Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mistakes, Miscalculations & Misgivings

The student ministry of Wesley Memorial UMC was not exactly bonding over our shared time together at our 2002 Ski Camp in Winterplace, WV.  The beneath-the-surface hard feelings and mistrust between some of the students was palpable.  The mix on that trip was so odd.  There were long time members of the youth group, newcomers, and close friends who were spending a final weekend together before Pastor Jerry Sweat and his family left us. There was a young girl and her father who took the trip together- and I never saw either of them at church again.  The whole vibe was just weird to me- and this wasn't my first rodeo.  But as tense as it was, it was about to get much worse.

The details have escaped my feeble mind, but some of the guys got into one of the girls' rooms and taped down a canister of some sort of spray, so this it would all disperse in the room while the girls were skiing.  Unfortunately, it worked like a charm.  The room was so thick with the smell of whatever it was that you literally could not enter it.  The girls were livid, and immediately began to plan to strike back.  And they were going nuclear.  I had to act, and I had to act fast.  So I called the girls together and told them that I would help them with a prank IF they would do it my way.  They agreed.  I "borrowed" keys from guys in the two rooms that had planned the aerosol attack and we bought two large containers of baby powder.  When the guys came down for our group worship time that night, the girls were a bit late.  They went in to the guys' rooms, pulled back the covers on the beds and doused them with the baby powder.  When the guys went to get in bed that night, they were in for a big, but harmless (or so I thought) surprise.

In the meantime, we had a nice time of worship and prayer while saying good-bye to Ryan & Ashley Sweat.  It turned out that when you got this group away from the overwhelming volume of a praise band and into a smaller room, they could really sing!  I remember especially how emotional it was for Jacquie Thomson and Kristen Schroeder, Ashley's best friends (the 3 of them are pictured at top).  For a few moments, there was a real sense of togetherness in the group.  I thought that perhaps we had survived the storm.

WRONG!  When the guys discovered the baby powder later that night, everything fell apart. Kids were yelling at each other, one of the parents who chaperoned went crazy and wanted to extract a pound of flesh from the girls right then and there, and a few of the "outcast" girls joined in on the guys side.  I thought I had calmed everyone down when one of the guys- Chris- went absolutely nuts.  In all my years of youth ministry I had never seen a youth that angry.  It was scary.  Again, having only been around WMUMC a few months at the time, no one had warned me about Chris.  After one more trip with us in the summer of 2002 he would become the only student in 28 years that I banned from youth trips.  Slowly and painfully we "talked Chris down" and managed to get everyone off to bed.  I was so ready to go home, and so sure this group was beyond my help.  The good news was that many of the youth had missed a fair portion of this drama, so not everyone was in the foul mood I was in.  I laid in bed trying to decide if I had helped at all or if I had just been the one who poured gas on the fire.  And I prayed for guidance.

Fortunately, despite my attitude, God didn't give up on me.  My relationships with many of those ski trip "survivors" would grow over the following months, and by the end of the summer of 2002 they became the core of what was going to become an outstanding student ministry. But looking back now, it was a difficult transformation for the kids and for me.  It was only January, and I knew what I needed to kick-start the ministry and build relationships.  It was the same thing that had been helping my youth ministries thrive for years.  I needed a summer.  And it would eventually arrive.  The story continues Monday...

Because of Jesus,

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