Hey Remember when…The Good, the Bad, and the 911 of mission trips and service projects.

04 Apr

Before the summer of 1996 I could never have said, “Hey, remember when I ran over Kelli with a car, and then got to ride in an ambulance?”  From then on, that statement would forever be a part of my verbal repertoire.  It was an inner-city service project in Modesto, California during the summer of 1996 that allowed me to experience one of the worst and best moments in my ministry career.

I am a big fan of Romans 12:1-2.  It states that in light of what God has done in our lives, we should joyfully serve God and others. True worship.  I am such an enthusiast of that scripture, I have even put it on T-shirts.  But what does that mean to a student who doesn’t know God, let alone have a relationship with Him?  More than likely, you could identify multiple students in your ministry who fall into this category.  As a note of encouragement, I have seen service projects become the great equalizer.  There are not many leaders who would have a non-believing student lead a Bible study.  However, could that same student hold a paintbrush?  Use a rake?  Brandish a nail gun?  Okay, not the last one.

We were cleaning back alleys and doing trash and graffiti abatement.
Due to the areas we were serving in, we needed to move quickly.  Some of the people who lived near those alleys had grown very attached to the words we were painting over, but the city had requested that we help them beautify the neighborhood.  At every stop we would hop out of the vehicles, throw trash away, paint the wall, and quickly move onto the next stop. The students hopped out of the car to do their jobs.  When we got back to the car I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the three heads of the students who were sitting in the back seat of the car.  What I didn’t know was that the leg of one of those ladies was NOT in the car.  I proceeded to drive the car over her leg, pulling her out and onto the ground.  What happened in the next few moments felt much like any youth pastor’s nightmare. I had damaged a child.  911 was called, and the ambulance came very quickly.

As I pulled away in the ambulance with the student, I saw a few things.  The other leaders stepped up and took charge of the situation.  Unprompted by adults, students began circling up and praying for Kelli.  Non-believing students stood to the side and watched what it meant to have a peace that passes understanding in a chaotic situation.

You probably won’t run over a student…I hope.  What I can promise is that your plans will go astray and the wheels will come off during service projects.  Yet by creating experiences that allow all students to participate in these kinds of events, they will experience Biblical community, regardless of their beliefs.  This could be the most powerful message you could deliver to your students all week, and you didn’t even have to prepare a sermon for it.


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