While some area teens spent their spring break relaxing on the beach, high school students from a couple of area churches spent the week working for and ministering to others.
Gainesville First United Methodist Church and Lakewood Baptist Church organized mission trips for teens. Students from Gainesville First UMC traveled to Baton Rouge, La., while students from Lakewood Baptist spent the week in Denver.
“It was a little different at first, because I’m usually going to the beach for spring break,” said North Hall High School junior Herndon Lee, who spent his weeklong break in Baton Rouge. “After just the first hour, I was really happy to be there, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
GAINESVILLE FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Lee was joined by several teens from Gainesville First UMC for home ministry in Baton Rouge.
The annual trip broke the students into groups to work on separate housing projects. Each morning the groups were given a new project to tackle, and each house presented a challenge.
For North Hall juniors Christopher Lewis and John Marshall, the two young men and their group had to repair “Ms. Christine’s” home, which was severely damaged by termites.
Most of the door frames had to be reframed and replaced.
“They didn’t hold your hand,” John Marshall said. “You had to figure it out yourself.”
But this was not the first time Lewis had seen Christine’s home. He remembered working on her home last year during his trip with the church to Louisiana.
“Last year, we went to a woman’s house that had been torn apart because her daughter had become involved with drugs,” Lewis said. “So last year we began to remodel the house. … When we left, it had still been in the foundational stages, so it didn’t really look like a house. This year, we went back with the same group to the same house.”
At the end of the week, Lewis and Marshall along with their fellow workers told Ms. Christine she could move back home, finally.
Christine’s house was not the only one receiving some TLC from Gainesville teens.
Marshall’s brother, Michael, helped repair a woman’s roof. His group actually stayed late the last day to finish, he said.
North Hall freshman Daniel Lewis worked on the “Smith House,” enclosing and painting most of the interior.
“We put in insulation and then put up drywall and mudded the drywall,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and very difficult work.”
Meanwhile, Lee worked in “Mr. Rodney’s house.”
“He’s been blind for the past few years, and the church didn’t know he’d recently been diagnosed with kidney cancer,” Lee said. “So we were just doing this for him, painting his house and putting up shutters on his windows.”
The teenager said he enjoyed meeting the man and could tell Rodney appreciated the help.
“Even though he couldn’t see the house, I really think he could see it in his mind and he was really grateful,” Lee said.
North Hall senior Kasey Burchett felt gratified following the experience since it is her last with this group. She has been on seven mission trips including to Jacksonville, Fla.; Guntersville, Ala.; Baton Rouge; and Puerto Rico.
“My favorite thing about the trip was just getting to spend my last mission trip with this wonderful youth group,” she said. “It’s been a family to me for a while, and it was kind of special to get to spend it with them again.”
But Burchett knows this will not be her final mission trip in life. The teenager plans to study nursing and combine it with her ministry experience in the future.
“My long-term goal is to do missions with that,” she said. “If that means starting a clinic for the people who can’t afford to go to the doctor, or if it means medical mission trips. I’ve just really enjoyed it.”
LAKEWOOD BAPTIST CHURCH
While the teens from Gainesville First UMC labored in homes in Louisiana, teens from Lakewood Baptist ministered to homeless and elderly in Denver. But it wasn’t the original plan.
“We initially were planning to go to Guatemala, but with all the Zika virus stuff going on, we assessed how wise it was to take a group of teenagers there,” said Jamie Willis, senior pastor of middle and high school ministry at Lakewood.
Willis joined the church’s high school pastor, Gray Cole, and 18 teens for inner city missions from April 3-8.
Willis said the group of 24 missionaries worked with the Center for Student Missions, a national, faith-based nonprofit in downtown Denver.
“They have all the logistics worked out in advance, about where groups are going to stay, what ministry to plug into, meals and all that,” Willis said.
Chestatee High School student Zach Funk said the center acted as ministry tour guides through the city.
“We had a different plan for each day,” Funk said. “So one day we went to a senior service center, which was probably one of my favorite things.”
Funk said it was his favorite, because he appreciated hearing the lessons from seniors who had learned things the hard way. Funk said one man at the senior center had been “way up in the world,” when he lost his money. Now, he lives on the streets.
“It’s just crazy to hear stories like that,” Funk said.
These stories the teens and their leaders heard proved to be “hard at times,” but very fulfilling, Willis said.
One man’s story touched him deeply. Willis said he met a homeless man who worked for Barnum and Bailey Circus before being run over by a train and losing a leg. However, he did not despair.
“He just had a great attitude, and he very much saw (how) God would provide for him in different ways,” Willis said. “When I asked him how I could pray for him, he just said, ‘Pray for those who are less fortunate than me.’
“That just floored me.”
Chestatee High student Regan Puckett said one of her favorite activities was passing out pastries to homeless and day laborers at a Denver park.
“One day, we brought sandwiches and some things in bags like toothbrushes, toothpaste, snack foods and that kind of thing,” she said. “And we just sat down and got to hear people’s stories.”
Funk said they also distributed burritos in low-income areas. It’s where he met Juan, who was released from jail only a week earlier.
“He got saved in jail, and now he’s fighting to get custody of his daughter, trying to work things out with his wife,” Funk said. “He was looking for a place to go to church, and it was really just a blessing that God sent us to talk to him.”
Puckett said the trip reminded her “everyone has a story and everyone’s story is important and valuable.”
Willis added the trip was a mixture of meeting practical needs, by distributing food and goods, and meeting spiritual and emotional needs.
He said some of it “was hard to see, but it was a good learning experience.”
This was Puckett’s 10th mission trip, including trips to Guatemala. But this was her first trip to Denver.
“It was eye-opening to see that poverty is a big issue here, too, in America,” she said. “It was almost challenging to me to think, ‘I can do this here in Denver, but I can also do this in Gainesville or Atlanta.’ I really took it as a challenge to minister more to the homeless people closer to my home.”