By CAROL DAWSON
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
I chaperoned 33 youth on a church mission trip and worked with predominately underprivileged children in North Charleston, S.C. This is what I learned.
A 6-year-old boy, Isaiah, repeatedly asked the teenager to put him on his shoulders. The teen, Justin, always complied by hoisting him up. Each time, Isaiah would reach down and gently touch Justin’s beard that had been growing for several days. He wondered why the young boy was so enamored by his facial hair. Later, Justin found out that many of the children were from single parent households and he suspected Isaiah was likely without a male role model active in his life. Through Isaiah’s gesture, Justin realized just how fortunate he is to have his own father, along with other male role models, willingly involved in his life.
Five-year-old Antonio, who wanted to be referred to as T-Pain [the rapper], would throw his arm up fully extended with his hand formed into a fist and threaten to punch the other children when they made fun of him or made him angry. The youth working with the little boy wondered why he threw up his fist as if to be ready to hit downward on others who were the same height. They later realized Antonio very well could be imitating the way adult authority figures in his life are treating him.
An elderly man looked earnestly into the youthful face of a teenage girl and asked if they could pray together as he deals with lonesomeness and illness during the final phase of his life. She situated herself directly in front of him, took his weathered hands into hers, and they prayed. She stayed with him longer than any of the other residents and they talked about his life.
A group of young children stood at the window of their day camp facility with their faces pressed against the windows, crying and holding out their arms to a group of middle and high school age teenagers from Southern Indiana who were leaving to return home after playing and praying with them for a week. Several of the teenagers were also crying as they looked back to see the impact they made on the youngsters.
These are but a few of the incidents experienced by the 33 Southern Indiana First Christian Church [FCC] youth [including a few of their friends], their youth leader, and six other adult chaperones, as they put sports and busy summer schedules on hold for eight days to share their faith and their spirit of love with the people and children of North Charleston.
For several years I wanted to join our church youth group on mission trips; however, there was always something work or family related that got in the way of my good intentions. This year, I was determined to make it happen. I joined the two day journey to South Carolina and learned what pure joy sounds like in a van of nine middle school age boys and girls. Hint: It is incredibly loud.
In all there were 108 youth [and their chaperones] from various cities across the U.S. who were attending the North Charleston mission trip. The living conditions were less than comfortable, with wall to wall air mattresses crammed into small Sunday School size rooms, outdoor [cold] showers for the youth that were only available at designated times, often less than appetizing meals, work details even after working all day with their crews on designated projects, and long lines for the far too few toilets.
Still, there were no complaints from the teenagers as they convened each evening with the group at large and later their individual church groups. Instead, the youth spoke of “God sightings or moments” — those moments when they indisputably knew that God was reaching out to them or someone else with a gesture, lesson, support, or simple reassurance.
There were many God sightings and moments that week in North Charleston. This group of young people left a mark on those they cared for — whether it was the person with a disability who had their lawn mowed and trimmed, the elderly person who was comforted as they moved through their final days, or the young children who found out there are a group of teenagers from Southern Indiana who truly care about them and their well-being.
FCC Youth [and chaperones], thank you for being Southern Indiana Extra Milers and for teaching the people of North Charleston that there are individuals who live many miles away who love and care for them and who are not afraid to shine a light on their faith.
Extra Miler Tip of the Month: Think seriously about stepping up to be a youth mission trip chaperone [or participate in an adult mission trip]. You will never be so tired at the end of the day, so hungry when mealtime arrives, or so undeniably blessed and at peace. It will be time well spent with those you serve, the youth you will grow to respect, your caring and encouraging co-chaperones, and also time well spent facing your own fears — even those that seem trivial, such as the fear of driving a behemoth 15 person van full of young people in unfamiliar territory. Bring it on! It just might change your life.
— Carol A. Dawson is a resident of Jeffersonville and owner of EEO GUIDANCE, Inc. If you have seen or been a part of an act of kindness or know an EXTRA MILER, please contact her. To submit an Extra Miler, a story, or act of kindness, contact Carol via email: Cdawson@eeoguidance.com, mail: THE EXTRA MILERS, The News-Tribune, 221 Spring Street Jeffersonville, IN 47130-3340.