100 gallons of Gatorade fuel NC teen mission from community churches
This summer’s mission experience for Mennonite Brethren youth from Lenoir, NC, was fueled by Gatorade, not gasoline.
Chris Eidse, district youth pastor for the North Carolina District Conference, explains that as he and two other local youth pastors began to plan a summer mission experience, they took note of both high gas prices and an abundance of local needs. So they decided to try a local mission project rather than a mission trip.
Bushtown MB Church, Lenoir, partnered June 9-12 with Lenoir’s 1st Presbyterian Church and 1st United Methodist Church for the four-day, three-night Lenoir Missions Project. The 35 teens and 10 adult sponsors who signed up for the challenge invested the first week of their summer break to meet needs in their own backyard. It meant working long days in a heat wave. And lots of Gatorade. Eidse says the goal was to help youth begin to view Christianity as a matter of giving, not getting. “Instead of being a ‘me generation,’ we have to be a ‘we generation,’” he says. Each evening, teaching and worship sessions focused on the Sermon on the Mount. The three youth pastors taught on being salt and light, living the Beatitudes and bearing fruit.
Each day, the group put the teaching into practice. “We taught on it and we lived it,” Eidse says.
Eidse scouted out about 20 specific needs in the neighborhoods near West End MB Church and Bushtown MB Church, both in Lenoir. “We had plenty to do right in our own backyard,” Eidse says.
Working in "our own" backyard
Some projects met needs of seniors who could no longer keep up with yard work or home maintenance. Some encouraged community organizations, like a women’s shelter and a tutoring center, with a fresh coat of paint or newly-planted flower beds.
The teens worked from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., pruning trees, weeding, building, painting, mowing, cleaning, planting and more. As they worked, adults taught the teens basic on-the-job skills.
To add to the challenge, Lenoir was hit by an early summer heat wave, with temperatures around 100 degrees each day. Still, the teens rose to the challenge.
“Our teens had great attitudes and persevered through their perspiration,” Eidse says. “We actually had to force some youth to take Gatorade breaks and get out of the sun.” Eidse calculates the group drank a total of 100 gallons of Gatorade during the week.Eidse says that, although adults had to gently “motivate” the teens at times, he was pleasantly surprised by their general enthusiasm and lack of grumbling.
“We didn’t have to push, pull and drag,” he says. The youth completed 15 of the projects during the week and hope to complete the remaining few soon.
Hard work catches people's attention
The teens’ hard work caught the attention of local residents and the media, earning a front-page article in the lifestyle section of the local newspaper. One passerby scolded the adults for making the teens work so hard.
A woman from the Bushtown church, who benefited from the teens’ work with a new retaining wall, expressed her gratitude enthusiastically. “I’m so proud of that wall,” she told them.
To make the experience as close to a missions “trip” as possible, participants slept in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches and showered at the local aquatic center. No cell phones or iPods were allowed. Evening meals were provided by volunteers from the three churches.
Participants paid a modest $75, which covered basic food and expenses—including Gatorade—and helped pay for supplies for the projects, such as paint and gas for the mowers.
“Most of the money went back to the people we were working with,” Eidse says.
A "cross cultural" experience
An interesting side benefit of the project is what Eidse calls “a good mixing experience” between different cultures. While the youth from the Mennonite Brethren churches are mostly African-American, the youth from the other two churches are primarily white. Eidse says, “I enjoy taking every opportunity I can to bring these cultures together under the banner of Jesus and emphasize that we're all in the same church but just different buildings.”
Eidse says this project is an example of how the North Carolina youth benefit from support by the larger Mennonite Brethren family. Eidse’s work as district youth pastor is made possible in part by support from the U.S. Conference and Mission USA, the church planting and renewal arm of the denomination.
Eidse is only one of four full-time youth pastors in Lenoir, a position he says makes it possible to network with larger, wealthier churches. “We get to take these little churches and go along with these big churches with their big budgets and do all the same things,” he says. “We give these kids the opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Eidse calls the Lenoir Missions Project an experiment that “exceeded all our expectations.” He admits, “The concept of youth actually paying money to work four days in a heat wave on their first week of summer holidays was risky.” But Eidse says the end result was so positive that they hope to make the Lenoir Missions Project an annual event.
They’ll tweak a few things next time: They’ll plan for the extra time needed by teens who are learning skills. They’ll try to get business sponsors to help with the cost of supplies. They’ll bring “endless supplies of painter’s tape.”
Amd they'll likely keep that Gatorade handy, just in case of another heat wave.