This year the high school mission trip was held in the faraway land of Dallas. We went to work with an organization called City Square. As we learned later in the trip, City Square is trying to end homelessness in Dallas. The organization provides a large food pantry, housing, jobs, and training to help people get back on their feet. We did not, however, have a clear idea of what our exact role would be in all of this. So we left filled with curiosity and anticipation. With our youth group’s theme of Not Alone in our minds, the vans departed. There were mixed feelings about the trip. Some were wishing we were going someplace new and exciting, while others were just thankful for the short drive. And so the mission trip started.
The main base of operations for the trip was the appropriately named Opportunity Center. This is one of two major sites for City Square, and where we would spend much of our time. We could always tell when we were near the building by the amazing and creative graffiti on the walls. The days fell into a routine. We went from not knowing what we were going to do, to knowing exactly what we were supposed to do. Every morning, we headed out to apartment complexes to join with the Food on the Move van. This van provides food for children who are not able to get a regular meal during the summer time. Our job was to mainly play and have a good time with the kids. At first, it was a little awkward. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. Also, there were a lot of us, so that was probably overwhelming to them. We finally fell into a game of tag. We went to four different apartments and after each one, we became more and more comfortable with the children. As the days went by, we learned what each group of kids liked to do. Some liked bubbles, others liked jump rope, and others liked sports. And soon, we were able to pick out the regulars and remember names. It went from awkwardness to companionship in about a day.
The second part of the day was service project oriented. We did a rotation of four things: food pantry, trash duty/handing out water bottles, thrift store, and snow cones. Each group rotated out every day. In the food pantry, the main jobs were sorting out food and making lunch sacks. The air conditioning was greatly appreciated at this station. The trash pick up happened around the neighborhood of the Opportunity Center, and after the trash was thrown away we picked up coolers and headed to hand out water bottles.
The main area of interest was a place known as Tent City. This is a dirt area under two major street overpasses where homeless men and women have set up tents. We made many connections with people there. Everyone on our team listened lovingly to the stories shared by those who lived there.
The thrift store was interesting because being run by City Square, it provided jobs and also helped pay for the food pantry. For the most part, we helped hang, organize, and tag clothing. Other groups also washed dishes.
The other station was snow cone making. At the Opportunity Center, we made free snow cones for anyone who cared to have one. This was a fun way to get to know people. We recognized people from Tent City as well. We learned that the favorite flavor was usually a mixture of all or some of the flavors. We also learned that it is actually possible to overheat a snow cone machine, which is quite ironic. We were all happy when people showed up for seconds. Another intriguing part about this was the people who showed up. Many homeless men and women came, but there were also workers in business suits. We enjoyed seeing everyone having small talk as they waited in line together. Who would have thought that the great equalizer in society would be snow cones?
On the final day, each of our groups got fifty dollars to go out and meet a need that we saw in the city. So we all sat and planned what we would do. The outcomes were all different and fantastic. One group went out and celebrated a homeless woman’s birthday. Others went to buy someone a matching pair of shoes and bring pool toys to kids at the apartments. Another group had a water fight with the children, which they had promised to do earlier.
At the end of every day, Jeremy Glover would ask us what our takeaway for the day was. A takeaway either being a connection someone made with another or a lesson learned. As takeaways were being shared, we soon learned that this mission trip was as much for the people we were helping as it was for ourselves. People started seeing God’s work in new ways. One way was seeing people we knew work in ways we didn’t know they were capable of. We also figured out that what we were doing didn’t need to stop when the trip was over. We don’t have to go somewhere else to do these things. We can help those in need right here in our home city. We just have to see what needs to be done and act on it. Many good things were learned during these worship times.
Our trip may be over, but there is work unfinished, a mission left to do. So what is my takeaway from this trip? I was interested in seeing the small things that made people feel normal, more human. A woman reading a ripped paper from a fashion magazine, a lady happy to have a matching pair of shoes, a game of tag to make a kid smile, a dirt border around a tent to make it more homelike, or taking a picture with friends, new and old. And as cliché as it sounds, a smile and a kind word moved people’s hearts the most. So, whether it was a stranger on the street, or a friend known for years, we all slowly started to feel more noticed, more loved, and more of a community. We started to feel that even in this wide world of ours, we are Not Alone.