Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Opportunity Part 5: Reaching Out- A Sunday Mission Trip to Dallas

On Sunday morning, Me and Dad were up early to get ready for another awesome opportunity with Compass Church: a mission trip. But this, unlike some spring break mission trips, wouldn't require thousands of dollars in Airfare to travel to a different country or even a different continent, but only an hour-long car drive into the heart of Dallas to serve fellow Christians there. Late Saturday night as I was talking with a couple of the great guys from Compass, Matt (their youth pastor) was telling us what his group would be doing when they went to a different place than the one where I was going. It would involve going to a church of Burmese believers, worshiping with them in their Sunday service, eating a traditional Burmese-cuisine lunch with them, doing some community service, and journaling about it. When I asked Matt how or what they'd be journaling about, he offered an explanation for the basic format in a way that hit me like a ton of bricks: "So Caleb, tomorrow your group will be going to a Sudanese Church, where you'll worship with them, do Sunday school with the younger kids, and just have a great time with a bunch of really cute toddlers." I nodded my head with excitement. "Now," he said, "the thing we're going to ask teens to think about in their journals is this: Who is that child or group of children in your community, and why haven't you done anything to help them?"

That question plowed through me like a sledge hammer. While there might not be as many "organized" efforts in my area of Upstate NY for outreach work, I thought about my younger siblings that I'm helping with on a daily basis. Do I try and mirror Christ's love in the way that I interact and play with them? Sometimes you need a new place or a group of people can cause you to consider things you never would have thought about, or you think about them in a different way. The group at Compass did that for me. I now felt like I understood on a deeper level what I would be participating in on Sunday.

We arrived at Compass Center shortly after 8 a.m., to a whole flurry of people going this way and that, signing in for the Spring Break Trip, which would actually last for 3 days. Unfortunately I was going to be busy Monday, and leaving early Tuesday. Nonetheless, I felt honored and privileged to get to be a part of it as much as I could. As I was holding the doors to Compass Center open with some fellow teenage Men of God, we all made small talk and introduced ourselves. As I was telling the brief version of how I had ended up coming from New York all the way to Dallas Texas, I briefly mentioned how I had talked with CM and had gotten to spend a lot of time with him yesterday. All of the sudden, one of the guys I was talking with exclaimed, "Wait, my Dad is the reason you're down here?" As it turned out, one of the guys I had just met and was going to be spending the day with (named Mitchell) was CM's son! Needless to say, we all had a good laugh at our ironic "moment of truth."
After a everyone signed in and CM and Shawn had given a brief intro to the trip, everybody boarded the dozen or so 12 passenger vans Compass had rented to get us all to our various locations. The group I was in was so large we easily filled up two vans. While me and Dad didn't get to go in the same van with CM and some other kids closer to me in age, me and did quickly struck up some conversation with the wonderful couple driving our van, Brian and Angela Newbie. Brian and Angela are 5 months pregnant with their little baby boy Andrew, and I cannot give them enough credit for volunteering to cart a bunch of teens around the DFW area of Texas and minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ during such a crazy and exciting time in their married life.

After about an hour's drive, and a stop to Target to get some baby food packs to donate to one of the churches we'd be visiting, we arrived at the first location on the day's itinerary: a Mediterranean restaurant. While we wouldn't be eating our meal with the congregation of believers that we'd be worshiping with, we would still be getting a taste of some of the things they ate in their native country. Marj and a man named Nathan Bogue met up with us there, as Marj is part of the Youth Ministry team at Compass and Nathan is an employee of Aid Sudan who has great relations with the Sudanese residents of DFW. The restaurant seated us in an outdoor (covered) porch with an ingenious heating system that kept us warm as we ate our meal on the cool, rainy spring day.

After our meal, we traveled a couple minutes down the road to the church used by the Sudanese refugees for their worship center. The group we would be worshiping with was made up in part by a group called the Lost Boys, a group of boys that, as children, fled Sudan when civil war (which included forced child armies) began in the 80's and 90's, and then fled their sanctuary of Ethiopia when civil war erupted there too. They ended up at a United Nations sanctuary in Kenya, where they were given sanctuary here in the U.S. While most of the "boys" are now grown men with families, their testament of courage and trusting God in the most brutal hardships still stands firm.

After we arrived at the church and received a brief introduction, we joined the congregation in their Sunday service, which had just begun. Many of the Sudanese invited us to look on in their hymnals with them (their songs were all in their native language) and they were kind enough to have a translator there to help us understand the sermon better. While the service lasted almost 2 hours, it really was a unique experience to see another group's form of Sunday Worship. While we have Spanish services at my church, I rarely attend them, and having heard bits of Spanish here and there for long enough, it almost feels like some foreign second nature. After sitting in with our Sudanese brothers and sisters, however, I felt moved on a deeper level to try and interact with the Spanish apostelate my church has and to attend some of their services some time.

By the time we got out, the rainy, foggy day had turned into beautiful, brilliant sunshine. the Sudanese children, who had been in Sunday School while we were in Church, were running around in the enclosed yard that was in the center of the Sunday School rooms. Their little laughs added so much more to that feeling of the sun coming out- we had went from quiet rain into sunshine filled with the laughter of children.

 Some of the kids had made that TITANIC paper airplane you can see in the left hand corner- ah, good times :)

While I have a feeling most of us teens could have spent hours playing with all of those cute little kids, it was time to head on to our final location for the day. As we drove into the next area of DFW we'd be ministering to, I was quickly reminded of that "everywhere's a mission field" mentality I'd been praying about with the guys at Compass Saturday night. All of the previous areas I had seen of Dallas were filled with beautiful houses in gorgeous communities, all very nice and well-kept. As we arrived at the community center/church where we'd be working, I began to see the "poorer" side of Dallas: smaller houses on patchy dirt/grass lawns, streets that were going to be in need of pavement soon. To think that such different environments could exist only an hour apart, shook me into place, and made me realize just how in need so many parts of America are for the love, compassion and care of the Church.

Once we arrived in the community center, Nathan gave us a brief run-down of what the conditions for most Sudanese refugees in Dallas is, and what the group would be doing over the next few days to help fix this place up to be an even nicer facility for these refugees and their children. After we had talked a little bit and we got a tour of the center, CM divided the group into teams to teach different age groups Sunday school. Unfortunately at that point, little Colvin had hit a pretty bad fever back at home, so me and Dad would need to head back with Marj so we could get home with them. At that moment, CM pulled up two chairs for me and Dad and called the group together. They all linked arms in a circle around us, praying for our journey, what we were doing, what we had done, what we were yet to do. Sitting in the communal embrace of such a great group of people, many of whom had taken advantage of the small timeline they had to get to know me, was moving to the point of tears. It was the epitome of "The Church United." Needless to say I was more than happy to have a group hug with Mitchell and Marj to recompose myself a bit and recover myself. Shortly after that we left, after heartfelt goodbyes and farewells.

That night back at the Ochs' house we all enjoyed some time to decompress from the days events and enjoy some quiet company. While I felt a pang of sorrow inside that all was drawing to an all-too-soon close, I was beyond grateful for the opportunities and people I had been blessed to meet. So to all my Compass family, if you are reading this, thank you. You are forever in my heart and prayers. 

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