faith mirrors parent’s faith. Kids in the congregation will
reflect the adults in the congregation. Do we practice the kind of
faith we want young people to have?” Kendra Creasy
On July 7, 16 youth and adults from Zion and Trinity Lutheran departed for Chicago for a mission trip experience with the folks from YouthWorks. This year’s mission trippers were: Jalen, Emma, Morgan, Grace, Brooklyn, Ellie, Kelsey, Chloe, Joelle, Bailey, Asa, Carter, Nick, and the adult leaders were: Wendy, Chris and Pastor Stephen Blenkush. The following are some of Pastor Blenkush’s reflections on the experience.
Since I have been back here in Milaca and at Zion I have been asked a number of times, “So, how did your mission trip go?” And my answer has been simply, “Wonderful!” And then I usually go further to tell them of how the kids were great, no problems and no drama and we have every reason to be proud and pleased with our youth.
For five days we spent time in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Humbolt and Hermosa. Thanks to the work of the parachurch organization, YouthWorks we partnered with a variety of community organizations and ministries.
Some of our kids gave of their time and energy serving at a city funded youth program for kids in elementary school. There they spent time playing with the children, helping them with lessons designed to teach good nutrition habits and they even spent a day at the beach on Lake Michigan. Other kids spent time visiting and assisting at a local group home and nursing home visiting with and helping to care for the residents and clients. And another group of kids helped with painting and providing minor home repairs for individuals in low income housing.
During the week we ate, slept, worshiped and socialized at a Latino Pentecostal church called Seed of Abraham. Along with our kids from Milaca we were joined by two mothers and their daughters from Madison WI, a Presbyterian youth group from Littleton, CO and a Methodist youth group and their pastor from a small town in Iowa. We gathered as strangers and left as friends and more importantly, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Each day we took time for devotions where we drew our inspiration from the words of First John 4:1-5:4, words that encourage us to “love one another,” words that remind us that “we are only able to love because God first loved us,” and the words that challenged us with the truth that “whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” From there we went out to serve our brothers and sisters in Chicago. Each evening after supper and before we sought a good night’s rest we once again gathered to worship, share our experiences, pray, reflect on God’s Word and lift up one another with words of encouragement, affirmation and love.
For many of our youth this was a first encounter with a major city like Chicago and a first experience of being in that unusual position of being a minority in a community where English is not always the primary language. To say that many of us were outside our comfort zone would have been a significant understatement. And yet we adapted, we made that corner in that neighborhood our temporary home, and we had the opportunity to meet some of our temporary neighbors. And it was all good. Our kids did just fine and for this we can be proud of them.
In our current culture with its rhetoric filled with fear, threats, anxiousness and division; the kids from our community were brave, gracious, and loving. They truly demonstrated a servant’s heart. And I don’t know about you, but this gives me hope. It gives me hope that maybe the words of Jesus are making an impact and shaping lives to live without fear, without hate and without greed. Even though the news media has a tendency to highlight the negative, I can give witness to the good news that lives are being transformed—not only the lives of those we encountered in Chicago, but also the lives of those returning to Milaca. And this is a good thing.
One of the things I have noticed over the years of participating and leading mission trips of this sort is the eventual likelihood that someone will raise the question, “So why do you have to go off somewhere else to help other people when we have plenty of people who need help right here in our community?” To a degree it is a valid question, but I have also noticed that the person asking the question, while sounding somewhat self-righteous, is rarely, if ever actually involved in the very thing they are encouraging others to do. The sad bottom line is that this is only an excuse to avoid supporting the venture. It has been my experience is that more often than not the very kids who have agreed to step out of their comfort zones are also the very ones who will to some degree carry on that mission minded spirit back home and beyond. In other words, they will look at the word from a new perspective. The roots of their faith seem to run deeper and they have learned to trust in God’s grace and love over their own self-determination and efforts. They become leaders and servants.
In the Old Testament book of Micah the question is raised, “What does the Lord require of you?” And the answer is simple and to the point, “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” For ten days I had the privilege of doing those very things with youth and adults from our community. They cared for, showed compassion, and served the least of our brother and sisters. They showed kindness to strangers and were the recipients of hospitality from strangers. And they served humbly, not coming in and telling others how to do things, but rather, offering to walk alongside and supporting one another and learning from one another. And for many, such a walk has been the best experience of their lives, it can be transformative.So on behalf of the kids and the other adults I want to extend a word of thanks to all of you at Zion and Trinity who have contributed, supported and prayed for us in the months, weeks leading up to this venture as well as the days of our mission trip. You helped make a difference in the lives of complete strangers in Chicago and in the lives of our own youth, thank you, it has been greatly appreciated.