Archives For Mission Trips

Memphoplin Part 2

June 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

June 13-17 we went to one of the hardest hit areas by a tornado in half a century.  Consider some of the facts below:

  • EF5 Tornado (200+ MPH Winds) _ Now they say there may have been multiple vortexes in the tornado.
  • Deadliest Tornado in the US in over 50 years
  • Death toll is 154
  • 990 People were injured
  • Possible cost to rebuild Joplin is estimated at $3 billion.

Words cannot describe the amount of devastation we saw while we were up there.  As far as the eye could see there were homes piled up in rubble.  We saw personal belongings 30 feet up in the air on a tree.  We saw photographs of memories frozen in time yet torn apart by the storm.  We saw whole houses destroyed except for the spaces where the people were hiding for shelter.  I remember the plagues of Egypt in the book of Exodus and how much damage the plagues of hail did and I thought about that as I walked up and down the streets.

The first house we went to belonged to a lady named Laura who was a single mother of seven.  She came up to me in tears and all I could do was hug her as she wept in my arms.  As the teenagers brought rubbish within ten feet of the road her she was looking at everything she owned being placed in a pile to go off to a trash heap somewhere.  I dared not tell her “I understand what you’re going through” nor did I tell her that “everything was going to be alright.”  Somehow none of that seemed important as I felt a longing to simply hug her as she wept.  All she could say was, “Thank you…thank you…thank you!”

We spent another day putting a roof on a house and then another day cleaning trees and shrubs at a location that was going to house mobile homes for people who were displaced.  It was tiring, back-breaking work but it felt like only a drop in the bucket.  I shared with then teenagers about a story with my children.  In our living room there is a section that has books where they can read or ask us to read them should they choose.  Often they decide to throw the books all over the floor and then pile up other toys and it is not long that our living room looks like a disaster.  Now, we always ask them to clean up and their response (usually Madelyn) is: “There is too much to clean we can’t do it!”

Now kids are prone to exaggeration but admittedly to a three year old a pile of books and toys seems like an insurmountable achievement.  When they respond to me like they did I usually tell them, “Start with this book.  Start with that toy.”  I told the teenagers this story because I wanted them to know that their work was not in vain.  No, we did not fix Joplin over night and we didn’t even finish cleaning some of the houses we started.  But…we started with that pice of trash and then did what we could.

Joplin needs your prayers, your help and your assistance.  Below is a YouTube clip of a person experiencing the tornado first hand in a gas station.  It is well worth your attention.  Blessings.


Memphoplin (Part 1)

June 22, 2011 — 6 Comments

For the first time in a long time I have the opportunity to blog.  I was out of pocket for most of June with back-to-back mission trips and we have VBS this week so my blogging has been pathetic at-best.  What I wanted to do is share a few stories about what we did as a church and some of the experiences we shared.


We worked with Memphis Urban Ministry (specifically the Raleigh Community Church of Christ) in operating their day camp.  From 9am-11:30am (M-F) we had a VBS where they participated in “Walking through Jerusalem.”  Each day they got to experience a different marketplace and learn about the culture when Jesus was on the earth.  You could tell that the kids were absolutely amazed at what they saw and experienced.  Jerica Briggs, one of the hardest working individuals I know, operated the day camp while we were there.  She had a special gift from God that enabled her to reach the students in a way not many could.  In the afternoons we helped with various activities and assisted the staff in whatever capacity we could.

There are more specifics to what we did but I want to share with you one story about one of the inner-city children.  Jerica explained to us that the Raleigh community looks like a nice neighborhood (and it did) with nice suburban homes (there were) but the problem is that when the black folks started going out of the city toward the suburbs the white folks left (white-flight).  As a result, the gangs moved in and crime has escalated in areas outside of Memphis.  One example is the story of John Doe (not his name but I want to keep things private) who, at the age of seven, aspires to be in a gang.  When asked, “What do you want to do in life?”  He said, “be in a gang.”  He already knows the gang symbols, the gang colors and the Tuesday before we came his house was “shot-up” by another gang because his dad was in a rival gang.  I have experienced some rough kids in my day but this one has to top them all.  There was no respect for authority, he did not trust us, and he could care less about the songs we sang or the games we played.

Yet, toward the end of the week, because of one of our adults Clay, this rough kid started singing and participating in the games.  I could tell that a change was occurring in his demeanor and he (though he wouldn’t admit it) actually wanted to be there.  I can’t speak for the teenagers but only speak for myself in saying that I have failed in reaching the inner-city communities of Springfield.  I have falsely assumed things about them (like they don’t want to listen) yet they, in my experience, were more hungry for the Word than I was.  Any affirmation or praise that we gave them was soaked up like water in a sponge.  They were more than willing to learn and even showed signs of absolute brilliance.

The problem with these mission trips is that we go thousands of miles on thousand dollar budgets to get an experience on reaching the poor yet we fail (miserably I might add) at reaching people in our own backyards.  I think there are some serious reasons we are not reaching our inner-city folks like we should:

  1. Racism – Not everyone is a racist but I believe there are many who still cannot worship with people of a different race.  Not only is that ethically wrong to be like that it is biblically wrong (see Matt. 22:37-39; Col. 3:1-11 to name a couple).  Mixed in with this idea of racism there may be the assumption that we have an African-American church in town that can reach “those types of people” while we can reach “other types.”  Something is incredibly wrong when brothers and sisters in Christ cannot worship each other based on skin-color or socio-economic status.
  2. We are not set up to reach people like that.  I think this assumption is correct.  If you look at our church buildings, most of them are set up to suit the member’s needs.  After all, the members are the ones who pay to keep the building in operation.  You have these massive buildings that say nothing more than, “Look how much money we spent on this building!”  to make matters more difficult, our attire says, “You have to own a suit or a dress in order to show up for services.”  That may not be the intention but that is there is assumption.  Then we say, look right…dress right…then act right and then you can come to our services.  If someone was addicted to crack the last place they would go is a church.  Why?  Because they have it all together right?  Someone got upset at me one time because I did not wear a tie on Sunday night while I preached.  I looked at them and said, “Why aren’t you wearing a tie?”  “Well that’s expected of a preacher to wear a tie not me!”  I said, “Where in the Bible does it say that?”  The argument quickly fizzled and the point I made was that we are never going to reach inner-city folks if we do not set up our building, worship and mentality to address their real needs.

Of course, all of this is operating under the assumption that we need to bring them to a location.  What would it be like to grab a few people from church and on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights bring the church into the community?  Chew on that for a little bit…read the gospels and Acts to see where I am going with this thought pattern.

I am going to pause here because I feel like this is enough for now.  The experience opened my eyes about ministry and how we as a church are not being mission-minded like we should.  Tomorrow I will talk about Joplin.

Dear 2010

December 28, 2010 — Leave a comment

Dear 2010,

Like most years you started with much ambition, goal-setting and prayer.  Like most years though things happen and the plans started usually ended before you began Spring.  2010 you move too quickly as I saw the birth of my fourth child and then the other children turn 2, 4 and 5.  You are relentless in how you keep moving forward and before I could even get a handle on you now you are leaving.  You did not bring me much comfort this year as I saw Haiti become devastated and people dying all over the world.  2010 you are unforgiving.  I wish you would slow down so I could tell all of the people how much I love them and miss them.  2010 you did bring a lot of good to the ministry here as we had a few amazing souls baptized: Meredith, Hannah, Rebecca, Morgan, Derek, Elijah and probably others I have forgotten.  Friends graduated, 2010, and moved away quicker than I could say good-bye.  2010I am not sure what to make of you.  You are an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.  I wish you would not leave so fast though because next year I turn 30 and I am scared, nervous, and confused about the possibilities that are ahead.  However, if my 30s are going to be better than my 20s then I am ready for it but if you would just wait 2010 then I could prepare myself for 2011. Like most years, 2010, you brought both life and death, sadness and happiness, frustration and fulfillment which leaves us wanting.  I just have a request from you then I will leave you alone.  Will you talk to your friend 2011 before you leave and tell him that I want a better year?  Will you tell him to slow down so I can enjoy my kids better?  Will you tell him to bring reflection, contemplation and celebration to my life so I can be all that I can be for Main Street and my family?  Good-bye 2010 and I am thankful you came into my life…I will think about you often.  

Your participant,

Robbie Mackenzie

This has been such a wonderful experience and I am glad our Backyard Mission Trip was such a success.  This week we had about 15 regular workers and we worked probably 35 hours so we totalled 420 man hours of service.  Thursday, because of the morning rain, we decided to make cards for our widows and widowers.  I thought that we would miss the point of service if we did not serve our own people in some capacity.  In the afternoon we picked up trash on Main Street’s Adopt-a-Highway section of 431.  Trash was wet and it was slow going but we picked up close to 50 bags. 

Friday we spent the morning painting a lady’s porch who had heard that a group from Main Street was helping folks so she gave us a call on Thursday.  She said her friend had received our help and wondered if we could do the same.  Inevitably when people see you doing good things that want to participate and this lady was elderly so we painted her porch.  Perhaps she was looking for a way to have her porch painted for free but you are not the judge nor am I so we simply served. 

After that we did a little “house-cleaning” and washed the bus (inside and out) and cleaned some things around the church property.  Technically we closed the day by moving watermelons and breaking a couple because of our clumsy tendencies but that is ok 🙂 

I think this was an amazing opportunity for us as a group to grow closer and to serve.  Youth Ministers if you are struggling with unity and want to find a way to bring each other together then something like this may be for your group.  When a group works together they have to shed their pride, egos and laziness otherwise the work will not get done.  This was truly a good week. 

Thank you Youth Group for being amazing and being so spiritually in tune with God and His Word.  Thank you parents, cooks and prayer partners who all made this happen.  Deo gratias!

Springfield, TN : Springfield GreenwayYesterday we had a light day in comparison to days 1-2 and even the temperatures were a little more bearable.  We started the day by canvassing the Green Way for trash and debris.  The Green Way is a 2-3 mile stretch of path that allows bikers, runners and walkers to enjoy a scenic trail without the annoyance of cars and construction.  When the floods came to Nashville a few weeks ago the Green Way was tumbled for it sits right on the banks of the Sulphur Fork Creek.  So it was our mission to clean it up and we found bottles, diapers, dry wall, sheet metal, newspapers, plastic cups, a dog house, vinyl siding and a host of other stuff.  We probably had 15-20 bags full of trash. 

The second half of the day we went to Travis Price Park to do some clean-up work.  Travis Price is the park that most of Springfield uses for Little League baseball, church softball and is the home of the Springfield High School baseball and softball teams.  So we did something that most parks would appreciate and picked up cigarette butts and swept underneath the bleachers.  We also went into the dugout and swept a lot of the dirt out and, as a softball player myself, I can tell you that it is the cleanest I have ever seen it. 

We did not help people understand the book of Revelation, nor did we clear up issues between denominations and we probably will not convert people based on yesterday’s deeds.  Yet, I would like to think that the Savior who washed the feet of his disciples and ate with the tax collectors would appreciate some of the dirty work we have done in the name of Christ.  Also, a second side-motive I have noticed is that our group has bonded together in this task and it hs helped us grow closer to each other more so than we already were.  It is these moments in the summer that I cherish as a Youth Minister which keeps an old, outdated 29 year-old interested in teenagers and their spirituality.

Last year I decided that we were not doing enough for the community and so I started the Main Street Backyard Mission Trip and we are currently done with days 1-2 and it has renewed our focus and challenged our hearts.  Yesterday we helped a member of the Lord’s church at 19th Avenue in Springfield.  His house was burned down and he had to rebuild everything.  We did his landscaping for him like planting flowers, mulch and such.  Today we helped three ladies with painting needs.  It was hot and miserable but we did a lot of good. 

I have been amazed at the comments I have received when we talk about what we are doing this week.  They look at me befuddled that people would take time out of their day to help others in need.  One lady said, “I wish my church was doing that.”  Another person said, “What ya’ll are doing is really a good thing.”  This week has challenged me physically, mentally and spiritually.  I am continually showed up by teenagers who work their tails off even though average temperatures are 93 degrees and the heat index at 101.  I am impressed and glad that I can trust my future to people who are willing to work.  Some of the teenagers took time off from work (which means they do not get paid) and some skipped different events so that they could work.  Why? 

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  (Matt. 25:40). 

I would like to think that we are serving Christ when we serve others.  I am not going to get much publicity for this…I won’t make it on the cover of the Tennessean…You won’t find a report on this in the Christian Chronicle…but the deeds we do here…I believe…is a small repayment for the deeds Christ did when He was here.  I am so proud of the teens and adults who have helped.  Way to step it up.  The rest of you still have a chance.

“It’s raining, it’s pouring the old man is snoring…”  This week has been a good opportunity for us to do some mission work that requires us to get dirty, get physical and to push our mental limits as to how far we are willing to go to help others.  We started the week off at Denson Avenue in Madison, Tennessee at a rental house owned by a lady who lives in Springfield.  I discovered this house after a few phone calls to different churches in Nashville.  Rob Touchstone from Tuscumbia Church of Christ gave me a lead on this street and told me to go knock on some doors asking for help.  So I did.  The house we worked at did not have the sub-floors torn out so we spent the day doing just that.  The boards had mold on them and the crawl space was filled with debris that had to be removed (insulation, books, a marriage certificate, pictures and other items).  We finished the day at Dozier Boat Dock Road in between Ashland City and Charlotte Tennessee off of  HWY 49.  We picked up glass, siding, metal debris and other objects.  Yesterday we went to Bellevue to help a gentleman out who is associated with the churches of Christ.  His wife works at the Churches of Christ Disaster Relief.  IT was the anti-thesis of what we did on Monday.  Instead of deconstructing a sub-floor we actually constructed and installed a new sub-floor.  It was neat to see the process go from demolition to reconstruction and how it all turned out.  

Today…the Lord saw it fit for us to rest as it stormed all morning and they are calling for a 70% chance of rain all day.  So we will rest and meet tonight to eat together.  All-in-all we have had an excellent work day.  Tomorrow we will clean up the trails at Radnor Lake that were destroyed in the flood.  Friday we will either work in Bellevue or return to place in Ashland City.  Thanks to all for your prayers, leads, money and efforts.  They are all appreciated.

The picture below is taken of a house we went into a cleaned that we were not supposed to be in.  But we helped them I am sure anyways. 

This house below was just off of the Cumberland River (Dozier Boat Dock Rd.) and is condemed. 

I will start off by saying that this is not your typical, mission-trip report where you have to convince the brethren that what you did was a good thing (and still is a good thing).  Usually people give mission reports because the effort was paid for with a lot of money and so they feel obligated to convince the financial “backers” that what they did was “profitable” and a good work.  This was not that type of mission trip.  The only money used out of budget was $137.00 which paid for the teenager’s meal at Subway on Friday and about $45 in gas.  The teenagers paid about $20 each for meals each night and they brought their own lunch each day.  So we did a mission trip for an entire week that did not even exceed $500 in total money.  Compare that with the plane ticket to Zambia that was well over $1,000 just for one person.  It is a completely different thing all-together. 

We worked probably 60 hours last week just as a group.  The only result I want to convey to you is that it changed the lives of teenagers but it also let the community know that we are here to help them without the strings we normally attach. 

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4). 

Please pray for the work we did as we are already making plans to increase the work for next year!!!  Praise God!

A semi-rant….

So since we are a results driven society which has bled into the spiritual walls of our congregations I will now give you what you want.  The results are….well….we do not know.  I am not going to tell you how many doors we knocked, how many roads we cleaned, how many people we visited in the nursing home, how many people received water bottles on a hot and steamy afternoon.  You know why?  Because it does not matter.  Since when have we gauged a mission-trip’s success by how many people were baptized, how many children attended a VBS, how many people received medical care or how high we got on building church walls? 

I have also heard that mission trips are gauged upon the results of the people who went and how their lives have been changed.  That is defintely A reason to do mission work but it is not THE reason.  We did a backyard mission trip because we wanted to serve the community in Springfield not out of obligation or because we wanted to feel good about ourselves but because there is a deep need to help those in our own backyard.  I have heard people say that we are wasting our time trying to convert lost souls in the United States and that real effectiveness needs to be where the “soil” is fertile in places like Africa, Mexico or India.  So hardly any work gets done in infertile places like Russia, Ukraine, China, England, France and right here in the United States.  I find it ironic though that the places who criticize the infertile land of the US still very much depend on the funds coming out of the United States.  I wonder how long we will be able to send money to foreign places because there are no brethren left in our congregations.  Short-term mission trips are awesome and help congregations all over the world but we should NEVER get the mindset that because we invest x-amount of dollars into a certain place or because we invest x-amount of our time in a certain place then we have accomplished Matthew 28:18-19.  Or because we pay Robbie x-amount of money and the minister x-amount of dollars that they are responsible for evangelizing the community.  Ridiculous!  

The problem is that many of our churches have lost the missional focus of being different in the communities in which we live.  We have lost our abilities to sit down one on one with somebody and talk to them about their spirituality.  We have lost our fervor to invite people in and welcome them.  We have lost our courage to go in the deep dark places of our cities (you know…the projects, the “Mexican” housing and all the other places that smell horrible and make us feel uncomfortable) because we are way too comfortable.  We assume too much about people to the extent that we are not making a difference in the communities in which we live.  Instead of a city set on a hill we have become an elitist clique, hidden in a hole.   

Main Street Backyard Mission Trip was an immediate affront to these assumptions and false categorizations we have about people and about mission work in general.  I hope this made sense.

We are on a break and plans are for our men to lead services at a rural congregation in Robertson County.  Today we visited the hospital (Northcrest) and met with the chaplain who gave us some advice when we visit someone who is sick.  He kept referring to me as “Youth Pastor” and to the pulpit minister as “Pastor” but I thought that it was not the time for a lesson in Greek so I let it go.  Probably for the best not to get into polemics when you are trying to be kind.  Something he mentioned was that a Catholic person was in the hospital and they wanted him to notify the priest so that he could pray for the person not the chaplain.  The chaplain said, “Even though I know it was Jesus who died for me and not Mary it was not my place for that but I am called to be kind!”  I thought that statement was powerful. 

We went to the local fire hall and let the fireman tell us about all of the machines and equipment.  They were so kind to us and patient as a few of our “rowdy” teens started the fire engine and honked the horn.  It was loud…very loud…so loud they do not make an adjective to describe the loudness that came in the fire hall as one of my teens let loose.  That loud.  It was hilarious and upsetting all at once.  I looked and all I could do was laugh. 

We then went to the Springfield Police Department and one of the officers showed us around the building letting us look at various weapons and different aspects of the police hall.  It was amazing!  Our service for the day was the following:

  • Emptying the baptistery and cleaning it and refilling it. 
  • Cleaning block from a lot we purchased.
  • Rearranging a disaster of a junior-high class and organizing it. 
  • Driving around Springfield handing out cold bottles of water

I say we had a decent day!  I am extremely tired today and I am trying to catch my second wind but I think the second wind is lodged somewhere between the blisters on my Achilles tendon and the sharp pain in my forehead due to sun rays.  I hope I find it!

I have a break right now from dinner and I was so excited about our day that I had to run over to my office to share it.  We started the day off picking up trash on the green-way and then went over to Travis Price Park and picked up cigarette butts along the stands.  It was super hot.  The fun part only was about to begin.  We door-knocked in the afternoon and decided that it was time to go across the rail-road tracks and into the rough part of town.  My thoughts were: these people need Jesus just as much as we do and they are probably waiting for someone to come and talk with them.  So we went.  We knocked on doors that were spray-painted and went into the projects and talked with people about what we were doing.  One house had on the side of it spray-painted in dark blue colors CRIPS OR DIE!!!  It was humbling to say the least.  But God, in my opinion, was just waiting for us to come and do something about what he wrote in the Gospels.  And we did!  The people we met were so polite and receptive to what we were doing and it was absolutely life-changing.  They gave us smiles and even a couple of them invited us in (which some of us unfortunately accepted) and it was an inspiring time! 

I will say this…it open some of the student’s eyes.  Our perception is that people “over there” do not want to hear anything about church and spend their whole time living off welfare and doing nothing with their lives.  Reality: they are just getting by and waiting on a miracle to change their lives.  This was a true opportunity for us to make a difference and we are making an impact.  Our preacher said that he attended a Kiwanis meeting and they were already noticing our good works in the meeting and THIS IS JUST TUESDAY!!!  I am so excited about the rest of the week and hope that you keep praying for our efforts here.  Today honestly changed my perceptions, assumptions and faulty categorizations and allowed me to see people with the eyes of Jesus! 

Praise God!   Acts 17:6 “These men who have turned the world upside down…” I finally believe this is possible.  I wish all congregations would do this!!!  Imagine if we invested our time and energy in communities what our result would be.  I can only imagine!