“California’s Been Good to Me; Hope it Don’t Fall into the Sea. . .”

I’m writing from the road — I-70 West in Utah. I made a sweet On-the-Go playlist for Tracy, Becky, Stephen and I to listen to — one thing I hadn’t realized I’d missed so much this summer is music. It has been amazing to just listen to good music while driving. There’s pretty much nothing like it. Utah is still gorgeous — amazing rock formations, puffy white clouds, open road. I hope my drive from Albuquerque to Glenwood is as nice.

So, this summer is almost over. We had a great last week. 38 kids — 6 from Denver, 13 from outside Minneapolis, and the rest from Medford, Oregon. All the Oregon groups we’ve had this summer have been really awesome — just good people, unique personalities, kind of hippies. Two of the adult leaders brewed fresh French press coffee every morning, and always saved a cup for me, so that was nice. I’m looking forward to drinking coffee other than the Costco blend, too. The group from Minnesota was probably my favorite church group of the whole summer — they totally redeemed the real jerkfaced Minnesotans we had earlier in the summer. They were just a really great group of kids; their youth pastor was hilarious and always doing crazy stuff with them.

I really connected with a girl named Samira, and we stayed up late talking pretty much every night. It was really the only meaningful interaction I had with a student, one-on-one, the whole summer. She was sixteen, struggling with many of the things 16-year-olds struggle with, but she thought about them more than most 16-year-olds do. She wasn’t a Christian (her dad was Muslim and her mom didn’t really believe anything) and she was just full of questions — from “Do you believe in evolution?” to “How do you know there is a God?” to “How do you know when God is telling you something?” to “Do you think gay people go to hell?” to “Do you believe there is a hell?” I could go on. The highlight was when I used GORP to explain the trinity to her when she asked about that. She told me on Wednesday night how she just wanted to feel God, she just wanted to cry, to be overcome with emotion and know that God was there. On Thursday, I prayed that God would just move, that He would just make Himself so evident to her that she couldn’t possibly miss it. So after footwashing, she says she wants to talk, and fires the questions away again — “How do you know when is the right time to accept Christ?” — and I realized that God was going to use me to move for her, that I was going to answer my own prayer. So, it was cool to be a part of that, and I enjoyed talking with her a lot.

Friday and Saturday were a bit stressful, trying to pack up, say goodbye to everyone, get my travel plans in order for the next few weeks. But we got on the road about noon yesterday, and drove to Richfield, Utah, to spend the night at the Luxury Inn. We will get to Denver today — our goal is to average 75 mph. We’ll stay with our Region at a nice hotel downtown tonight, and then wrap everything up at the retreat tomorrow.

Yesterday, I booked my plane ticket home from Albuquerque and reserved a rental car for Jut and I to drive around the Southwest. I’m pretty much psyched out of my mind to get down there. This summer has been really good for Jut and I; although there have been frustrations with being so out of communication, so out of context with our relationship, I feel 100% positive about it. Being away from him, meeting so many new people, has really made me realize how much I love him, how good our relationship is, how much better he is than anyone else I know or have ever known. So it will be amazing to see him, hang out for a bunch of days, listen to good music, cook good food together, hike around, drive around — do all the things we both like to do so much, and be with each other.

The question of this road trip has been, “So, will you do this again?” My first instinct is a resounding NO. Although this summer has been really great — I’ve grown a lot, have made a lot of great life-long friends, and gotten an amazing working knowledge of the strangest city I’ve ever encountered — there have been a lot of things about YouthWorks (short-term, urban youth missions in general) that I have really disagreed with. I guess it comes down to one of those situations where you have to see if the good things outweigh the bad, and I’m not sure that they do. This summer was frustrating, mostly dealing with YouthWorks chain-of-command issues, having people come to our site and try to tell us how to do things when we’d been doing them well for weeks. I also felt like YouthWorks has grown a lot in the past 2 years, and they have become more about following a schedule, doing things the way they “should” be done, instead of being flexible, caring about people, meeting their needs. It was the little details, the picky-ness, the specifics that I didn’t agree with this summer.

I was also conflicted about the kids coming out for a week and leaving feeling like they had made “such a difference” — this was a summer-long struggle for me, but really sunk in this week. In reality, they didn’t make a difference at all — if they didn’t do the work they did, someone else would have done it, and for many of our ministry sites, I felt like they had to scramble and scrounge up work for our volunteers to do, and we were more of a pain than a blessing. When a youth groups goes to a “mission trip” to a place like LA, it is more for their own benefit than the community’s, and I felt like no one was honest about that. The real reason kids go to the places they went in LA was so their eyes might be opened to another way of life that they had never seen, to be shocked and awed, to be disgusted that people like this way, while they enjoy such abundance, to inspire them so that once they have the means, they might be able to do something to make a difference. But instead, they come away feeling good about themselves, like they’ve helped so many people. That is not the point.

This is the 7th consecutive summer that YouthWorks has been an integral part of for me — that’s a long time. I complain about youth groups that have been on too many YouthWorks trips, because they have expectations of how things should or shouldn’t be. But I’m beginning to wonder if I am falling into that category — if I have taken too many YouthWorks trips and it’s time for me to go. Nadine has talked to me about being a Site Director next summer, and if I happened to be living in San Francisco by next year that could be really cool — but I think I’d probably only consider working with them again if I didn’t have a job by next summer. I think with another year of real-world experience, a YouthWorks summer might be pretty close to unbearable.

It will be nice to get this over and start thinking about Prague. I am getting excited for it — for the complete difference between that and YouthWorks, for the new city to explore, for the people to meet, and for the amazing Czech beer to drink.

I think I’m going to read to try to nap or just enjoy looking out the window. 300 miles from Denver. . .

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