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


Blown Away: The First Five Hours In My New Ministry

July 7, 2011

I’ve had many memorable moments with students in the past. All of these youth have impacted my life in a major way, as I hope that I have with theirs. I will cherish some of these memories for the rest of my life. As some of you know, I have recently been hired by a new church after a long (in my eyes) 14-month hiatus from youth ministry. It wasn’t my choice but it is what it is and I feel that God definitely had a reason for taking me out of full-time ministry for that amount of time. I won’t touch any more on that for now but rest assured that I will definitely be writing about it as soon as I can. Anyway, I got hired at Doylestown United Methodist Church on June 12, 2011 and my official start date was to be July 1, 2011. I left Belle Vernon, PA on June 30, 2011 and headed down Interstate 76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to start my new life and new ministry. On my way there, I stopped at a huge Christian music festival called “Creation” that my new youth group and leaders were attending. And when I say “huge,” I mean 82,000 people HUGE! Creation is a four or five day festival. I only planned to stop for one day to get to know some of the youth and leaders that would be my new family. Stopping at Creation was key and had potential to be an extremely beneficial way to begin my new ministry. The reason for this is that I will be taking 39 of those students on a High School Missions Trip on July 10-15 and then 20 or so more of them on the Middle School Missions Trip on July 24-29. So breaking the ice, getting to know them, and getting them to know me was an extremely important thing that needed to be taken care of as quickly as possible since there is no youth group and no other way for me to meet/get to know them before the trips. I was blown away as soon as I pulled up in front of our groups’ camp site.

Looking down on Creation Fest from overlook mountain...

As I was driving the two and a half hours it took to get there, I couldn’t help but to feel nervous. I wondered how well the students would like me, if things would be awkward because no one knew me and I didn’t know them, would they want to meet me, would they be mad/hurt that I was the guy replacing their old youth pastor, etc. All kinds of scenarios were running through my mind but the conclusion that I came to was that I would have to just leave it in God’s hands and wait and see what would happen. And that’s exactly what I did. There was nothing else I could do.

As soon as I stepped out of my truck, I got “attacked” by my new youth group. All of the kids that were there (some were at concerts or at the various other attractions that they had at “Creation”) swarmed to me around my truck and started to introduce themselves. They were excited to meet me and it was such an amazing, warm, and welcoming feeling when all I expected was shyness and awkwardness. I was so blown away/overwhelmed with joy because of this. This took away all of the nervousness, uncertainty, questions, and broke the ice. I was able to focus on building relationships with them the rest of the time since this initial part was knocked out by them. God’s hands were definitely all over this and I am so thankful for that.

A small group of my youth on overlook mountain...

There was one other amazing thing that these students and leaders did for me that I didn’t quite pick up on right away. As I was meeting them I noticed that they all had some form of a temporary or henna tattoo on them. Some had them on their necks. Some had them on their arms. Some had them on their stomachs, backs, legs. And one even had so many of them on one arm that it looked like a sleeve. I noticed it but I didn’t put much thought into it because I was so amazed at how awesome these kids were. Later that night at one of the sessions/concerts one of my leaders was talking to me and she asked me if I noticed everyone’s tattoos. Then it hit me: it wasn’t just a coincidence! She told me that they planned it and all of the kids and leaders wanted to make me feel comfortable (since I have tattoos) so they went out of their way to put all of those tattoos on…AMAZING! I ended up staying for two nights because my students wanted me to stay longer.

So if all of this awesomeness took place within my first 5 hours of being there, I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me, this youth group, and this church. It’s going to be good!

–          paulg


Handling Distractions Well…

September 23, 2009

Last night (I wrote this on Monday) I had my youth group over for a football watching party and youth group lesson. I didn’t want to miss the Steelers game, and I definitely didn’t want to miss youth group, so I had the genius idea of combining the two and teaching the lesson at half-time! I had the game playing in my living room (on my 60-inch TV that was given to me for free) as well as in another room on one of my leaders 42-inch flat screen TV’s! It was a great event and everyone seemed to have a blast. I had the opportunity of teaching in front a wide spectrum of ages (from 9 months old to 50 years old). I got to teach in front of other people besides just my youth group kids. There were about 17 people there total. Good thing I have cool neighbors and they don’t mind the noise! The reason I am writing though, is to talk about distractions in youth ministry…

When I think about a distraction, the movie “Shooter” immediately pops into my mind. The part I think of is when Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is training Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) to not be distracted while being a sniper. He tells him to look through the scope at his target and to never let anything distract him. Right before Pena’s character is about to pull the trigger, Wahlberg’s character sets off and explosive charge he has placed inside of a watermelon 20 feet from the target that Pena’s character is attempting to shoot. Pena’s character jumps off of the ground and gets distracted of course and Wahlberg reminds him that he is not supposed to let distractions distract him.  I guess that’s easier said than done when watermelons are exploding all around you!

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Anyway, back to my topic of distractions in youth ministry…

In the span of about an hour this afternoon I received two emails complimenting me on my ability to handle distractions well. The reason for this is because there were a few distractions at youth group last night. Some of those were: people arriving late and someone from my group needing to go down to let them in, a baby crying, some students talking and not paying attention, a student breaking my sliding blinds, etc… Although some of the distractions were, well…distracting, God took control and did what I asked him to in my prayer time before the lesson; to speak through me and accomplish what He would want accomplished that night! And I believe that God did that. He spoke through me and I felt 100% comfortable with teaching my lesson in front of all of the visitors that were there!

One of the emails I received was from my pastor and the other was from a parent that was in attendance at the event. They both had some really encouraging words for me, and they couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been feeling down and a bit discouraged as of late due to certain reasons that I will not be discussing publicly and these emails really lifted me up! One of them said:

“I was IMPRESSED with how you handle the youth….last night I got to sit in on a little bit…how you handle the word, the group, distractions, and go with flow! I told the folks at church that our youth are in GOOD HANDS with our Youth Pastor and sponsors….”

And the other said:

“You have a good group of kids to work with – and you handle the minor distractions that you seem to have every week very well.  : )  ”

I’m not writing this to brag or anything, but I am writing to let you know how awesome God is! I was in need of some encouragement, God saw that, and sent me two very uplifting emails…well, God didn’t actually send them, but you know what I mean! God has blessed me with patience beyond belief. Whenever things get out of hand or kids act up, it doesn’t bother me. God geared me that way and trained me by allowing me to be the pastor of a group of 30 crazy middle schoolers for a few years in New York!

I don’t have an amazing and powerful closing to this post, but I would like to hear from others on how you handle distractions in your youth ministries (or in your particular business setting)? Comment and let me know!

–          paulg


Texas Missions Trip: Day 1

August 8, 2009

It is now 6:46 AM and I am about 12,000 feet in the air going anywhere from 300-500 miles per hour. Some of my youth group and I are en route to Porter, Texas (near Houston) where we will be working at a week-long camp for foster children. We left Altoona, PA at 2:15 AM and drove 2 ½ hours to the Harrisburg Airport. Our plane took off at 6:00 AM and we are flying to Cincinnati and then to Houston. Everything has gone smoothly so far, well…except for the flight attendant yelling at me for trying to turn my computer off (which is what she asked everyone to do).

I attempted to get my computer out to write this (when it was ok to do so) but there wasn’t enough space in between me and the back of the seat in front of me to open it fully, so I resorted to pen and paper. Then my pen died and the guy next to me came to the rescue with a new one. Thank you, guy next to me!

I’m very excited about this trip for many reasons. The first being that this is the first missions trip I have ever been on…and I am leading it! It’s an awesome opportunity that forces me to rely fully on God! Another reason I’m excited is because of what we will actually be doing. We were originally supposed to go to Reynosa, Mexico but thanks to the extreme violence and swine flu, I had to pull the plug on that trip. So our plan B missions trip (this one) is actually something that I know all about (camp ministry). I worked at a summer camp in Massachusetts three summers ago and I believe God put me through that to prepare me for this. Isn’t it awesome how God does things? (The answer is yes!!!) Another reason I am excited is because I was born in Texas (24 years ago) and I have never been back since before my first birthday. I am nowhere near where I was born, but it’s still cool to be back in Texas! And the last reason, and probably the least significant reason I am excited to be here is because we are going to get authentic barbequing lessons from someone related to Keith (one of my leaders). If you know me, you know I love BBQ, I’ll write more tomorrow about how the BBQ lessons went!

We had some troubles finding the camp due to TomTom’s (my GPS) inadequacies (it didn’t know a lot of the new additions done to the roads around here. Oh well, we made it. Upon arrival at the camp, we had to sit in front of the gate for a good 20 minutes or so while I called around to find out who was going to come and unlock the gate for us. Eventually, we got in. The cabin/house/mansion thing we are staying in for the first three nights is AMAZING! It is extremely nice and well decorated, and the AC keeps it nice and cool in here! It definitely feels more like a vacation than a missions trip, but that will change once the campers arrive.

Here are a couple pictures of the kitchen (to illustrate how nice this place is:

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Our original plan for the day was to go to a sweet water park around here. But after we got unpacked and situated, I called the park to find out what time they close. The lady said they close at 7:00 PM. If I was a water park, I would definitely NOT close at 7 at night when the sun is still out and it is over 100 degrees outside. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Good thing I am not a water park. Anyway, I proceeded to ask the lady about pricing and if they gave a discount if you come later in the day. She said no, you still have to pay the full $32.99. So, our group made an executive decision to avoid paying $32.99 for only a few hours of water park fun! Instead we went to the swimming pool here and then hung out at our sweet cabin thing. The girls also went canoeing while the guys sat in the nice, cool air conditioning!

Next on the agenda: I am taking everyone out for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. They don’t know that they don’t have to pay yet either. Surprise, surprise! Ok, I’m rambling on now and I should probably end this. But that’s what usually happens when you only got about 2 hours of sleep in the last 24 + hours.

Until next time…

– paulg


An Unexpected Visitor…

April 20, 2009

We had an incredible night at youth group last night. We had 20 students and 5 leaders. Played some soccer, had a lesson on temptation that the kids seemed to learn form, and had an ice cream sundae party. We had teams of 5-on-5 for soccer and had enough students not participating and/or waiting to be subbed in that it even looked like we were at a real soccer game with an audience and fans.

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One of my 12th grade girls brought 4 friends. Along with those 4 visiting students, we had one other visitor that I couldn’t quite figure out why he was there. He clearly did not fall into the category of 6th-12th grade and he didn’t look like he belonged there. I introduced myself to him and asked him some questions. What I got was not what I expected. I will leave his name out for confidentiality purposes. Here is a brief glimpse of how the conversation went:

Me: “Hey man, how are you? My name is Paul and I am the youth pastor here!”

Guy: “Hey, I’m ________ but I don’t like to talk to people ever since my dad died three years ago! I haven’t really talked to anyone since then.”

Me: “Ok man, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m sorry to hear about your dad.”

Guy: “what I don’t get is why he had to kill himself in front of me…I mean, couldn’t he have waited until he was alone?”

Me: “wow…again man, I’m very sorry to hear that and that you had to go through that!”

Guy: “yeah, that’s why I’m trying to be a better father to my children than my dad was to me…”

Then he pulled out his phone and started showing me pictures of his kids. One was 3 months old, one was 2 years old, and one was 5 years old. After finding out this information, I did some quick calculations in my head and confirmed that this guy was in fact not in the category of 6th-12th grade. Even though I knew from the beginning that he was in his mid-twenties, I thought I should ask how old he was. He said he was 25. The question running through my mind this whole time was, “Why is this guy here at my youth group?”

After our few games of soccer in the gym, we all went into the library (our temporary youth room for the night…so we could be closer to where the ice cream would be served) for the lesson. During the lesson, out of my periphs (peripheral vision) I kept seeing the guy walk back and forth past the youth room. One of my leaders went out to see what he wanted. I didn’t see my leader for the rest of the lesson. When we went into the fellowship hall for ice cream, I saw the leader and this visitor sitting there and talking. I was very proud of him for seeing a need and attempting to fill it. It turns out that the guy was looking for help and just needed someone to talk to. The conversation didn’t last very long, but from what I gathered they talked about how the guy thought he was too messed up and bad for God to love Him. I hope that the youth leader who talked to him made an impact in his life and that he will realize that it’s never a bad time to turn to Jesus, no matter how bad or messed up you are!

The reason I write all of this and have been thinking a lot about it since last night is because I strongly feel that God brings people into our lives for a reason. I couldn’t understand why that guy was there, and I was very uncomfortable with him being around my students, but it ended up being ok and I hope that God spoke to him through one of my youth leaders! Sometimes people just need someone to talk to or someone to listen to them. That guy told me that he doesn’t like talking to people but after I asked a simple question, he just started unloading all of this information (about his past, his dad’s suicide, his kids) on me. I didn’t know the guy, but maybe God sent him to my church last night for a reason.

I would like some feedback about this, so please respond with your thoughts.

I’ll leave you with this: Are we making ourselves available to be used by God in the simplest of situations? If you ran into this situation in your youth ministry, how would you respond/what would you do?

– paulg


The End Result…

April 2, 2009

This past summer at the church camp I have been going to since I was a youngster in High School, I had the opportunity to talk to a man that played a key role in my walk with the Lord. This man was the speaker numerous times at camp and I’ve heard many talks on the Christian life from him. His routine was that during every message, he would have a catch phrase (or whatever you call it) that he would say to us youth and then we would have a response to say back to him. A couple of examples that I can remember are: “It’s not about me…it’s about God” and “Don’t let…your hearts be tempted!” There are many others, but I’d have to find my notes from those summers to remember them.

mahaffey1

I didn’t know that he was speaking in the youth service this year until I walked past and heard a familiar voice. I popped my head in and saw that it was him. After the service I went up to him and introduced myself. I told him a bit about who I was, about how I learned so much from him growing up in my faith, and about how I am now a youth pastor. I thanked him for playing a pivotal role in God’s plan for me as a youth pastor. I didn’t know it at the time (growing up), and I can’t say for sure if I knew it that day when I talked to him, but now that I think back on it; I’m pretty sure it was all part of God’s plan. God placed this man in my life to speak truth to me; to show me what one day He would have me doing (speaking to, teaching, and leading kids weekly).

I tell you all of this simply to say that one day; I want to be that guy to my students. I want to be that guy to the many students whom I will speak to at church camps, conferences, schools, retreats, and other various youth events. I am big on the end product (I will write more on this in another post) and my goal is not to have the biggest and best youth group, but it is to have students who are devoted and Christ-like whenever they leave my program. So it is with this end product (or result) in mind that I want one of my students or students that I have come in contact with to come up to me, introduce themselves, and tell me that it is because of what I spoke to them on such and such a date that they are walking with God and/or doing ministry. It would be an amazing accomplishment to have that happen and I pray that one day it will.

Thank you all for reading…

– paulg


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