If there's one thing teenagers are itching to do, it's to start really living. Enough of this parentally filtered kiddie version — we want the real thing! Give us independence and respect. Bring in 'da noise, bring in 'da funk, bring in 'da life because we've read the magazines and seen the shows. We've found ourselves a place in it all and, man, we are ready.
In July, though, about 70 of us gathered at Messiah Lutheran Church, Fairview Park, Ohio, to participate in Mission Week '98, and what happened made us shut up for a while and think.
The group — from junior high students to high school graduates — came from six Lutheran churches: Messiah; Faith and Santa Cruz, Joliet, Ill.; Pentecost and St. James, Cleveland; and St. Martin, Annapolis, Md. We tackled three service projects, and what we accomplished surprised us.
The first day we undertook a landscaping project, clearing flower beds and planting perennials at a home for disabled people.
One the second day we set up and ran a free fair at a Roman Catholic Church in inner-city Cleveland. We had music, carnival games and prizes for the kids. Later we served dinner to about 400 people.
Finally, we painted the gym and did yard work at Redeemer Lutheran Church in another poverty-stricken area of Cleveland.
The last day we celebrated with a picnic. Our entertainment featured a presentation on Christian discipleship and a crowd-stirring concert.
Throughout the week, we worked, played, ate and prayed together daily. By the end, everyone said they'd gained something interesting from the experience.
Most of us got a sort of wake-up call to both the painful realities of misfortune and our abilities to ease the pains of strangers.
But get this: We also had fun.
I don't just mean the nights we shared at the pool and the movies, or even just the new friends and experiences. I mean the little kids' smiles and the casual observers' questions and the words of gratitude, all letting us know that when we start to love our neighbors as ourselves, we start to really live.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers