In the past three months I led my first international mission trip, finished the youth ministry job I had held full time on Hilton Head since something like 2008, moved to Panama City, Florida and have begun my second ever full-time youth ministry gig at St. John the Evangelist in the Diocese of Pensacola Tallahassee.
Now, as I sit here sipping coffee in a lovely little apartment right on a bayou furnished far beyond my expectations due to the generosity of friends here, I’ve reached that point where I feel grounded enough in the present to be able to reflect on the last couple months and a share a bit.
The Mission Trip
20 youth and adults traveled to Mustard Seed Communities in Nicaragua this past June. From one youth minister to another, let me recommend this. While we’ve had great experiences with domestic mission trips, the experience of traveling to another country really challenged us all and made us more aware of just how universal our Church is. Something unique about our trip was that we had a lot of diversity: our youngest participant was a rising 9th grader, we had teens, young adults who were married, single, in seminary and retirees. The variety of gifts and perspectives was really enriching. While I didn't plan to have so many different ages present, if I could do it again I'd make it a point!
I'd really recomend Mustard Seed Communities as well—from a logistics perspective, they are attentive to our “first world problems” and take great care to provide meals and accommodations that kept us comfortable. For years I had been afraid of an international trip, because I was all too familiar with the many things that can go wrong. However, I never worried with Mustard Seed and would encourage youth ministers on the fence to take the plunge.
In addition, their ministry is very special-- serving the most vulnerable of society. The home in which we stayed in Nicaragua housed teens and young adults with disabilities, and it was a real gift to interact with the kids and staff everyday. There is a innate respect for the dignity of the human person present in this community. Watching the staff care for the children was a powerful testimony to the reality that our worth doesn't lie in what we do but who we are.
In case you missed some of my reflections on this trip:
An Air-Mattress Free Summer
It seems that youth ministry and busy summers are inevitable. Besides the actual move, this summer was the first July in years that I wasn’t spending most of it on the road. Because of the timing of my move, I didn’t attend Steubenville Atlanta or Bosco and while I missed the community with my partners in catechesis, it was awfully refreshing to spend two months without constant demands on my nights and weekends. While I’m excited to plunge back into a “normal” summer schedule next year, I’m also going to be a little more prudent with how much I commit to and remember how great it was to actually see friends and family (which is what I hear most people do in these lazy months).
While I was sad to leave my hometown and a parish that had been so good to me, I’ve felt abundantly blessed in this process. My parish hired a talented youth minister to replace me and she spent three weeks shadowing me part-time and was able to join us on our mission trip. While I’m not sure how much I actually “taught” her in my scatter-brained pre-move, pre-mission trip state of mind, seeing how well she bonded with the teens, parents and staff left me confident that the youth ministry was in good hands. As much as we try to not feel possessive about ministry and keep reminding ourselves that it’s all God’s, the reality of this cannot be escaped when the time comes to actually hand the keys to the office over to someone else.
Now, it's interesting to begin that "first year" in ministry again, this time with a bit more perspective. As I begin a second first year, I'm finding that my priorities are very different from my first first year. When I began as a young'un in my first parish, my priorities were to meet teens and fill a schedule. This time, my priorities are prayer and building a network of volunteers and a Core team. It's nice to approach ministry with the understanding that the Holy Spirit does this all a lot better than I do. It's also nice to be in the business of getting to see, first hand, just how God provides.