When Graham and Drew were still in youth and in middle and high school, every summer the youth at our church participated in a "mission trip" but within our own city. We live near Memphis, Tn and this area we were in would be considered the inner city of Memphis, otherwise known as a horrible part of town. This was my favorite thing we ever did with the youth in our church. I volunteered as a leader of youth in our student area at church for about six years. It was glorious and it went by with lightning speed...and as fast as God called me to serve there, He pulled me away and planted me to serve women.
I love these memories, though and it's fun to relive those times again. I thought I'd share some pictures and tell you a little bit about that ministry that is still so special to me.
Let me start by telling you what Street Reach really is. It's a school called Brinkley Heights; it's a small private school and all the students live nearby. There is a cost to attend there and many of the students are sponsored to be able to attend. After school is out in May, the staff packs all the rooms up and gets the campus ready to host teenagers and their adult leaders from around the country all summer long. Class rooms become dormitory style rooms with tons of bunk beds and dividers are put up in the hallway to separate guys from the girls. The lunch room is where all the meals take place three times a day; breakfast is provided from the ministry of Street Reach, as is dinner, but lunch is brought in from churches around the city. When we used to go, the women in our church would feed us almost all week. It was always so great seeing familiar faces as we came in from being outside all day and seeing their bright and welcoming smiles. Each night in that same room, our church services were held there. After the service each night, each church team would break off into just their groups, and we would all share highs and lows from the day and we'd meet and discuss plans for the days to come.
Street Reach is an outside version of Vacation Bible School. My church hasn't done VBS for years, but we've had backyard kids clubs (BKC), and this is what Street Reach is. Teams from everywhere in the US come and "put on" BKC for the kids nearby. This means that each church is responsible for their entire plan for the time that the clubs last in the morning. Clubs usually went from about 9:00 to about 12:00. We would all ride in vehicles to the sites we had been assigned to (that picture above has the names of all the sites~and two of those I've personally worked at are Guernsey and Treadwell) and while a couple of people stayed behind at the site, the rest of the students were divided into groups and they would go into those neighborhoods and knock on doors and bring the kids back to the site. We would have a ton of kids at each site everyday, and that's what we wanted. The ages were usually from 4 through completed 5th grade, but one year we had babies and toddlers!
We would get to the site and set up while the teams dispersed to pick up the kids, and once they started arriving we would sign them all in, give them nametags and assign them to groups for the day. We divided them by age or grade, but sometimes we would combine them if we didn't have many in one particular group. We did several things with the kids and the teenagers ran the whole site. The adults were there to supervise and assist, but it was good for the teenagers to be in charge and it gave them responsibilities that my two oldest sons still carry with them today.
Here are the things we would do with the kids each day: there would always have a time of worship and the songs were loud and silly and fun with tons of motions to get them involved and to help them remember the verses within each song; there would always be a Bible story and one of the older high school students would be in charge of telling them this and would always involve props and "helpers" from the audience; there would be a break for lunch each day because a truck from the county schools would deliver lunches to each site for the kids all summer long~and for some of those babies, that was the only meal they would eat each day; there was an arts and crafts time for them all to make things that incorporated what they learned from the lesson that day and finally, there was recreation. My Drew usually got put into that group because he's always been great at corralling kids and getting them to listen and cooperate.
(This picture is from the kids listening to one of the students tell them about the story of Jonah and the big fish...kids loved to volunteer for this particular story so the fish could "swallow" them. This site was Treadwell.)
This was on the back part of our site, Treadwell school. It was a great site to be at the first year we were there because we had some shade to sit in, but the years after that we couldn't get back to that shade it became so overgrown. We made do with tents for shelter, though so it all worked out.
This picture above is one of my favorite pictures of Graham with a boy named D'Korian. D'Korian came year after year after year and the year he did NOT come, Graham asked if he could go get him. He succeeded! D'Korian was growing up by that point and didn't want to do what the little kids were doing, but the minute he saw Graham, he came running. We would go back throughout the year occasionally and visit his neighborhood; one day on Valentine's day a group of their friends with Graham and Drew and I all went and took pizza to them and played games and talked with them. D'Korian is probably in high school now. He wasn't much younger than Jonah and Noah and speaking of those two, Street Reach is something they never participated in. For several years the youth at our church stopped participating in this trip and nobody went. Last year for the time in three years, a group of them went back. I'd love for them to pick this back up and to make it a yearly event. Mission is always more important than a church camp, in my humble opinion. I participated in this with the youth from 2014-2017, so for four summers this was my favorite thing.
This picture above is me with my little "best friend" also named Jennifer. Jennifer always insisted on being carried around either by me or someone else, and if I sat down she sat in my lap. The little girl in the pink shirt next to us is her younger sister, Selena.
This was the Treadwell site, still and the kids would eat their lunch right here on this sidewalk. It was shaded and a bit cooler for them. We would encourage them to eat all of their lunch because we couldn't let them take much back home...they could take their fruit or something else nonperishable home, but if it was a sandwich with lunch meat and condiments we had to make them throw it away, otherwise it would've spoiled by the time they got home again.
This is during the recreation time. And this is my Drew. He's been a kid magnet since he was five or six years old and this little angel begged him to carry her around everywhere. Of course he obliged.
Sme site, same kids, different year~this might have been the next year. Drew was helping with the preschool kids at this time.
This was one of the older high school students telling the story about how Jesus calmed the water for the disciples.
When club ended each day at noon, the students took all the kids back home while a few others stayed behind to clean up. We would load everything up in all the vehicles and would wait on the students to return from taking the kids home, and we'd head back to Brinkley Heights, where we stayed overnight. We'd unload the cars, wash our hands and eat lunch. We were never thirstier or hungrier than we were in that moment.
After lunch we would have an afternoon "mission" project. Sometimes it involved yardwork, sometimes it would be going to a nearby public gym and playing games and hanging out with more kids, sometimes we went to a nursing home to play bingo with older people and to pray for anyone who would let us and sometimes we would sing for them, and two times we went to a city garden called Urban Farms to plant things or to clean up the gardens.
These two pictures above are of Urban Farms and a house we walked by to get there. Also, that house gives you a picture of what a lot of the homes in the inner city of Memphis looked like...I thought this was an abandoned house but it wasn't. I found out that someone lived there.
One year at Urban Farms, we planted a fig tree~Little Figgy Newton, we named it~ but the next year when we were there again, we discovered that Little Figgy Newton had died.
I didn't do this mission trip with them to be a spectator~every year that I went I threw myself into the whole thing. If they worked hard, I worked hard. I'm a firm believer that if you want to be a good example, you must lead others well. So while I never "took over" or "took charge", the students knew I was there to help them or assist them~all they had to do was ask.
I miss doing this with my sons. Jonah and Noah never got this same opportunity because our youth stopped going for a while, but we did all go on a "family" mission trip one time. I'll write about that another week, though. I'm so grateful Graham and Drew participated in this each year, I know it helped shape them into the men they are today. They know to love Jesus and to put the needs of others above their own. This "mission" trip in our own city was hard and it was HOT. But it was worth every drop of sweat and every penny we spent to get us all there. We invested thousands of dollars in this ministry each year with the three of us going every single year for many years (five for them, four for me), but it was money well spent.
Investing in the family of God and the kingdom of God is money never wasted. Those babies will never forget the Scripture those teenagers taught them and my own sons will never forget these experiences. All for the glory of God and to make His Name known. I'll leave you with two last pictures, one of a precious little girl drawing for me on the sidewalk and one of Drew the year he gave away his favorite sunglasses.
Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel. Philippians 1:27
Thanks for reading my blog, Friends. Love to all.