“The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” (Acts 11:12)
When I was growing up, I attended the youth group at First Christian Church of Des Moines. Similar to our own Youth Ministry at FCC-Burlington, we would go on a yearly mission trip. During each Summer of Middle School, I would accompany those other youth at FCC (both middle and high school) to various locations to do the work of God in that place.
My first trip was to North Carolina. While there we worked with people to help improve their situation of living: home clean out, home repair, etc. I had the awesome responsibility of painting a picket fence in 100 degrees with 100% humidity. I wouldn’t recommend it. Some of my fellow workers had the responsibility of cleaning an elderly woman’s house. She had cats. Lots of cats. And they had no litter box. You can imagine
what her house smelled like. I didn’t envy them at all even as I slathered aloe vera on my crimson skin. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with that woman and her odor.
The next year we went to Minneapolis. Besides spending time at an amusement park, the one thing I remember is working with my best friend in the youth group at the city’s largest homeless shelter. We had the job of cleaning a whole floor together. I remember working hard (at least that’s how I remember it) and mopping. What I don’t remember was seeing any of the persons who were forced to stay there. I didn’t see them. They were hidden away, put out for the day, or separated from us. There was a chasm between them and us.
My final mission trip as a youth participant (the reason for that is for another time) was to Washington. The “mission” part was centered around our denomination’s work with the First Nations People in Yakima. We did the hard work fo trying to help build a church for them. Theirs had been run-down and left in ill-repair, so the denomination was building them a new one. What a great idea to have middle schoolers (and high schoolers) do construction! I remember working alongside both youth and adults I did not know. I remember working with people who were white like me and who were Native American (not like me). It was my favorite trip because of the chance to work alongside them.
I’m still working on tearing down that divide between “me” and “them.” It’s hard work that takes more than just 3 summers. In my experience, it doesn’t happen all at once. Acts 11:10 tells us God had to show Peter his vision 3 times before he could get it. So I guess I have a chance yet, and you do to. Let’s get to work together.