Well, our trip to Albany came to an end Friday afternoon. Below are some of my closing thoughts on our time in Georgia; but first, here is the update from what we did the last two days!
On Thursday we woke up before the sun and returned to the Salvation Army to serve breakfast. After eating we had our most solemn and surreal experience of the trip. In January, two separate tornadoes touched down in separate parts of Albany within three weeks of each other. The damage was devastating. Officially, six people died. However, the official count never includes when illegal immigrants or refugees are killed. Local nurses suspect close to 60 people died during the storms. Here is a news story that will give you some idea of the devastation of one of the storms: http://www.11alive.com/weather/massive-tornado-hits-albany/389924297
When the storms hit, Mission Change’s mission changed for a few months. They spent a great deal of their time doing clean up and helping the displaced families find housing and jobs. We learned that many of the people we had been serving breakfast to at the Salvation Army were there because they had lost everything in the storms. So on Thursday morning, we went to one of the neighborhoods that had been hit the hardest to see the damage for ourselves. Here is a picture that will give you some idea of the damage.
After walking around one of these neighborhoods, we spent the majority of the day at a community center that Mission Change owns in the same neighborhood we had our water day in. The center is used for a number of activities in the community, but the most common is for an after school program that takes place during the year. Mission Change brings in volunteers from the community to mentor the students who show up. We spent a few hours with students doing VBS-style crafts. We did everything from paint to make homemade ice cream. That night we were invited to a house to swim and have our final debrief and devo with the Mission Change team. We also ate pizza, which no one was sad about. It was a great way to end our trip. The next morning we woke up, served breakfast one more time at the Salvation Army, and hit the road.
While I am still processing much of the trip and trying to catch up on sleep, I know that I loved our time in Albany. One of the craziest parts of the trip is that I never opened a Bible with students or mentioned the name Jesus to those we were serving. While this may be puzzling, I thought it was beautiful in its own way. We were able to provide an escape for the students we served, even if it was only for a few hours. We gave them the opportunity to experience joy and laughter no matter what kind of environment they were coming from. We gave them the opportunity to create and express themselves through art. We helped take away a sense of embarrassment to two different women by painting their houses so that they were not the worst looking homes in the neighborhood anymore. If that is not the picture of the Gospel that Jesus gives us then I do not know what is. That is what it means to spread the Kingdom of God now.
I could not have asked for a better group of students and adult leaders to go on this trip with. I can’t begin to try to recall the number of times someone at Mission Change complimented our students for their cohesion as a group, work ethic, or simply their sense of joy they took with them all over Albany. It was fun to watch them grow closer to each other and realize how many different ways they could serve in Albany and in Nashville.
If you want to know more about our trip, I would encourage you to start by having a conversation with one of the students who went. Ask them which service project they enjoyed the most. Ask what it was like to sit across from a stranger and enjoy a meal. Ask how they saw God in the people they served. And if you want to see more pictures from our trip, check the Woodmont Hills Student Ministry page on Facebook. It is a closed group so you will have to request to join, but we will add you! The pictures will be up by the end of the week.
And finally, thank you again for your prayers, donations, and willingness to send your children on this trip. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have for each of you, no matter what role you played in making this trip possible. If you would like to hear more about the trip from me, please feel free to call me at 719-776-0868 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!