Making a Difference in Lynn, MA – DUMC High School Missions Trip…

July 20, 2011

This past week I had the privilege of leading my first Missions Trip with my new youth group. Five of our adult leaders and I took a group of 39 High School-ers to serve the community of Lynn, MA (right outside of Boston).  It was a phenomenal week and one that I will never forget. I was blown away (again) by the way my new students welcomed, supported, and loved me. I wasn’t sure of what to expect going into the trip, but now that it’s over I realize that I had no reason to worry. I believe that bonds were formed, friendships were strengthened, and lives were changed because of this trip and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it all!

The leaders and I picked up the vans the day before we left and we had the students meet at the church the night before to load the vans. This was an exciting time because we all knew it meant that we would get to leave soon! We also spent some time decorating the windows of the vans to let people know who we were and what our purpose was (to spread the love of Jesus)! Once we had the vans packed, and the names checked off on the list of attendees, we all got to go home and get a good night’s sleep before we embarked on our journey to Massachusetts. We pulled out of the church at 8:30 AM and after two bathroom stops, one of which was extremely long (on account of the Starbucks that distracted our kids), and one lunch stop, we made it safely to the church we stayed at in Lynn, MA.

On our first night in Lynn, we had a leaders meeting where we spent time assigning all of our students into the work groups/locations that we thought would best fit them. Being that this trip was my first time meeting some of these students; it was a very difficult/stressful thing to figure out where they best fit. Thankfully, I had some veteran youth leaders there with me who were able to help me out.

Surprisingly there were no problems with the groups or who the students were paired up with. A few of the students weren’t happy with the work that they were actually doing and expressed to me that they would rather have been doing something different but I just used that as an opportunity to stress to them the importance of stepping out of their comfort zones and sticking it out to make a difference in peoples’ lives! I told them that we weren’t there that week for us, but for the people of Lynn, MA. These students really stepped it up after this and I was very impressed with them.

Being that I am the youngest leader in our group, I got assigned to do sports camp where we played football with community kids aged 10-14 all week. I got to take 6 of my students to the sports camp to help lead with me. It was great to see my students stepping up and being a positive influence in the lives of these community kids. I saw tremendous leadership qualities in all 6 of those guys and I think they learned a lot from the experience. Some of the community kids we worked with were tough and did not want to listen or follow rules, but overall it was a great experience for everyone involved. After we were done with sports camp each day, both I and Steve (the youth pastor from the church in Minnesota who was on the trip with us) drove the community kids back to the church. This was one of my favorite times of each day because as the kids were piling out of the van and we were waiting in the parking lot, I had the opportunity to sit and watch/take pictures of some of my other students loving on their group of community kids. It is great to see true ministry taking place and the love of Jesus being shown!

Each night, after we finished our work for the day, we got to do a fun, evening activity. On Monday night we got to go to Nahant Beach. It was a beautiful beach and provided for a great group photo.

If I could do one thing differently about this beach trip, I would make sure guitars do not get left at the beach. We had an incident where a guitar was left at the beach and no one told me it was missing until three days after the fact. By that point, kids had convinced themselves that it was brought back and was either stolen or hidden in the church somewhere. Long story short, the guitar was found and turned in to the police station and the student’s father will be picking it up during his already scheduled trip to Boston in August. On Tuesday night we got to ride the subway into to downtown Boston and spend an hour shopping and exploring the city. This was probably one of my favorite evening activities that we did. I got to walk around the city with 17 of my students and see all that that part of Boston had to offer. We also got a plethora of pictures and videos of a few of my students doing “The Bernie.”

For those of you that don’t know, “The Bernie” is based on the moves of the dead guy Bernie from a movie made in the 1980’s (Weekend at Bernie’s). Apparently it is a new dance craze that is sweeping the South…and apparently it has made its way to Doylestown, PA and now Boston, MA! Our group loves “The Bernie” so much that we got all of us together for a “Mass Bernie-ing” and recorded it with an intro tutorial! And yes, it will make an appearance in church whenever we talk about our trip!

On Wednesday night we got to go have dinner with people from the community at a soup kitchen called “My Brothers Table.” It was great to see my students and leaders sitting and eating with the people we were working with all week. And on Thursday we got to go to Gloucester, MA for a cookout/hangout time at the beach. We got to swim, play football, play volley ball, and climb rocks. It was a beautiful place and everyone had a blast. I treated everyone to ice cream in Gloucester and I think I won everyone’s heart because of it! haha

After we got back from the beach cookout, we had a worship service followed by a foot washing ceremony. This was one of the most powerful things from the entire week. YouthWorks washed the adult leaders’ feet and then we washed our students’ feet and prayed with each and every one of them. After some of the students’ got their feet washed, they went around the room and prayed with their friends. It was a very powerful and emotional evening and I was blown away by it.

A parent of two of the girls in my youth group asked me if I would have done anything differently. Now that I think back on it I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great experience and a huge trip for me in terms of getting to know the students and building relationships with them. I am so thankful that God had His hands all over this trip!

A Special Thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna!

Special thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna for providing an amazing trip for us!

Now I have the Middle School Missions Trip to Charleston, WV to look forward to. We leave this Sunday. Woooohoooo!

–          paulg

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Story, Experience, and Collaboration…

November 21, 2009

Wow, what a day! I won’t be writing about everything in this one post. That would be way too lengthy. So I have decided to break it up into a few separate posts.

Today was the official first day of the youth specialties convention in Atlanta. I have been here since Wednesday night though. I planned to arrive early so I could attend the pre-convention intensive training seminar that was offered. The one that I chose to attend was taught by Mike Novelli, Mark Novelli, and Kelly Dolan and was called “Story, Experience, and Collaboration.” It was a six hour course (split up in to two three hour courses), thus the term “intensive” before the training seminar! I chose this one because one of the presenters was the guy that wrote the book (Shaped by the Story) that I recently bought and started reading. This new method of teaching has intrigued me for some time now and I was continually told by many of my youth pastor friends to get the above-mentioned book. Whenever I found out the author of the book was leading the seminar, I knew that it was the one for me.

Mike and Mark are twins so half of the time I never knew which one was speaking, which is why I liked when Kelly spoke; it was easy to distinguish who he was! The seminar started off with Mike showing a clip of Louis CK from Conan O’Brien called “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.” The clip was a comedic one that basically stated that we live in a world where everything is amazing (we have everything at our fingertips/disposal) but no one is happy. He showed this to illustrate that this emergent generation are not idiots, but their expectations have changed. How we learn things, how we view the world, and how we interact with each other have all changed. Typical forms of worship, engagement, faith formation, and spiritual community do not work well with these students. As a result, this should change the way that we do ministry.

Mike told us a story of how he noticed that most of his students were very busy, but not very deep. To try to solve this, he tried his favorite method of inductive Bible study (an analytical method of looking at a specific text). In this method, you ask specific questions to learn. Mike then told us a story of one of his students that when asked what he thought about the new method of learning, said: “I like that we are learning the Bible, and I think that it is important that we do, but I don’t think that this is the way that I learn!” This blew Mike away and got him to start thinking: “Is the Bible intimidating, boring, or irrelevant?” and “when do they begin to experience, interact with, and enjoy this story (of the Bible) for themselves?”

At Mike’s next church, he tried a new form of teaching with them that he learned form a missionary in Uganda. He tried a method of teaching known as “storying.” In storying, learning is now the hearer’s responsibility. Storying is not about memorizing Bible stories, but it is about it becoming their own story! They can see themselves in the people in the story and how they should and shouldn’t live! One student’s comment about storying is as follows:

“It made me realize…I need to live for the author! God has a story for my life and I am excited to discover and I want to share it with others. God’s amazing story is what we’ve been waiting for our entire lives.” – Michelle (High School Junior)

Mike saw a breakthrough and that the story was really rooted in these students (like Michelle). The students knew where they fit in to the story and that they are a continuation of that story. Something changed in his students; something lasting…there was formation in it!

This idea of storying has really got me thinking and trying to find ways to incorporate it and use it in my youth ministry. One of the main reasons I want to try to implement this is because of the following statistics:

We retain:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what is discussed with others
  • 80% of what we experience personally
  • 95% of what we teach someone else

If our students can experience God’s story personally and then teach it to others, imagine how drastically different our youth ministries, churches, and world would be!

– paulg


The Beauty of Knowing Your Purpose…

July 30, 2009

Last night, when I should have been in bed sleeping, I was laying on the couch watching the end of a movie I haven’t seen in years. The movie starred Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson and was called “Unbreakable.” In this film, Willis’ character is a super hero of sorts, but he doesn’t know it until almost the end. In the beginning of the film, he is the sole-survivor of a horrific train wreck where 131 other passengers died. Willis’ character was unscratched and unharmed. A comic book store owner named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) contacts him with a crazy theory that Willis’ character is a superhero. Most of the film is Willis denying it but towards the end, things start happening that prove that Samuel L. was right all along!

You may be asking yourself why I’m writing about this. Well, you will soon find out! In one of the very last scenes, Samuel L. Jackson’s character says something that really struck me, and that is why I am writing about this today. That quote was:

“You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world: To not know why you’re here… That’s… That’s just an awful feeling.”

Upon hearing this quote, my mind went back to my high school years where I had no idea what my purpose was and where my life was going. I had no idea what I was supposed to do after I graduated and honestly, it was “just an awful feeling.” I prayed and prayed and prayed some more but felt no clear direction or leading. I wanted God to answer me but I was getting nothing. I didn’t know why I was here and I didn’t think I actually had a purpose, but three weeks before my high school graduation, God proved me wrong, in His timing.

I heard God clearly calling me into Youth Ministry. His method was perfect and was the only way I think I would have listened at the time. But that is another story for another day. Up until this point, I was scared; I didn’t know my place in the world; and I didn’t know why I was here! But God spoke to me through an ex-girlfriend and here I am today, doing youth ministry full-time and loving every minute of it!

I’m the kind of person that needs reassuring time and time again. Ever since the day God gave me my calling, He has continued to make it apparent to me that this (youth ministry) is the plan He has for my life. He knows how I am wired, how my brain works, and what I need to hear in order to believe and accept something.

To those of you reading this who may not know your purpose or calling yet, I want to encourage you to hang in there. God will make it known to you in His perfect timing. Just trust in Him and continue to seek His will for your life.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” – 2 Peter 1:3

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things (the things mentioned in verses 5-7), you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter 1:10-11

There is definitely something amazing and comforting about knowing that you are EXACTLY where God wants you to be!

– paulg


Unanswered Questions…

April 9, 2009

My youth group is scheduled to go on a missions trip to Reynosa, Mexico this summer but due to the violence and drug trafficking that is currently going on there, we may have to go elsewhere. The decision will be up to me on whether we go or not and my view on the matter is that it is better to be safe than sorry. I would rather us not go there as opposed to going, having one of our students get hurt (or worse) and regretting the fact that we did go.

Lately though, the violent events that are happing close to home make me wonder if it is really safer to go somewhere else besides Mexico, or if it is not safe anywhere we go. It’s not a secret that we live in a messed up world. People steal, rape, kill, destroy, and whatever else negative you can think of. And most of the time, it happens closer to home than one would like.

Just this past Saturday (April 4, 2009), police officers responded to a domestic dispute call that turned out to be more serious than anyone would have ever anticipated. A 22-year old kid, whom his friends described as “an easygoing, fun-loving guy,” fatally shot three police officers and injured two others in a standoff at his home in Pittsburgh, PA. He was armed with a high powered assault rifle, a pistol, a significant amount of ammunition, and a bullet-proof vest. I’m willing to bet that this didn’t just sporadically happen and that he planned it from the start. This took place in a place that was deemed to be a nice and safe neighborhood.

Then, on Monday (April 6, 2009), two people were killed and one was wounded when a Subway Restaurant was being robbed in Altoona, PA, just 4 miles from the church I work at and 5 miles from where I live. The man who robbed the store knocked on the back door of the restaurant and when the Subway employee (a high school student from a nearby school district) opened the door, he was shot and killed. The gunman shot someone else in the restaurant and then when he was walking away with the money he had recently acquired from the robbery, shot and killed a man who was outside getting his mail.

tupac-shakur-wallpaper-61

The violence in Mexico, combined with the recent events that happened so very close to home for some of us, raised some serious questions in my mind. “What is this world coming to?” “Is it really better to stay in our “safe” country, rather than going to another country for a missions trip?” “How safe are we if we have to worry about people killing people for no apparent reason?” “Do we have to constantly live in fear?” I don’t know these answers and I don’t anticipate finding them out anytime soon.

If you are like most people, then you are probably wondering why I included this painting of the late rapper Tupac Shakur (2 Pac). Although I don’t currently listen to rap, I did at one point (I’m sorry…haha). Although 2 Pac lived a violent life and often composed songs about it, he still hit the nail on the head in his hit song “Changes.” Here is an excerpt from that song…

“We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.”

In no way am I saying that 2 Pac was a saint and lived a life free from violence. After all, he did die in a violent act (drive by shooting). What I am saying is that this man was right, we need to make changes and we need to stop the violence.

Throughout all of this nonsense that is going on around the world, there is hope. Psalms 23:4 should give us comfort in these difficult and hard to understand times. This verse says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” I think it would be safe to compare the troubled and violent world that we find ourselves living in to something that seems to be a valley of the shadow of death. The verse goes on to imply that we should “fear no evil” because GOD IS WITH US!

– paulg


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