California Knows How to Party. . .

This is a longtime due entry. I had written a lengthy one outlining highlghts of Weeks 1 and 2, but my handy-dandy Panther dashboard widget, DashBlog, deleted it.

So, we are now done with Week 3, and I am writing from the car, somewhere on I-5 South, heading to San Diego for the weekend. The San Diego staff found out last week that they were being evicted from their housing, and have to be out by tomorrow. . .so we’re going down to help out. Not sure if we’ll be helping them actually move or just giving them some comic relief and moral support, but it will be fun to see them and San Diego, nonetheless.

This summer has been crazy and great and hard as heck and frustrating and amazing all at once, already. I’ll try not to devote too much time or energy to Weeks 1 and 2, because they’ve already taken too much of that from me.

Week 1 was a group from Marin County, right across the Golden Gate Bridge in Tiburon. Only 15 of them — another groups was supposed to come, but their youth pastor left, and they cancelled. Their adult leaders were great, caring, really wanted the best for the kids. The kids were some of the brattiest people I’ve ever met. They enjoyed volunteering, but weren’t interested in putting that into any kind of context — spiritual, social justice, or otherwise. They wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it, to the extreme, presumably because that’s what they got at home. We had issues with them “breaking into” food that was supposed to be saved for later in the week, they didn’t respect our authority as staff, were always late and just doing whatever they wanted because they were the only group. Also, they hated Club, and were very vocal about it, so that made my job interesting. I’m sad to admit that we weren’t sad to see them go.

We had a good weekend, though, after they left. Our Regional Director, Jonathan, came into town late in the week, and hung out with us for the weekend. We just detoxed Friday night, after our $859 Costco run — got pizza from Hard Times Pizza Co. down the street, picked up a few 2-liters of Coke from 7-11, watched Napoleon Dynamite and the special features. Saturday, we were huge tourists and went to Anaheim to see “Downtown Disney.” It was pretty much a disappointment, definitely not all it’s cracked up to be as the happiest place on earth, but we had fun anyway, and when we got home, we got Svelte.

Week 2 consisted off two groups: 27 from Kerrville, Texas, and 28 from Eagan, Minnesota. The kids were great — they had lots of energy, were hard workers, had good attitudes, and did well interacting with each other and making new friends. The only problem we had with them was a case of short-shorts among the Minnesota girls, but hey, it wouldn’t be summer without a little 15-year-old butt cheek. The adult leaders, on the other hand, were a case of yuppie, upper/middle-class midwesterners, and down-home Texans. We pretty much had nothing but trouble from the Minnesota leaders — everything from a male and female one sleeping in the same room, to complaints about the ministry sites on Monday; from them questioning Tyler’s ability as a leader, to threatening to go home because they felt that the staff was “judging” their “ministry style;” leaving after church group time to go to McDonald’s without telling us where or even that they were going, to 7-11 runs during morning devotions; taking 2 and 3 sandwiches in their lunches because they were “hungry by the afternoon,” to ordering pizza to be delivered during footwashing Thursday night and having an adult leader signing the receipt between washing her youth’s feet. Fortunately, things ended on a good note, after Ricardo changed around the ministry schedule so they all go to to go to the Midnight Mission, because that was their definition of urban ministry and felt like they weren’t “making a difference” doing anything else. We also took them down to Skid Row one night for the KJ Tencza Homeless Experience — Ricardo gave them an amazing talk (including lines like, “You want a mission trip? Here’s your mission field!” and “You want to make a difference? Go out there and make one then, right now!”) and we let them loose on Skid Row with socks and Twinkies.

So, needless to say, I was feeling a bit down at the beginning of this week. I felt like people coming out here weren’t really prepared for what they were going to experience — they had these strict expectations and when things didn’t match them, they were upset. The adult leaders didn’t seem to understand that they had to be responsible for their kids, that they wouldn’t get any “down time,” that they would be tired and busy. As far as the general sentiment, it was kind of how I felt in San Francisco a few weeks ago: who are these people, who come to town for 4 days, to judge what is and isn’t “service”? I felt like they didn’t understand that their purpose in coming out here isn’t to “make a difference” — nothing they do in 4 days is going to make a difference, no matter how many scoops of mashed potatoes they put on homeless people’s trays, no matter how many kids they play kickball with, no matter how many cans of cream of celery soup they wipe off. Nothing I’m going to do in 3 months is going to make a difference, either, and it’s disputable as to whether anything I can do in my whole life will make a difference. Because the problem isn’t the individual homeless people on Skid Row, or the individual hungry families in Los Angeles County, it is the fact that there are so many of them, that they live in a society where people a few blocks away have BMW’s and beach houses and spend their summers in Europe. So the point of these kids coming out here is that they might open their eyes to a way of life they didn’t know existed, see that not everyone has everything they want, any time they want it. And the more people who understand that, who can see that face to face, the better our chances are for one day banding together and actually doing something to make a difference. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a lot to ask of high schoolers.

We had a good, relaxing weekend, though. Went to Ventura Beach with Gabriel from church to a cool Italian restaurant called C&O Trattoria — kind of like Buca DiBeppo’s with the large portions and family style, but not as obnoxious. When we got there, they put a big old bottle of their house wine on our table and told us about their “honor bar” system, and I told the waiter (who might have been Clay Aiken) to get it the heck away from me. I slept in on Saturday, and spent the afternoon with Tyler at Borders in Glendale drinking iced coffee and reading the latest issues of Paste, The New Yorker, and Cosmo. How’s that for intellectualism?

Week 3 made up for all the ruckus of 1 and 2. It was great, fantastic, all around — amazing kids, incredible adult leaders. A group of 20 from St. Helen’s, Oregon; 12 from Point Pleasant, New Jersey; 10 from Tacoma, Washington; and 6 from Santa Cruz. They knew how to serve and that was their reason for coming out here. They loved Jesus, loved to worship, had their heads on straight — I felt like some of them were on straighter than my own. Nobody complained the whole week, and they even took notes during my talks in Club! So it was a blessing to have them, it was refreshing, and encouraging, and made me remember why the heck I signed on to do this again. It was also good to have a week that felt like how a YouthWorks week is supposed to go, and good for Tyler and Ricardo to experience that once, too. So, Yay God.

Okay, almost to San Diego. Let’s hope they don’t put us to work too fast. . .

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