Confessions of a mission trip leader

It’s been a week since we got back from the youth mission trip to Denver, give or take a day depending on whether you count our 3 a.m. arrival as “Friday night” or if you want to get all technical and count it as “early Saturday morning.”

It’s been a week and I have just now regained my ability to stay awake without taping my eyelids open. I’m still tired, no doubt , but I can make it through a trip to the grocery store without feeling the need to fall asleep on the drive home.

Mission trips are Hades on my system. The main problem, of course, is the lack of sleep. The days start at 7 a.m. and it’s lights out at 11 p.m. Except, as a leader, that means I was up at 6 a.m. and I didn’t go to sleep until about 12:30 p.m.

We are supposed to have free time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day, but by free time, they mean shower time. And our showers were about 20 minutes away on the days we didn’t get lost, and about 30 minutes away on the days we did (three of the four). So, ya, I didn’t get a lot of free time. Actually, I didn’t end up with any free time.

Which I means I literally spent every waking minute of the week with someone calling out “Crystal, what time is breakfast?” “Crystal, what are we doing next?” “Crystal, are these shorts long enough?” “Crystal, is it free time? Can I use my cell phone?” “Crystal, the other leader said these shorts are long enough, so now are they long enough?” “Crystal, what’s our evening activity tonight?” “Crystal, do you know where my water bottle is?” “Crystal, one of your youth is wearing shorts that aren’t long enough.” “Crystal, what state are we in again?” “Crystal, why can’t I wear flip-flops on the mountain?” “Crystal, I just don’t like the taste of water.” “Crystal, you-know-who and you-know-her are making purple.” “Crystal, I have a bloody nose.” “Crystal, I have a bloody nose too.” “Crystal, what time is breakfast?”

It was a long week.

If my calculations are correct, we actually had six bloody noses in all. Four of which were inflicted on my poor sister, who will never in her life go to Denver again unless she is drug there by hit men or Satan. Her nose just doesn’t get along with the mountainous altitude.

And speaking of mountains, don’t worry, I managed to fall on  jagged rock while we were on Lookout Mountain, near where Buffalo Bill is buried. I ended up with a bruise on my butt that was literally bigger than a baseball, but I couldn’t even show anyone because leaders pulling down their underwear is usually frowned upon during trips like this.

Then, on Wednesday night, I stayed up until about 1:30 a.m. to write personal “Pony Express” notes to all 18 youth and the other 3 adults who were on the trip from my church because I hadn’t had even one minute of above mentioned free time to do it any other  day. And I was so tired when I went to bed that I almost fell asleep on the way to my air mattress.

Within seven seconds of hitting the pillow I was 75 percent asleep. And one second later I felt the stupid mouse.  (Insert screech.)

I maintain that the mouse was actually inside the the air mattress because I felt it jumping in there, and I KNOW WHAT I FELT. But everyone I try to explain that to seems to think I’m crazy, so whatever.

Except my mom. Because she was sleeping right next to me on the same air mattress, and felt it too. No, for real. She did.

Irregardless, I clearly had no choice but to go upstairs into an off-limits room and sleep on the random couch. Clearly.

Thankfully, I was out of that room at 6:55 a.m. the next morning, because I just missed the 25 women who came in at 7 a.m. to hold Bible study. Phew. I owe you one God.

The thing is though, no matter the mouse, or the jagged rocks or the bloody noses, or the lack of sleep or the week-long recovery process, the whole trip is amazing.

No. Amazing is too week. The trip was an incredible-awesome-tastic-wonderful journey that deeply changed all of us.

Yes, we served others — my crew sorted through donations at a thrift store, served a nursing home where 95 percent of the patients had some form of dimension, and painted a two-story house, while other crews from my church worked at a food bank, helped at the Boys and Girls Club, sorted cabinet doors (don’t ask), put on puppet shows for urban ministries and pulled weeds — but the serving is just a part of the story.

We also bonded while jamming to MC Hammer Pandora radio on the 16-hour drive there; learned to live without our cell phones; realized that one or two days without blow drying our hair wasn’t the end of the world; saw each other with bed head and hugged anyway; prayed over every meal, and every meeting and every day; lived a whole week with any air conditioning; dove into deep theological discussions at 10:30 p.m. when we were so tired that some of the youth were literally falling asleep while we spoke; shared our deepest wounds, our deepest fears and deepest secrets and then saw the wounds start the heal, saw the chance to conquer our fears and realized that some of our secrets aren’t so bad after all.

We loved, we felt the Holy spirit, we saw each other in a new light, and we saw ourselves in a different way.

I booked this trip in October — I remember because we got the “October special” on the deposit rate — and I have been praying for it every single day since then. I incessantly asked others to pray for it, I begged youth to sign up, I begged parents to let them, I asked for donations, I asked for more donations, I begged for donations, I begged for more youth to sign up and then I prayed some more.

And on Thursday morning (our last full day on the trip), there was a moment that made it all worth it. One of the many throughout the week.

Near the end of the morning devotional time, one of the youth came up to me, with tears in his eyes, and said simply, “Thank you” and then gave me a hug.

And I knew, that this trip had left a mark on him. And I wouldn’t trade that in for any amount of sleep in the world.

Thank you so much to everyone who prayed for us, thank you so much to everyone who donated and thank you God for letting me be a part of it.

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Why go to church?

One of my very favorite Christian writers Rachel Held Evans recently posted about the struggles she’s having about church. How she’s been turned off by many things about church lately. And although she still likes the idea of people giving her casseroles when she has a baby (a tradition church people are famous for), she’s just not sure she can find peace at church right now.  

As a youth director at a church, I’m often grilled on why anyone should bother showing up on Sunday morning, so the topic is something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Below is my response to her post (which I also left in her comments section). 

I can completely understand your frustrations. I’m a paid part-time youth leader at my church and we are extremely contemporary, which helps with some of it.

However, being a paid staff member at a church gives you a totally different perspective, and many times that’s not a good thing. Unfortunately, many people feel they have the right to judge you harshly when you work at their church in way that’s totally different from how they would treat a regular new member or even a co-worker. My soul has endured many wounds in the role. Also, the politics of running a church can be ugly and I admit I’ve questioned my relationship with the church more during my time in this role than at any other point in my life.

That being said, I keep going back to two things. 1. It’s easy to be a Christian alone with your Bible locked in room somewhere. The hard part is living it out amidst all the messiness that is a world full of humans. 2. There’s no such thing as a perfect church, and even if you find one, it won’t be perfect the second you join.

Church is not God. But, I do think that being part of a community of believers is important to growing closer to God.

Through the church’s faults, we learn forgiveness. Through the messy behind-the-scenes clashes we learn how to create peace. And of course, through the fellowship and the mission work and the changes we see in the lives touched by the church, we get a little bit of a better understanding of love.

I have come to understand that only God can meet the perfect expectations I have in my head, and that in turn helps me extend grace to the church and those in it.

I’m sure there’s a church out there you would feel comfortable in and I pray you find it, not because I think of you as a “project” but because despite all the bad that comes with “church” there’s so much good stuff too.

Like working with a youth who decides to give up drugs and alcohol; or taking kids on a mission trip and seeing them try to live out their faith in a new way upon return; or finding a new friend who helps you understand scripture in a different way; or growing close to a spiritual adviser who you not only respect, but also love; or seeing a youth lead a week of Vacation Bible School and grow into a leader before your eyes; or listening to the praise band sing “I’ll go where you send me.”

And of course, the casseroles.

Love and prayers,
Crystal Lindell

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