HPIM6762There are volumes of virtual articles and actual books that examine the current generation of 18-35 year olds. Some of that work is highly positive, a lot of it disconcerting, and there’s a bit of it that is downright paranoid.

There are certainly things to be concerned about. If I wasn’t concerned I wouldn’t do what I do.

But, I am also deeply encouraged.

I see signs of hope all the time. During conversations over a cup of coffee, in students who wake up early on Saturday mornings to tutor kids, in our leaders, and on trips like we took to Joplin.

For 8 days I saw students who have grown up in the most self-centered, narcissistic era of all time (according to some), give and serve and sacrifice, and do it all with a happy heart, a cheerful disposition, and absolutely no complaining.

Which was amazing, but here’s my favorite part:

At the end of each spring break trip I’ve been on I’ve led groups through a simple exercise called “the hot seat.” When you are on the hot seat you silently sit and let the rest of the group speak words of affirmation and life into you.

It’s deeply moving.

Students today get all kinds of accolades and positive feedback from the culture at large (especially if they buy the right things, wear the right things, and say the right things on Facebook).

But, in my experience, as these cultural accolades increase, there is less space for
an actual person,
who actually knows you,
who has actually seen you in your element,
to say real and honest words
to your face.

In these moments you see the power of words, the power of real human interactions, and the greatness that resides inside each of these individuals.

We are blessed right now with some amazing students who God is using to do amazing things.

I’m grateful to just be here and to witness it.

Holy Ground

885637_551159211583285_352943300_oI’ve been on a lot of “mission” trips. I’ve been to Mexico, India, Kentucky, inner-city Chicago, etc. Each experience has been formative and important and memorable, no two trips alike.

But I have never had more fun on a trip than I did this last week leading students to Joplin, MO for the second spring break in a row.

What’s weird is that, in many ways, this was also the most stressful trip I’ve been on. The weather didn’t cooperate, most of our original work plans fell through, there were twice as many people as last year, and I was away from my wife and daughter for the longest time since Marina was born.

I have a couple of theories:there was little to no interpersonal drama, we had no complainers, and I love the staff I get to work with.

Those are all true, but here’s a brief version of what I shared with our team at the end of the week…

In Genesis 28, Jacob wakes from his “stairway to heaven” dream and says: “God was in this place, and I, I did not know it.” In Exodus 3, Moses walks up to a burning bush, meets God, and realizes he is on holy ground.

Here’s the thing: the bush is always burning…God is always in this place. Not just in the spectacular moments and the times when all our plans come together, the moments where you pass a set of key to a homeowner who has tears in their eyes.

No, God is in the mess
and the plans that fall apart
and the spontaneous conversations
and in the bad weather
and the late-night sonic run
and laughter
and spike ball
and banana grams
and sharing life on a deep level.

But, sometimes we don’t notice.

I think this is why Jesus talked about ears to hear and eyes to see.

This week was a good gift to me for a bunch of reasons, but it was a reminder that I love college ministry, I love students, and that no matter where we go…

the ground is always holy.

Back From Joplin

We arrived back home in Boston yesterday after a rich week of hard work in Joplin, MO. I loved the week for a number of reasons, but I am most pleased with our students who are excited to be back in the city and to continue to tell good stories with their time in school.

Our mantra for the week was “Happy hearts, Run with the horses.” Our students did exactly that. No complaining, no lateness or dragging of feet…they jumped into the experience with both feet, strove for excellence, and did it with joy.

We ended the week talking about how great these trips are for at least five reasons…but with each great aspect comes a dark side, so I gave them five things to shoot for and then challenged them to pick one to focus on:

  1. These trips are great because they allow us to break from the norm and re-imagine what our lives could look like…the danger: escapism…the challenge: ongoing engagement back home (don’t run away!).
  2. These trips are great because they expand our world view…the danger: it only lasts while we are in the experience, then it’s right back to tunnel vision…the challenge: keep perspective.
  3. These trips are great because they create a deep sense of community through shared moments and memories…the danger: we continually try to recreate or run back to this group or experience…the challenge: extend that community to others through invitation and hospitality.
  4. These trips are great because they have a clearly defined, meaningful activity (life is not as ambiguous as at home)…the danger: we give up because it’s too messy or we only see trips as the time we can really serve…the challenge: ongoing, faithful service (even when it is hard).
  5. These trips are great because they allow us to take risks and get out of our comfort zones…the danger: we go right back to playing it safe…the challenge: go take a risk.

It was beautiful to hear our students process through their weeks, hone in on one of these areas, and commit to engagement, perspective, invitation, service, or risk.

A couple of other highlights. Between the two groups we sent down we were able to complete  subflooring, framing, roofing, and siding for a home for a young, single mom named Amy. Her apartment and all her stuff was completely destroyed/lost in the tornado. She’s been living in a fema trailer for 9 months. She will be moving in to this Habitat home (sponsored by one of our supporting churches) in a few weeks when the rest of the work is completed. At the end of our week we were able to present Amy with gifts for her two kids (who have been struggling in the wake of the storm), and $3500 in Sears cards to help furnish her new home. It was a powerful moment.

Finally, it was awesome to lead this trip with my wife, who was our only female staff/leader. She did a great job and I am super proud of her courage. And it was a privilege to lead alongside Nathan Griffith, our Director of Neighborhood Initiatives and a Joplin native. He did an amazing job!

Enjoy the pics!

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Kinect for a Cause

We have brought over the X-Box Kinect to UMASS-Boston a couple of times. You can read some of my previous thoughts about this here. We did it again this past Friday but with a twist…to raise some money for our Spring Break to Joplin, MO. We are heading down there two weeks in a row (Northeastern and others March 3-10, and then UMB and BU March 11-18) to help rebuild after the tornado damage that hit last May.

I’m really excited about this trip for several reasons…I’ll give you few here: 1) One of our staff team members grew up in Joplin and some of our strongest supporters are from there. (2) I love that we are taking two trips this year and that students from at least 5 campuses are going. (3) I love that UMB and BU are doing this together, and (4) We’ve set a goal of raising $5000 to bless a family with the items they need to move into their rebuilt house.

All of that to say, it was incredible to watch 60-70 UMB get together, have a great time hanging out, dancing, and getting to know each other better, and supporting our cause. A major part of the success of the event was the partnership of the UMBEvents crew who publicized Kinect like crazy. They even made a $40 donation. Very cool stuff. Huge win!

Spring Break (Flash Forward)

It’s official: everyone is back and the spring semester is on. UMASS-Boston starts today, BU’s first official gathering is tomorrow night, leadership community is going down on Friday, and yesterday we had the first of 3 Spring Break prep meetings. Excited for the trip this year (two trips actually) and for the ways it is connected to a place (Joplin, MO) that supports us and cares about what we do in Boston. It’ll be great to serve folks there.