Monday, July 28, 2008

Too Much Freedom?

It's a question I've heard before. When I was growing up my English teacher had two foreign exchange students from a semi-Communist country stay with her and she told us about how they saw us in Canada as having too much freedom. How since we don't have as many rules we end up hurting ourselves more, since there is no strong opposing force like in their homeland we end up not really respecting authority and it comes to our own detriment because we end up hurting ourselves.

Tonight I was reading about the Temptation of Jesus (you can find it in Matthew 4 or Luke 4 if you're interested). The author was talking about how Jesus could have used that moment of temptation to "fix" our world, but instead left us with the freedom to do what we want, even ultimately reject Him. We are left with so much freedom spiritually that we can even allow our spirits to die...

But that's the beauty of God. He gives us the freedom to decide whether or not to serve Him, and He doesn't even try to make it easy by giving us some miraculous sign in the sky or by revealing Himself as we see fit. Instead, He gives us almost more freedom than we can handle to make a choice to serve Him. Why? It's quite simple. Because devotion caused by an outside force is called oppression. Devotion by choice out of freedom is called love.

Last night at Drink Deep we talked about how I cannot (or can anyone else) force God on someone. It is a choice and if you want to get to know God better it is up to you to spend time with Him, up to you to read your Bible, up to you to serve, up to you to love, up to you to ______. No one else can do that for you, part of being free is it is up to you, for better or for worse. (If you want to talk about that more, we have a discussion on Sunday nights at

Just something to think about. As William Wallace said in Braveheart, "And what will you do with that freedom?" As the Apostle Paul said, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1a).


Friday, July 25, 2008

Coahoma, Day 6 (Friday)

This is it, our last day. One van got up nice and early and were on the road by 5:35 (lunatics). All I know is they made it home safely and they were flying (very few potty breaks I hear).

As for the rest of us, we were up at 6:30 and cleaning. The boy's bathroom never smelled so good. Cleaned everything and anything all before 8:30, where we went out to our meeting place and said our last good-bye's. Except for one little difference, all of us being from the same church, and some of us missing. So we didn't really have a long tearful good-bye with lots of pictures. But, we did give lots of hugs to the Youthworks staff and had a final prayer with the mayor.

The drive home, long and uneventful. I don't like coming home from the south (I've done this drive before) because you have a section where you switch states almost every hour, but then you hit southern Illinois. And it keeps going, and going, and going.

Bu, we finally made it home, almost right on time as predicted. The only fun part about being home, Steve Williams dented the van in the parking lot. That's right, we drove 2000 miles, nothing, but in our own parking lot, while home, that's when we dent the van. It could be worse, no one was hurt and the damage was very minor, but oh the fun that added.

So that's it in a nutshell, our trip to MS. Hopefully others that went will comment or you can read the discussion boards at our website to find out more, and there are some pics up there too ( Until next year, mindless drivel from me to come!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Coahoma, Day 5 (Thursday)

Okay, so this was the hardest day of the trip by far. There's a couple of reasons, like these...

First, my group ended up going to a retirement home for the morning. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I was told that every person we talked to had some form of Alzheimer's. That makes things tough right away. But, we get there, first walk in, and there a woman who says nothing other than "Help Me! Please!" It was soooo hard. She didn't understand the nurses were helping her, and they were completely loving to her, thank goodness. I ended up talking with a guy who grew up in Mississippi, then moved to Chicago for a while and is now back home. Having Lorie's family in Chicago it was easy to talk to him, and having Adam with me (the biggest Bears fan around) we had a good talk. He also like to color, he worked really hard at coloring a picture of an apple. It was also weird that people there were allowed to have snuff. It was a little odd.

After that we went to the last day of sports camp, even hotter than before. Hottest day yet, the guys were even harder to work with, and our students were now a little more tired. it just was a great combination, but we got through it, we managed to talk to the kids about Jesus and obedience. That's the most important thing :)

What made it worse was on the hottest day after we played football. How did we do? I threw the game winning interception. But that was followed by a shower, and yet again clean socks have never felt so good.

For dinner we had a community dinner. The mayor made his home-made fried chicken, the rumor is he actually injected spice and hot sauce into the chicken. It was awesome. Honestly, it was great to have southern home cooking again. I didn't realize how much I missed it. So dinner was great!

Then came the footwashing ceremony. Always great, but with one minor problem. Right before dinner the air conditioner broke in our meeting room. It had to have been 100 degrees in there with 90% humidity. Don't believe me? When I walked in I could suck the moisture out of the air. Then the Youthworkers asked me to play a worship song to buy them a few minutes. I was sweating after the second chord. It was incredibly hot. But, prayer is always more important. We (our wonderful adult ministers!) prayed with every single student, some more than once. People were praying and caring for each other for hours. We didn't stop until after 11:45, and honestly, the only reason we stopped that early was the stinging in our eyes from the combination of sweat and tears and 90% humidity. The students were so great together, we actually ended up staying up a little and letting them shower at night, it was only fair.

It's odd, we've been a Youthworks trip before and we knew the footwashing was coming, but it was really great. Adults who had never been on the trip before were asking to pray with students, people were running all over and talking with other students, praying for them, hugging, caring, just actually living the love of Christ and praying for their friends.

So that was the last night, trip home tomorrow.


Coahoma, Day 4 (Wednesday)

Sorry this post is late, I was busy last night...

Either way, Wednesday was a fun day for some people. Most the people on workcamps now change to kids club and some on kids club go to do workcamps. So the first part of the morning was a little orientation again. But, it was great for those switching, a new role and a new view of Coahoma. For my group, we ended up getting a few things done for the next two days of Outrageous Sports Camp and then finished with more of the boarding up windows we started yesterday.

The afternoon was spent outside playing basketball again, but today was even hotter. Because of that a few kids didn't show up, which is a down side, but it was also burning up on the asphalt, which made it a little harder. But it must have been okay because after our sports camp a few of the students went out and played a game of Ultimate Frisbee, i was busy taking a nice, long shower. Apparently it was a good game though, 20-19.

The evening was a quick dinner of pizza (always good) followed by a church service in Jonestown. It was a very excited, spirited service with a great choir. The speaker did a great job, she talked about her ordeal with cancer and how she kept waiting for God to heal her, but instead He was more concerned that she praise Him despite her situation instead of taking her our of the situation. It was also good for the students, they all got really into it, now they just need to understand that we can be that excited at our church, just someone needs to start it...

It was another late night and because we got out of club late, we got brownies in our small group time followed by bed (and again, people were out almost right away, the problem was right before bed we had a small serenade... from Aladdin...).


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Coahoma, Day 3 (Tuesday)

Another hot and sunny day. At least I got to sleep in... until 7:15... Knock-off name cereal tastes great at 7:23...

Today our focus was on poverty. The devotions were really good focusing on what poverty means, what real poverty is, etc. We started out the day working, painting boards to be put on the broken windows of the school house. Everyone worked hard, well, except me. I painted a bit then got talking to the mayor, a great guy. We talked about some of the things we could do for Coahoma, and after a little discussion and looking at what projects we can do, Derrick (Youthworker staff) went to town and got some supplies. That's one reason I like Youthworks. Although there is no way we could get everything done, split the work over a month and 4 different work groups, it can happen. I like being a part of a bigger plan. The downside, town is far away and we got lots of supplies, so I didn't get lunch for a while, we had to go to sports camp right away.

Yeah, another nightmare there. The school decided to paint the stage in the gym, meaning we were not able to run our basketball camp in there (I wonder if they did it on purpose). So we moved to the outdoor court at the park in the middle of town. Oh so hot. But, it worked out. Day two is always a little better, we know a the kids better. Can't complain too much when you're playing basketball all day. And talking about Jesus. A great combination.

Getting back, we found out the other groups had been working really, really hard. They got most of their projects done, not just a little bit done, but done well and completed so the groups tomorrow need new jobs. Great day! Followed by tacos, the day just keeps getting better...

For our evening activity we went to Alabama to a lookout over the Mississippi river. It's crazy to think that a hundred years ago before the levee's the Mississippi would divert 25 miles in any direction, giving Coahoma a luscious topsoil great for farming. Now, it stays still so we can see it and cross it easily. For the activity, still focusing on poverty, the groups were given the actual finances of some people in Coahoma and told to budget. It's not easy to make $540 a month feed and clothe 4 kids. It was a great exercise for the students, especially when some of them realized their summer job makes more than an entire family. On the way home, Rich's van got lost, so all of us waiting sang worship. Everyone was super loud, it was great. We then talked more about poverty. You could hear the collective gasp when they learned that 80% of the world lived in sub-standard housing. they kind of expected only a small portion would have Internet, but a roof, you kind of hope that's universal.

That should have been the end of the night, but people were really hyper (thanks in part to Rich Clark buying them Mountain Dew). The guys were loud and joking, even Steve Williams was laughing hard. The girls, just as hyper, with an end result of Alex Clark breaking her toe jumping from one bunk bed to another. She's fine, but it was the excitement of the night. After turning out the hall lights, everyone was in asleep pretty quick.

For some groups it was the last day on their work camps/kids club. Most of the groups switch tomorrow. We'll have to see what happens with that...


Monday, July 21, 2008

Coahoma, Day 2 (Monday)

So as if sleeping on that tiny bunk bed (plus being in a strange place) didn't take away my zzz's, being on breakfast crew and having to start breakfast at 6:45 sure helped. On the plus side, we got it out of the way right off the bat, and it was sunny so that helped us get up, but it was still waaaay too early. Luckily all we had to do was put out cereal and the lunch stuff (I used a knife at 7:00am, not wise).

Our morning was orientation, all the groups learning about what they would be doing for the next few days. I ended up being in Outrageous Sports Camp, or in layman's terms, playing basketball for the week. We played a little game to get to know all of us on the crew, which was really for the benefit of Annie (our leader, a.k.a. Sporty Spice) since we all knew each other. We found out we were going to be talking about obedience for the week, by far a favorite with teenagers. We spent the morning figuring out the drills we would be doing (and testing them, of course) and getting together our questions for the small group discussion. After that was lunch and off to camp.

Now here's what I mean about "off to camp". In previous weeks it had just been the teens from Coahoma. This week we were taking them in vans to Jonestown a few minutes away and doing a combined camp at the elementary school there. We were told to expect about 8-10 from Coahoma, then when we get to Jonestown another 7-10, so 15-20 total. Yeah, not even close. More like 60 with all of us together. And all 60 on summer vacation, extremely hyper, and oh so willing to learn about obedience. It was mass chaos. On the plus side, our students did awesome! We had to make more small groups meaning people who weren't expecting to talk were suddenly leading, and they did a great job.

So after running around with 10-14 year olds for 2+ hours, I finally got my first shower in Coahoma. It wasn't the Ritz, but I will say this, there is no better feeling than clean socks. Oh how wondrous.

We also got to see a little bit more of Coahoma as we drove to and from Jonestown. It's always weird to see a small house, perfectly white, red trim, bars on the windows, it's own propane tank, satellite, little lights down the driveway and side of the house, then next to is a two room shack that's barely together. But one memory of Louisiana came flooding back to me. Everyone has a satellite dish. Everyone. It seems like people do not worry about their houses, but we all need TV. They also seem to like their cars too. Washed and shined, sitting in the driveway of a house that hasn't been painted since Nixon was in office.

A few hours later was my highlight of the night. We went to the Blues Museum in Clarksdale ( Being a musician and my father's son, it was great. A whole section dedicated to Muddy Waters and a guitar built from his old house, Robert Johnson stuff (none of the students knew who he was, I was so disappointed), I think my favorite has to be one of the locals named "Supa Chiken" with his guitar the "Chikentar". Anyway, I loved it. I ended up being the slowest, reading everything, looking at all the stuff, it was a great time. Then we headed to the small stage outside and got a real blues concert from Bill "Howl-N Madd" Perry ( He was great. I wasn't too happy that most of his songs for the students talked about whiskey, but he was a great guy and talked to everyone who wanted to after a few minutes. And one more note on that, since he'd kill me if I didn't say it, next year he will be in the movie "The Way Of War" with Cuba Gooding Jr. He only mentioned it about 60 times.

After we came back and had club together followed by what is normally "Church Small Group Time". Since we were all one big church we tried splitting everyone into smaller groups, and it seemed to work really well. Almost every single person added to the conversation (a little different from the night before where we all stayed together since it was the first night). But the people I had were great and talkative. Right up until a little bit before bed, at which everyone fell asleep just as quick as the night before (ah, quiet bliss...)

More tomorrow.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Coahoma, Day 1 (Sunday)

So I'm going to do like past years and relate what happened on the missions trip exactly a week behind what really happened (there was no Internet there). Feel free to add comments for those who went!

So we left almost on time, 15 min. late. Not up to par with me, but I'll live through it. The only problem with the drive was at the point I realized that I forgot my sunglasses and my water bottle (and it's a big one I got for free, ask Kim Brown, she had the same one!) Not much happened on the way down, except for moving Steve Williams' van, a bad idea since everyone inside got mad and asked for him back (they must really love that guy).

We pulled up and realized just how small this town is (325). There were run down factories/cotton gins around and lots of houses that were falling apart, not to mention a tornado had apparently been through a few months before, huge trees were up rooted everywhere. But the town did not lack anything when it came to hospitality. Everyone waved as we came in and once we were there we immediately were playing sports with the people, I ended up playing baseball (or some version thereof). The only thing some people had to get used to was the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, was black. There is one white family in town, the official statistic is 98.5% African-American (thanks Tay).

We actually got in a little early which was nice, it gave us a chance to meet the staff. The Youthworks guys and gals were really friendly, and it was easy to bond with them since we were the only church. And, another first, I was able to sit down with Jody (head Youthwork guy there) and split our students into the work stations/sites before dinner! I don't think that has ever, ever happened before. It was a great feeling to know that I was done the most time consuming piece, and also the one I am usually the most hated for ("But I don't want to do that...). We also got to unload our stuff in our "Air conditioned" rooms. Let's just say the swamp coolers in Mexico gave off more cool air...

We got to look around a little. We're staying "downtown" which basically is a little gravel circle with buildings around it. Our sleeping quarters is the old school. Our club room is in the building next to us which is church/town hall/mayor's office. He lives across the road in one of the nicer houses (and one of the few with bars on the doors and windows). We'll get to him a little later.

The only thing left is bedtime. A miracle happened. Everyone went to be happy, and everyone was out in about five minutes. By far the best time we've ever had falling asleep. Except for the fact that I'm in a really short bunk-bed under Adam Sopoci. More tomorrow!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Off On A Missions Trip

Sorry I haven't been on lately, I've been pre-occupied. On Sunday we're leaving on a missions trip to Coahoma, MS! The last few days have been doing the bestest part of any missions trip, paperwork! There's nothing more exciting than organizing, photocopying, filing people's health insurance information, covenants, all that fun stuff...

I'm going to try and blog from MS, we'll see if we have internet. But for today, all the paperwork is done and I have the T-Shirts. Oooooo...