Bridging the Gap

Every summer a group of students and leaders from our church embarks on a service opportunity through Youth Unlimited. We have chosen our location carefully, prayed and prepared ourselves for the week ahead. As we gather in the church parking lot—bags full, a bit anxious, unsure of what to expect—we wonder what lies ahead. The series of emotions, experiences, stories, and worship that unfolds throughout the week is invaluable and impactful. There is something about intentionally setting aside our busy lifestyles—cell phones, internet, our usual routines—that allows us to become more fully open to the movement and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those around us.


And then before we know it the week is over. Oftentimes coming home can be a bit disillusioning. We have just had a wonderful faith-forming, relationship-building experience and are left wondering, “Now what?” How do we bring what we have seen and learned back home with us? How do we allow God to continue the work he has started in us?


Our students live in a generally safe and quiet community—most have not encountered hunger, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or broken homes; they live relatively secure lives. One of the reasons a service opportunity is so challenging for our students’ faith is because they must face these issues head-on. Their eyes are opened and their beliefs challenged.


This is why it is often hard to bridge the gap between our service site and our small quiet town. This year—after wrestling with these hard questions for the past few—our youth group is seeking to seize this valuable experience by engaging in service opportunities in our own backyard. We called some local ministries to set up opportunities where we could continue hands on, faith-forming experiences.


Our primary requirement for our locations was that our ministry sites be relationally based instead of task oriented. Our small groups are meeting once a month at these ministry locations hoping to build relationships, share the Good News and encounter God. We are partnering with families and individuals of different ethnicities, abilities and a variety of backgrounds, including past imprisonment, addiction and the effects of age. (Our hope is that these sites will allow our students to implement the lessons they have learned on previous service trips to enhance our own community. This will also help students who will embark on service trips in the future.) Through this experience we are seeing generosity, hospitality, openness, deep faith and wisdom. Our hope is that of Philippians 2—that we would be one in spirit with God, considering others and their interests above our own.

From Fast and Furious to Just Being: A Serve Story

Going on Serve is great. One of my favorite parts about Serve is not the delicious food, not meeting up with new leaders, not joining in the impromptu volleyball games (although all these things are great and inevitably always present in abundance!). I love all these things for sure; but one of my favorite things about Serve is that I get to rent a van.

Yeah, that’s right: I get to rent a van. Great stuff happens in a van full of eager and excited students. There’s the singing, the endless containers of cookies, the stories, the Madlibs, the coloring contests (these are typically very intense), and on and on. These van rides are great! Although, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my greatest joys in these van rides is the fact that I get to drive a big vehicle. Hearing the roar of an engine larger than a puny four-cylinder is quite an experience for a guy who has spent way too much time driving a little Saturn around over the years. Seriously, I have to hold myself back when I leave the rental company’s parking lot so that I don’t peal out right then and there. This unfortunate personality trait is what led to one of our group’s most memorable van rides.

There really should be some kind of exemption. I mean, how do the police really expect a guy like me to go only 65 mph (104 kph) in a great big V8 on the open road? It’s just not fair.

So there we were, riding in our van to Sioux Falls for Serve. We were excited and ready for a week of worship and service. Just a mile north of Mankato, MN, on one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country (which also happens to be a notorious stretch of highway for pulling over speeding Minnesota Vikings), we passed a policeman hanging out in the median, who promptly turned in behind us and turned on his lights in pursuit.

I was dumbfounded. Here I was with a van full of students, heading out to Serve, and now I had to talk to a policeman about speeding in a rental van that cruised so beautifully down the road. Honestly, with all the energy, sugar, and excitement pumping through that vehicle, I should have been pulled over and given a medal for only going 75 mph, not a ticket.

But it was a ticket I got, and a nice little lecture as a bonus. It was a lesson in humility, and one that my students have never let me forget, especially since I had been pulled over in the middle of North Dakota coming back from Serve a couple years before. I believe I have learned my lesson . . . for now anyway!