeting each night with the leaders from the other church that is participating with us this week. The adults from that church have, every night, highlighted how impressed they are with your children. They talk about their work ethic, good attitudes, confidence, faith, and the love they show. Way to go moms and dads!
We'll be back Sunday night with highlights on our free day and community cookout!


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 3

We did it! We made it half way through the mission trip! Even after just a few days,we feel like we are in a routine with our days and work. We feel like we have known our new friends for ages. We feel at home in our neighborhoods and at our work sites. And, as much as possible, our air mattresses actually begin to feel somewhat comfortable.
Our group has been divided into around 11 different "crews". Each crew is working on a different project - and some are working on multiple projects during the week. Here are some of the things our students are working on this week.
  • At Miss Al's house they are replacing fascia and soffits  (which includes lots of climbing on the roof and working on ladders!). They are also painting a room. 
  • At Ms. Rochelle Dorn's home, students are siding, caulking, and painting.
  • A group at the Lexington Interfaith Community Services is building large shelving units for the thrift store and painting shelves and walls.
  • Students at the Carmichael's house are replacing subfloor and then tiling in the kitchen.
  • At Chandler's home they are putting in a new roof - replacing old shingles and damaged roof panels.
  • Miss Sheila is getting a new deck behind her house!
  • Another team is fixing and shingling Richard's roof, including reinforcing joists.
  • Another team was able to mud and paint a bathroom.
  • At Sam's home students replaced the floor in his bathroom.
  • Finally, another group is working at the Nehemiah house. The Nehemiah Project is one of the reasons Next Step is working in this neighborhood. It is an organization that Next Step is partnering with as part of their community development plan for this area. There are 3 projects being completed at this spot. We are rebuilding a large shed, building a wheelchair ramp and deck, and grouting the whole house.  If you want more information on the Nehemiah Project, please go to: We are part of the Bellemeade project.

Day 3 is always an important day on our mission trips. It's important for 3 reasons.

1 - Enough physical work has been done that students are able to see that they are actually making progress and making a difference. All of those hours in the sun begin to seem worth it.

2 - Students are tired enough, and have spent enough time together, that walls begin to fall down and a level of vulverability surfaces. It is when this happens that God is able to really begin to do his work in our hearts.

3 - We pray for each other. During Wednesday night worship we wash each other's feet, lay hands on each other, and pray. It is an incredibly humbling experience, to hear teens pray for their friends. 

I was inspired tonight by one of our students, Mae. She began each prayer, "Awesome God, I thank you for the blessing that we call ________(insert a friend's name)". Who are you praying for today? Do you see the person you are praying for as a true blessing from God? How could that perspective shape your prayers today?
We'll be back tomorrow to let you know if we were able to finish all of our projects before having to leave for home!

Answer This Question and Be Satisfied

Have you ever wondered why we ask the question, “Where have you seen God at work this week?” Or, “Where did God show up today?”   We ask that question in lifeGroup, we ask it on Sunday mornings in worship, and we ask it of our kids, but why?  Here are a few reasons for asking that question:

1.  It trains our eyes and ears and mind to be on the lookout for where God is working so that we can join Him.

2. We get to see that God meets us exactly where we are, and meets our every need in ways that are often surprising.

3. When we recognize that God is working, we can then give Him the thanks and praise.

4. We get to practice storytelling, and sharing our faith.  

When we talk about “witnessing” or “sharing our faith,” many of us get sweaty palms, our hearts race, and we start coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why we can’t do it (kind of like Moses in Exodus 4:10-12).  But this does not have to be a scary thing!  It can be as simple as sharing where you saw God at work today, as simple as sharing what you are thankful for, as simple as sharing why you have hope or peace during difficult times.  

Psalm 66:5 says, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!”  And Psalm 66:16 says, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”  When we gather with others in lifeGroup and practice telling each other what God has done for us, it isn’t quite as difficult to share those same things with other people.   

When I was in Ethiopia this past February, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a man named Tekle.  We went to his home where he prepared dinner for us and we sat around and listened to him tell stories of his life.  His father died when he was very young.  He had his first pair of shoes when he was 10 years old.  When he was 16 he came to Addis Ababa, the capital city, and went to a Billy Graham crusade where he gave his life to Jesus. He fled Ethiopia during the communist take over and his life was spared.  He made his way to the United States and attended college.  Some people at college asked him, “Why do you speak of Jesus so much?”  He said, “If I don’t talk about Jesus, then I would not have anything to talk about.”  That phrase stuck with me.  I hope I never forget that night of listening to Tekle’s stories and the absolute love he has for Jesus and those who are poor or orphaned.  I confess that I often engage in so many other topics of conversation instead of talking about Jesus!    

The summer time is a wonderful time to be out and about with neighbors and friends. Consider who you could invite to join you on a bike ride or to sit by the fire pit, and be willing to share what God has done for you, how He has met your needs.  Think about how you can be sensitive to the specific needs of your neighbors and relate to them based on your own experiences.  There is no need to try and convince other people; the results are up to God.  We have such good news to share about Jesus, why would we want to keep it to ourselves?!

Where have you seen God at work lately?  Who have you told about it? 


South Carolina Mission Trip-Day 2

Day 2 in South Carolina has been so much fun! We were feeling a lot more confident on our work sites and each of us was excited to accomplish the tasks we had been given. Already we are building relationships with community members and home owners, especially the children who live in the neighborhood where we are working. Many of the children ride, with Next Step Staff, back to the church at the end of the work day. They stay through dinner and worship before getting a ride back home (30 minutes away!) While the physical work we accomplish is important, we understand that the relationships we form and the time we invest in the lives of others is even more important. Therefore, we encourage the students to just sit and chat with homeowners. We celebrate when they take a break from working to play basketball. Today, I tried to be a silent observer and here are some of the sweet moments that I observed:

*Caleb was given a basketball lesson by a local teen who is helping with the work at the Nehemiah house. Caleb let the young man teach him all sorts of things about basketball and showed up simply as a friend. What a lesson for us! Sharing Jesus with others doesn't always mean doing things for them - sometimes we need to let them do things for us.
*Josh sat with a little boy at dinner - and he didn't just sit with him. He was relaxed, smiling, and unhurried. He was obviously enjoying this little boy's company. My lesson? God's love is a lot more evident when we genuinely like the people God is placing in our lives. When people stop being projects and start being friends, God's love can shine a lot brighter - and it's a lot more enjoyable for us.
*Multiple times today I saw students treat the homes and homeowners with incredible respect. They honored the homes they were in and treated them with great care. Do I serve others like that? Do I honor others in how I serve them or do I serve with an air of judgement and paternalism? These students didn't see people in need but saw children of God and an opportunity to love. Wow! Who can you honor today?
Who is God wanting you to love in His name? What relationship is God calling you to strengthen? You don't need to fix a roof in South Carolina to make an impact for Jesus. God has you, right now, right where he wants you to make the biggest impact for Him.