The last weekend in April was a great one for me. Michael and I were able to accompany our twelve year old son, Dylan, on a youth mission trip to Nashville, Tennessee. It was for one day only, but, as we journeyed deeper into our day, it became clear that we could have stayed another week or two and would still have plenty to do! By the end of the day, I wanted to!
This day trip was put on by a group called 1 By Youth. (Link at bottom) The basic idea is to get a bunch of youth groups together and unite as one. Go to one community, for one day. And make a HUGE impact! It's an interesting concept really.
We left on a Friday night with our bags on board....our boat, since our road was completely flooded.
This was technically a youth trip for sixth grade and older, however, there were more adults than youth on this trip! There were eight adults and four youth. Sure was a blast!
I bunked with Tonya and Libby. Which was a riot! They are friends that are my age~ The Spanaird, country girl, and the city girl. We literally stayed up ALL night long and got along brilliantly. It was loud, hilarious, and....a LONG night! = ) I do believe I dozed off just in time to hear the people in the next room flushing toilets and taking showers. I think we spent at least two hours total throughout the night laughing and discussing how small the beds were. I wonder if all La Quinta beds are THAT small? I can't believe that we didn't take a picture to commemorate the night!
We needed to be on the bus at 6:30 a.m. I was there, with three minutes to spare. (Go me!) We drove through interstate exchanges with buildings all around us. We drove through some newer looking town homes next to an awesome park...then the next block...it was like junk. Then we saw the sign for our meeting destination. Yep...we were meeting in the corner junky building. We walked in, got our shirts for the day and sat down on a pew. Looking around you could see that someone was working hard at transforming this trashed building and making it into a youth friendly church building. There were three rows of pews, a stage, and medieval looking banners hanging from the ceiling beams with words like compassion, love, purity, kindness, etc. in bold letters. Someone was really taking great pride in getting this place together. I could totally see the youth group at my church loving to hang out at a place like this~ The Fortress
We posed for a quick group shot with all the shoes that we cleaned out of our closets to donate to an organization called Soles for Souls......
By 8 a.m. we were preparing for prayer, praise and worship. The music was exactly what I needed to wake me up! Unfortunately, during some of the talking...I found myself dozing off. (Which is why you don't stay up all night at my age!) I started to feel very sick to my stomach. In fact, in the back of my head all I could think about doing was getting back to the bus and laying down before we even started! Not cool. I didn't want to do that though. I wanted to just get outside and to do something.
A short while later we met our team leader, got our box of supplies, and our instructions on what we were supposed to do. Clean up trash by railroad tracks. Sounds peachy, right? We walked the couple of blocks to our site past an old factory that was built in 1881. It was a beautiful old building, just in desperate need of rehabilitation. Luckily...it was being done! As we turned the corner (after taking the wrong turn) we saw our work area. It consisted of a couple of sets of train tracks, a fence with overgrown weeds and bushes, and a dusty area behind the old factory. The factory that was looking better from the front looked nothing more than a broken shell from the back. My first question was, WHY? Why are we going to clean up an area that is never seen except by the passing train conductors? Why can't our team go and clean yards, parks, or the sides of streets? A short while later...I got my attitude in check while I was completely engulfed in the bushes cleaning up beer bottles.
So why were we there? In an area that nobody would ever find beautiful? An area where nobody really goes through, besides trains? I don't know. Perhaps it was different for each member of our team. I half jokingly told Jill that I will think twice next time I throw my trash out the window. Yes, beat me now. I throw trash out the window. It really does collect on the fences and in the bushes. I will stop doing that. = ) Perhaps God sent us to this tiny lot for the train conductor that went by and as he did shouted a hearty "thank you" out of his window. Or, perhaps it was just because it was a small area and it didn't take that long. Because after we got this area done, we went to where the other part of our team was (from a different church). Their area was somewhat like ours. An old train track, between a factory and a rock dealer. It was messy, blah, and overwhelming. There were tiny pieces of paper from the factory everywhere. We eventually stopped and had a small lunch and we decided to go back to the bus for a bit and have a little devotional time. We were all smelly, muddy, grassy, and....tired. I think we were all feeling blue about where we were working. I'm just thinking that God knew that we would be feeling that way too. Because the words that were said on that bus were exactly what our team needed to hear! There was a reason we drove through the lovely town homes and the park. There was a reason that a block away we were cleaning up a vacant lot that nobody would see. See, it didn't matter what we did, who would see our hard work, etc. What mattered is that we were doing exactly what God was leading us to do in this Nashville neighborhood! As we walked back to our work site, I felt a new reason to be there. I felt good again. I felt like going and picking up tiny pieces of paper underneath an old train car.
After cleaning the above site to the best of our ability, we went back to The Fortress and sat for awhile, worn out. Before long, they found another work site for our team to tend to. When we got there one of the directors pulled up in his van and told Michael about another site that would be perfect for a group our size. He gave us directions and off we went.
What we saw when we got there was not at all what I expected. We were directed to go to an underpass a few blocks away. There was a grassy area on the corner. And, then I looked up and saw this....
The picture can't show exactly what we saw. However, there were areas up there for people. Little living spaces with Rubbermaid tubs, clothing, even a sheet hanging up to serve as a divider. I don't have the words to tell you how I felt at that moment as the tears came to my eyes. But, I then figured out why I was there and took a deep breath, and got to work. There were liquor bottles, junk food bags, cans, and piles of junk everywhere we looked. The more you moved through the underbrush, the more you could find. It got to the point where we were running into sleeping bags and what was obviously "stuff" that belonged to people. We had to start asking ourselves, "Is this usable?" Then I found this....
"Oh, my goodness, a child was living here." And my heart cried, and cried, and cried. Through the tears, I could see the domineering, steel buildings of Nashville looming in the distant skyline and trying to rationalize how something like this can happen in the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world! Praying and picking up trash on this cold and dismal Nashville corner showed me exactly why I was in Nashville. With the thought of this little heart wand, exactly the same as Hannah's at home, I began to think about my family living below an interstate under the bushes. I had a vision of my sweet Hannah dancing with her little heart wand along the old train tracks while the rest of us were huddled in the muddied sleeping bag eating out of one tuna can. And I cried. And I prayed.
I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for my house that is ridiculously too small for my family, for our one car that my husband takes to work everyday leaving me without one, for my mountain of laundry, for my floors that need cleaned, for my tub that needs scrubbed. Praise God for all these things!!
Thank you for a roof to cover our family that keeps us warm during the rain storms. Thank you for that one car that somehow keeps running to get my husband to his job, which he is fortunate to have during this rough economy. Thank you for all that laundry which means we aren't naked. Thank you for floors under our feet that are safe and not made of mud, grass, and broken glass. Thank you for a tub so that we can bathe ourselves. Praise God for everything that I have been blessed with and too selfish to see.
I pray with a humbled heart that I will actually SEE the people that need me. That need help. To be a better friend. To instill charity, love, and empathy in my children so that they never, ever get too comfortable in our blessed life to not see what is just right around the corner.
At the end of the day, we had a block party for the neighborhood. Free food, games, professional BMX bikers, a few bands including Gideonz Army out of Atlanta (who came for free, just so you know).
I know rap, even if it is Christian rap, is not for everyone...but these guys are truly talented and are rapping about Christ and reaching young people that need Jesus! Hope you will take a listen and support G.A.
If you want to get involved with 1 By Youth, check out this link: