This weekend a group of Montrose Church 7th and 8th graders will venture into downtown Los Angeles for a service experience that they'll never forget. Jr. High Pastor John Harvey shares:
I went to a youth ministry conference a few years ago and one of the keynote speakers talked about taking their high school seniors downtown to live in a homeless shelter for a weekend. The experience sounded life-changing, but also completely miserable, something that would be nice to read about while sitting on my couch at home. It made me wonder how I could do a similar trip for our Jr. High kids that would be challenging, but also a great time for us to tackle a project together. Having equal parts service and time to hang out is essential in making our trip work for middle school kids. There are hours of intense work, but also plenty of time to hang out together, talk, journal, and have fun while preparing meals.
When we first started doing Mission:LA (our mission trip to downtown Los Angeles) four years ago, I didn't know what the response would be, but year after year we've had groups of middle school kids who are willing to serve the homeless in whatever capacity they can. Sometimes we've been in the background, slicing vegetables for hours, sometimes we've been able to serve food directly to residents of the missions in skid row, other times we've sorted clothing or played games with toddlers.
It isn't glamorous, or comfortable work, we walk or ride the Metro everywhere, we don't carry a change of clothes and we sleep on the ground–parking garages, church floors; but it is worth it, it's rewarding to think about someone other than ourselves for a few hours.
This Friday night a group of twelve will start off in skid row at Union Rescue mission, serving dinner and preparing meals for the next day, we'll take a dinner break at The Pantry and then sleep on the youth room floor of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene. Saturday we'll be up at 4:30 a.m. to catch our train and bus back to Skid Row to serve breakfast at the Midnight Mission. Once we finish up, we'll take a few hours to explore the city, focusing on how much of a difference walking a couple miles to the Walt Disney Concert Hall makes in the dichotomy of poverty and wealth. We'll end the day at Elizabeth House in Pasadena, working on building projects and making dinner for the residents there. That night we'll take some downtime to watch "The Soloist," and sleep on the basement floor at our Pasadena-Bresee Campus.
The biggest moment of the weekend, is when we return to Montrose on Sunday morning and have a chance to reconvene with the rest of the youth group and tell the stories of our experiences.
Listening to Jr. High students talk about the pain they saw in Skid Row, or the appreciation they have for their beds and their families is a holy moment.
We try not to spell out the big picture problems while we're down there, we try to just let them experience it; so hearing them tell the others things that they had to process themselves is an amazing thing to be a part of. They are still giggly and easily sidetracked while they talk, but the depth of what they understand and can express is amazing.
It's a tough trip, we get dirty, we get tired, we only have a little to eat and we end up really smelly at the end, but to watch how much it changes the lives of our kids makes it worth it every time.
Pray for us while we're down there, and give the kids a high-five when you see us on Sunday. Thanks.